While I was at the market the other day, I kept sneaking peeks at this 3-generation family unit behind me in line. It appeared to be a grandmother, daughter and granddaughter. The mother would scold the child, the grandmother would scold the mother and the child would play up to the grandmother and get whatever it was she wanted.
There was such a unique exchange of power going on that it made me think about the characters in my stories, and how their interpersonal relationships change over time.
No one is on top all the time. No one is on the bottom all the time. And if they are… there’s something slightly unbelievable about it. The characters fail to be people, and start being caricatures, which is not what any writer should want.
The dumb, tough-guy jock. It’s an archetype as old as Adam. The beater of rival quarterbacks. The tormentor of nerds. He’s on top of the food chain. He can over-power anyone physically. His status is high.
But… not all the time. He may swagger up to the new girl at school, assured of his dominance, yet if she responds to him with, “I do desire we may be better strangers,” from Shakesspeare, he will be reduced to the submissive party quite quickly.
In every social situation, there is a person with high status and one with low status. It’s not assigned to the character themselves, but only in relation to what is going on or being said. And they change all the time.
Use this in your characters, and your characters will be portrayed at the people they really are. There’s nothing wrong with archetypes, but if an archetype is all you have, your story ceases to be a real life on paper, one your reader can be transported into or live vicariously through. Take them and twist them, play with them, raise them up to giddy heights of power and knock them down again.