Character & Power | StoryADay 2024 Day 8

Character sheets are all very well, but no man is an island…

Day 8 cover

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The Prompt

Write a story in which your character interacts with three other characters, one who has power over them, one whom they have power over, and one who is on an equal footing with them.

Things To Consider

Character biographies and archetypes are all very well as a starting point, but a person’s character is not fixed, nor does it ever fit one archetype. People are complex and and society even more so.

People show different parts of themselves in different situations. A useful way to decide which aspects of your character to show in a particular scene is to think the power dynamics in that scene. And remember: power can be psychological, physical, or the power of the group.

Our characters react based on who has the most power in an interaction. This dictates which masks they use to fit into a situation (or sometimes, to stand out) or whether they can be raw and vulnerable. Psychological Power

There are a bunch of old sayings like: you can judge a person’s character by what they do when no-one’s looking, or by how they treat ‘the staff’ (which, these days, tends to mean waitstaff, valet parkers, grocery store clerks or anyone they perceive as having less power than them in a given situation).

And this is true to a certain extent that these action reveal a person’s character and values.

But none of these interactions reflect how that character always acts. Nobody always acts as their best or worst self. And few people remain unchanged throughout their lives.

Physical and Social Power

In The Expanse series by James S A Corey one of the most interesting characters is Amos Burton, who is always, phsyically, the most powerful person in the room and the most comfortable with violence as a solution. In a room full of violent thugs, he is absolutely at ease.

Over the course of the series we don’t see his values change, but we do see him learn how to act in different situations, based on his desire to stay with the crew. It doesn’t feel insincere because his actions are not always dictated by his values and that feels very human.

He still has no problem with violence but he knows his captain does. He masks that part of himself because the captain of the ship has power over him, and the collective power of the rest of his crew is greater than his individual power (even though he could beat them all to a pulp if he felt so inclined).

Power Dynamics for Writing

In each scene of a story, in each interaction, we are seeing a snapshot of your characters. How they act in general is not necessarily how they will act in this moment.

But how to decide?

If you’re not sure what to do with a character in a scene, look around.

Who else is in the scene, and how much power does your character have, relative to them?

How does that affect how your character acts?Do they hold themselves differently? Do they speak differently? And how does that affect their mood and actions going into the next scene, where they might interact with someone with a different power relationship.

It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re being insincere in any of those situations. Rather, they are operating on a high-level understand of social dynamics. (Being human is complicated!)

Further Reading on character:

Give Your Characters A Voice

Character Counts (podcast)

Creating Compelling Characters – StoryADay Essentials Series

Great Character Writing with Angela Ackerman (podcast)

How I Met Their Father (or: Characters Are People Too)

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28 thoughts on “Character & Power | StoryADay 2024 Day 8”

      1. Thanks, Julie. I never would have thought to post another prompt piece, so I am glad that it is okay. Sometimes prompts just don’t work, so I will remember this if it happens again.

  1. 2k-ish, a complete-ish draft of a story I think will be solid after revision! I built up to the character who has power over the MC, starting with the one she has power over, then the one(s) she is equal to. I wanted a challenge, so I had to find a reason for this otherwise scary MC to be totally flummoxed by a small dog with a piercing gaze. I did, and it was very fun to write!

    Great prompt! Thanks Julie! And congrats to all who wrote today!

  2. My resulting story is just over 1k words and I like it a lot. If there’s ever a collection of short stories from this universe, it’ll be in there.

    My very vague outline had three sections, one for each of the non-MC characters in the prompt. I realized at the end of the first segment, though, that this was where the actual story ended; the rest would have just been the MC telling other people about it. Then I realized something else. There are only two characters, but the power dynamic actually shifts multiple times. The MC goes from being chided by a superior, to explaining to a peer, to ultimately being the one with more power. So, that was interesting.

    I wasn’t excited by the prompt and the three mile walk I took to brainstorm for a plot didn’t help at all. But then my daughter asked my opinion on the latest Green Day album, so I played it again, and the muse struck.

  3. When the prompt is about mechanics, it’s relatively easy. When it’s about character, it’s a lot more challenging. I spent the day thinking about it, and the last hour or so writing it. About 1100 words.

    I wrote in the first person. Instead of three other characters, I went with two: the narrator’s husband (peer) and a young woman who is her college student by day and her ballroom dance teacher by night, so alternately more and less powerful than the narrator.

    This one may turn into an actual story, though the ending is a little over-sentimental for my taste. But then any story about ballroom has to have some sentiment, doesn’t it?

  4. I had a harder time settling into this one, but I surely enjoyed what it took to get there. mI even wrote a few variations on the “walk into a bar joke” e.g. Margaret Atwood, Mercedes Lackey, and James Patterson walk into a bar. Shakespeare is already seated buying mai tais for the crowd.
    But I did write a story about a young man trying to become a Knight.

  5. Wow! This was the most helpful prompt ever! My characters are a 15-year-old girl, Emma; her dad, her boy-friend, and her best friend. I used a story I had already outlined and tried to write before with less than great results. It’s about a girl whose father is strict who has a spoiled dog that’s the enemy of the girl’s life. Her dad is the one with power over her. Emma has power over her boy-friend. And Emma’s best friend is equal in power to her.
    I feel like there’s hope for my writing after learning about the power struggle. Although I haven’t finished this story, I finally have a much better idea where it’s going. Thank you.

  6. This is the first one that actually pushed me up to my 1 hour limit I’ve given myself. And my longest story so far at just over 1k. I had Grady(from my WiP, Know My Way Around), confronting xyr father then interacting with xyr best friend and finally an employee at xyr family’s bookstore.

    1. I’m so envious of people with D&D groups. Such a great storytelling training ground!

    1. Teresa,

      Go with something else, something of your backlog. As you can see I don’t hold to the prompts, if I do due to timezones I’ll be a day or two out, or as today I just wrote something before even looking at the prompt.

      I hope inspiration lands for you.


      1. I wrote a lot today Andrew. All prompts that I do on a weekly or daily basis. None of them fit this prompt though. I could post one simply as something that I wrote for another prompt I guess if no one minds.

  7. I woke up early this morning and checked out my email to see today’s prompt. Immediately an idea popped into my head. I spit out over 400 words. But not finished. Really excited about this one.

  8. Today’s story has 5 characters, but the character of Madhu is insignificant in the context of the prompt today. Two of the characters, those of Tanaya and her brother are kind of on equal footing. Both of them seem to exert some power over Rupsa, a distant relative. But the one exerting supreme power over all the other, the behind-the-scene change-maker is Amit, one of the two main protagonist of the story. Now, you tell me, dear reader, if I could make use of the prompt today down to a T or not.
    Here’s my story :
    Day – 8
    The Melody of A Number Called LOVE :
    It all happened when Tanaya found a pic that must have been WhatsApped to her by a relative. The picture was of Amit in a grey, full sleeved shirt and faded jeans rolled upto the ankles, standing on a sea beach. Waves seemed to be caressing his feet. But what really distracted Tanaya was another lady leaning against Amit with her hands looping around him.
    Tanaya knew that girl quite well. Rupsa, a looker in the truest sense of the term, and widow of a distant relative.
    “How on earth did these two get together?” Tanaya thought to herself. She tried to let her mind waver but the power of the pic was too hypnotic.

    It was then that Tanaya decided to share it on her friends’ group in WhatsApp with the caption :
    A Hubby-Killer Now Sets Her Eyes on the Banker.
    The banker in the caption referred to Amit of course, her estranged husband of nearly half a decade.

    What really soured relations between Amit and Tanaya was a matter of great conjecture among relatives and close friends. The couple was happily married for nearly thirty years till their only child got married.
    Some people felt that Tanaya, with a lot of free time in her hand, let herself get suspicious of her husband over mere nothings. Initially, the telephone would ring as she was serving him brunch and as she hurried to answer it, the female voice at the other end would hung up – her question about Amit being available or not mid-finished!

    One day while she was travelling by bus, the voice even threatened her, warning of dire consequences if she didn’t let Amit be. She even went on to claim that Amit only belonged to her! What set off as a joke soon turned into something bordering on the suspicious. And as luck would have it, Amit started getting back home quite late from office at around the same time!

    Then she found it difficult to deal with his frequent mood swings as he skipped his meals at home on a regular basis, and started yelling at her for apparently no fault of hers. In short, Tanaya seemed to exist in his life no more!
    That’s when the ugly hood of suspicion raised its head and she felt that there had to be another girl. But then, Amit led too unblemished a life to be accused of adultery!

    The day he smacked her for the first time, she knew it was time for her to look for a job. Long story short, she forced him into looking in her eyes one night as he was about to retire to the bed in the other room.
    “Tomorrow, I’m going to SP in Uday narayanpur as the Warden and I want you to accompany me there so that people don’t tell behind my back that I eloped with another….”

    Amit surprisingly accompanied her to SP. The picturesque locale of the institution in fact, gladdened his heart, having taken this rebellious act of Tanaya as a temporary whim and fancy.

    Standing behind the window of her spacious Warden’s Room on the second floor half hour later, Tanaya looked at the retreating figure of Amit and thought of the day when he said that without him, she didn’t amount to much. At 52, Life without him, was as good as over for her.

    In due course of time, with her joining SP, her visits to their home at Sinthee (only it was not a home any more!) grew less and lesser. Finally, she stopped visiting Amit altogether though Amit had made it clear to her that she was always welcome there.

    Now, sitting at her posh quarter situated within the premises of Techo University at New Town, she waited for people’s responses to the pic, especially the responses of the relatives who considered Amit to be a shining star.

    There was no reaction as such! It was as if people were too much engaged in their own world to really bother. Frustrated, Tanaya called her bro, Joy.
    “Even an unpaid, gawar( illiterate, uneducated) person like Madhu, Sis, when he chanced to look at the pic on my mobile while pouring tea in my cup, remarked :
    “Didi’s doubting Amitda unjustly. He’s such a kind-hearted man. Didn’t he pay me handsomely everytime they visited our house?”

    “I know the ins and outs of people like Amit. To the rest of the world, he is the epitome of kindness and generosity. But to me, who had spent nearly two-thirds of her life at his apartment, he WAS (she was talking of her estranged husband in the past tense!) no better than the Devil Himself. Haven’t you seen how he had let Rupsa drool her head on his shoulder? She murdered her husband and she’ll kill Amit too. That’s why the caption. Whatever, it’ll be a good lesson for the cheat!” (By the cheat, she meant Amit obviously)

    “I looked at the pic all right and could see nothing wrong or indecent about it. Two persons, extremely rich and estranged from their spouses by cruel strokes of fate, getting together not to cower against heavy odds…” I replied.

    “There’s no point talking to you. No matter what, you’ll always go on defending, and hero-worshipping your favourite bro-in-law, Amitda. Anyway, I’ve worked to do. Call you later. Have a good day…”
    Back in his room in Sea View Hotel, a seven-star hotel in Goa, Amit picked up the cup of tea and walked across to the porch of his suit. He was just back from the airport after seeing Rupsa, the widow of a dear relative of Tanaya, off. They ran into one another in the beach, had barely had time for a snap or two together before heading off to the airport.

    Sitting on the armchair and looking at the picture over the cup of tea, Amit broke into a smile, thinking about the effect it would have on Tanaya.
    Despite all these years of separation, their love for one another didn’t abet a wee bit.

    The end.

    1. Rathin,
      Excellent job on the legibility of the text.

      The story, there is a lot of potential in there, no doubt it’s a ‘One Draft’. i.e. this is what I do, blurt it out during May, and if I want to build on it go back and edit.

      There’s potential here to build out the ‘Unrelinquished Love’ aspect.



      1. Dear Andrew,

        You know what gives me the greatest satisfaction? It’s when I get some feedback on my stories from the readers. Even if it is not all that positive or constructive at times.
        Truth to tell, while writing the story, I had the same feeling that it could be developed into something bigger. So, you are spot on about it being a “One Draft”. Thanks once again for expressing your views about the potential of the story. I only wish and pray that I get far more serious about my writing to do justice to the potential.
        Stay safe. All the very best wishes.

    2. I really appreciated seeing Amit’s explanation of the photo at the end, although I still question the general idea that he’s super-awesome in all ways. (If nothing else, he hit Tanaya…) This definitely has strong revision potential.

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