Secrets of the Status Genre

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What if I told you there was a code hidden right in front of you that could inspire and improve your writing, help you gain more social influence, wealth, your best mate, and higher opportunities for advancement. Would you want to read about it?

I would.

I want to learn how to move up the ladder and, most importantly, how not to lose the status I’ve gained.

That’s why stories in the Status genre appeal to me. If they appeal to you, too, then welcome to the rich world where self esteem meets external validation, where characters rise gloriously on their own merits or fall ignominiously by their own weaknesses. A world of admiration, joy, catharsis and pity that you can harness and deliver to your your readers.

We write better Status stories when we have

 a deep understanding of the genre.

Without having identified a genre, I didn’t have guideposts, many suggestions, or much idea of structure. I didn’t have books or movies to compare and contrast with my own work because I didn’t know what I was looking for. As a result, my stories were scattershot.

Once I acknowledged my personal connection to the Status Genre, I could commit to it as the primary genre for my novel-in-progress. Mining The Story Grid for insight into the genre has greatly improved the quality of my stories.

When you fully invest in understanding the genre, and when read widely and watch stories within the Status genre, you just may discover the same.

Let’s dig into the basics.

Need to get familiar with the Story Grid’s genre categories first? You’ll find a refresher here.

What is status?

When I began researching the Status Genre, I was surprised to learn that  status is not a birthright. It doesn’t necessarily derive from having financial wealth or meeting current beauty standards. Status may have nothing to do with the results of an IQ or genetics test.

Status is anchored in self-respect.

It’s important to distinguish between social class and social status. Class refers to the large divisions of society by economic hierarchy. Status is the rank an individual has within a social hierarchy.

You know how that goes. You might have high status in your church and low status in business. Or you may have high status in your book club but low status at the mayor’s annual gala.

Status is based on our behavior, determination, and self-esteem. It’s variable.

Status is within our control.

We try to get or maintain status in two ways.

The first is prestige. Prestige is earned when we and others recognize our skills or our value to the community. Prestige can be established by performance or by relationships.

The second is dominance. Dominance is demanded by appearing or behaving physically dominant over others (faster, stronger, bigger, more violent), or by intimidating others with threats or bullying.

What good is a Status story?

Decades of research have shown that we’re all deeply affected by status. There are great benefits to high status and serious ramifications of low status. Even our daily micro interactions often revolve around our status: who gets seated first at the diner and who can or can’t wiggle out of a speeding ticket.

We can all relate to a Status story because status-seeking is in our basic nature, in our biology as social animals. The constructs of obtaining, maintaining, and losing status are issues we and our characters contend with every day.

This is a huge gift to writers and readers.

Status stories can be Prescriptive Tales, showing us how to advance or maintain our position in a social hierarchy…how to succeed.

Or they can be Cautionary Tales that tell us what choices and actions will result in a loss of status…in failure.

Status Stories help us create a narrative around our possibilities, limitations, and decisions. By writing a good Status Story you help your reader obtain their dreams and avoid their nightmares.

Yep, really.

We’re drawn to Status stories for similar reasons.

The experience the reader is chasing helps answer their questions via themes. We don’t like to box ourselves in but, like the characters we create, we have themes, values, and principles that help determine our objects of desire (external character goals), and what we think it takes to obtain them (plot drivers). We encounter and create barriers (character faults and external antagonists) we must overcome to obtain those goals (identifies character’s actual need which is to change) and our actions (reveals characterization) determine whether or not we succeed or fail. The appeal of your story depends on your attention to all of these.

Readers choose Status stories because they want to experience certain emotions without the risk of real-life failure. According to Shawn Coyne The Core Emotions of the Status Genre are specific to the subgenre the reader is expecting. Readers want to experience admiration or joyous relief at a protagonist’s success, or pity at their failure, or catharsis at their tragic doom (see subgenres).

Okay. So what IS a Status story?

“The Status story is an arch-plot (Hero’s Journey) or mini-plot (multiple characters) Internal Genre that explores social mobility and the nature of success…. The Status story concerns a single protagonist’s quest to rise in social standing, and the price he or she must pay in order to do so.” Coyne

Status stories are about a change in social position. They’re driven by the nature of the protagonist’s inner conflict. Characters in a Status story WANT validation from others because they NEED esteem and self-respect. In short, their external object of desire is different from their internal need.

As we see in the Story Grid Gas Gauge of Need, a Status story arises from the need for esteem. The Status protagonist’s primary goal isn’t survival, safety, or love. It’s esteem, standing, third-party validation. A firm place in the social order.

What is the value at stake in a Status story?

The Global Value at Stake describes the protagonist’s primary change from the beginning of the story to the end. In a Status story that change runs along the spectrum of success and failure.

Notice that there’s something worse than failure. In a Status story, the “negation of the negation” is Selling Out. Selling Out in pursuit of your goal is worse than honorable failure. It’s the Status equivalent of damnation.

What defines success?

The definition of success and failure in a Status story is specific to the protagonist. It depends on their starting point and their personal goals. How far they rise by external-world standards is irrelevant.

For example, in Arthur Golden’s novel Memoirs of a Geisha, the protagonist Sayuri begins as a slave. Her life’s goal is not to become an empress or win a Nobel Peace Prize or even to run the geisha house. It’s simply to become the mistress of the wealthy married man she is in love with. Spoiler alert! She succeeds. Within the context of her rigid world, that success is valid. Her status rises.

What’s the Controlling Idea of a Status Story?

A story’s Controlling Idea (sometimes called the theme) is the lesson you want your reader to come away with. It’s the meaning they will assign to your story, usually unconsciously. A Controlling Idea can be stated in a single sentence that distills the argument your story attempts to make through narrative.

It’s made up of the big value change at the climax of your story, plus the specific cause of that change. Each of the main content genres has a generic pair of controlling ideas, one for the positive outcome and one for the negative. (For everything about Controlling Idea, see Chapter 34 in The Story Grid book, or The Big Takeaway on the blog.)

In a Status story, where the value spectrum is Failure to Success, the broad Controlling Idea is either:

  • Success results when a person is true to their values, whether or not they obtain a higher social status – OR –
  • Failure results when a person sells out their values to gain higher social status.

In the example from Memoirs of a Geisha, we might tailor the Controlling Idea this way: “Success in a rigid hierarchy results when a young woman single-mindedly pursues a realistic personal goal.”

What are Genre Conventions

and Why do we Need Them?

Coyne explains Conventions as, “elements in the Story that must be there or the reader will be confused, unsettled or so bored out of their skull that no matter how beautiful the sentences, they’ll quit reading. Conventions are not obligatory scenes…they are specific requirements in terms of the Story’s cast or methods in moving the plot forward (minor revelatory turning points that must be there but can be woven into the story at the writer’s discretion).”

What are the Conventions of the Status Genre?

Each subgenre of the Status Genre has some of its own conventions, but all four subgenres have the following in common:

  • A strong Mentor figure who teaches the protagonist how to gain success or avoid failure. This may be either a positive figure like the Emperor Marcus Aurelius in Gladiator, or a negative one like Fagin in Oliver Twist.
  • Large social problems as the subtext of the story. Racism, misogyny, class division, etc.
  • A Herald or Threshold Guardian, usually another status striver, but one who has sold out and who provides a cautionary tale for the protagonist.
  • A clear point of no return for the protagonist where they see the truth and realize they can never go back to the way things were.
  • An ironic or bittersweet ending. The protagonist wins but loses, or loses but wins.

What are Obligatory Scenes

and why do they matter?

Coyne describes obligatory scenes as “must-have scenes for paying off readers’ expectations as set up by the conventions of the genre.”

If you leave out an obligatory scene, you’ll have a story that doesn’t work.

“A lot of writers have contempt for obligatory scenes…They don’t want to write them because they find them cheesy. A few even insist that their work is so intellectually challenging and above “genre,” that their revolutionary technique frees them from having to fulfill these obligations. They’ll tell you that their work is more of homage to a genre, not really part of the genre, etc. Which is complete Bullshit.’

What are the Obligatory Scenes

of the Status Genre?

Hint: In most of the main content genres, the Obligatory Scenes are adaptations of the principal stages of the Hero’s Journey.

  • An inciting incident challenges the protagonist’s status quo. (See what we did there? Every story has an inciting incident that disrupts the protagonist’s ordinary life. What that incident disrupts depends on the genre. A Status story isn’t going to be incited by a deadly tornado, but by a threat to the protagonist’s position.)
  • The protagonist leaves home to seek their fortune–or, alternatively, stays home but follows their dream in secret, as Sarah Crewe, the protagonist of A LIttle Princess, does: she maintains a secret inner life that gives her strength in the hostile environment she can’t leave. (See The Virgin’s Promise by Kim Hudson for more on the feminine version of the Hero’s Journey.)
  • Forced to adapt to a new environment, the protagonist relies on old habits and humiliates themselves. See every “fish out of water” Status story in which, for example, the country bumpkin dresses wrong for the fancy city party.
  • The protagonist learns what the antagonist’s object of desire is and sets out to achieve it for themselves. Even Maximus, the protagonist of Gladiator whose principles never waver, must understand that antagonist Commodus wants the respect of his father the emperor. That same desire motivates Maximus himself.
  • The protagonist’s initial strategy to outmaneuver the antagonist fails. In a Status story, the antagonist either has higher status and more power than the protagonist, or threatens the protagonist’s status from below–such as by blackmail.
  • During an all-is-lost moment, the protagonist realizes they must change their definition of success or risk betraying their principles. Depending on the subgenre, sometimes they do betray their principles: they sell out.
  • The Core Event: The protagonist chooses either to do what’s necessary to attain higher status, or to reject the world they strived to join. In Memoirs of a Geisha Sayuri chooses to betray one man and forfeit her status within the geisha world, in order to secure the man who holds the key to the status she really wants.
  • The protagonist saves or loses themselves based on their action in the Core Event. Failure is better than selling out. Maximus loses his life but gains an honorable afterlife by fighting Commodus.

What are the Status subgenres?

The four subgenres of Status are defined by the combination of the protagonist’s starting and ending points:

Pathetic

Starts low and ends low. A subjugated or weak protagonist tries to rise and falls. This protagonist doesn’t get what they want, though they may get what they need through some level of sacrifice. The Core Emotion (what the reader expects to feel by choosing a story of this type) is pity. An example is the film Little Miss Sunshine.

If the protagonist ends up with neither what they want nor what they need despite great sacrifice, audiences looking to feel pity may also feel inspired by the protagonist’s actions, however unsuccessful, against injustice. As an example: the film Milk.

Tragic

Starts high and ends low: A flawed protagonist tries to rise or maintain higher status–often through dominance–but makes a mistake that dooms them to failure and punishment. Readers want to experience catharsis at the protagonist’s tragic doom and satisfaction at the protagonist’s just punishment. Examples include Dreiser’s novel American Tragedy, and Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth.

Sentimental

Starts low and ends high: A weak or subjugated protagonist tries to rise or maintain status and succeeds against all odds. They often get what they want and what they need, but with some level of personal sacrifice. They earn their status through prestige, not dominance. Readers want to experience admiration and joyous relief at a protagonist’s success, maybe even inspiration or courage to complete a similar journey. Examples include the film and stage musical Annie, and the children’s novel The Secret Garden.

Admiration

Starts high and ends high: A principled protagonist rises without compromise. They get what they want and the benefits they deserve but at great personal sacrifice. They often earn their status primarily through prestige but can also display dominance. The anti-hero as protagonist doesn’t work here. Readers want to experience admiration or joyous relief at a protagonist’s success, maybe even inspiration or courage to overcome similar odds on their own. Examples include A Little Princess, the film Gladiator, and the film and memoir Serpico.

What about characterization in a Status story?

Shawn Coyne has said that it is characters’ actions–what they choose to do, and not what they think, say, or look like–that create characterization. A character pursuing status as their principal objective has essentially two avenues of action open to them: prestige and dominance.

Characters pursuing status through dominance will likely be argumentative and focused on winning at any expense; stubborn, defiant, and accusatory. At their most passive they are suspicious, indifferent, tense, and passive-aggressive.

Characters pursuing status through prestige are likely open, professional, assertive, and inquiring. At their most passive they are too friendly, talkative, and positive, and have unrealistic expectations.

The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Model provides some useful ideas for Status story characterization.

If your protagonist pursues status via dominance, you’ll need other characters who are submissive. If via prestige, you’ll need other characters who are admiring.

If your antagonist has status via dominance, your protagonist must seek it through prestige. Villain Commodus and Hero Maximus of Gladiator provide a clear example.

Conversely If your antagonist has status through prestige, your protagonist will have to gain status through dominance. Mark Zuckerberg of the film The Social Network comes to mind.

These are generalities you can play with as a writer. Consider what will happen to your story with a main character who has a lot of prestige and a little dominance (common in Action-oriented movies with a Status internal genre): Maximus from Gladiator, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell from Top Gun.

Consider too, what will happen to your story with a main character who has a lot of dominance with only hints of prestige, like rebel John (Judd Nelson) of The Breakfast Club, and Mark Zuckerberg of The Social Network.

If your global genre happens to be War or Performance, a Status internal genre for your protagonist could be a great fit. Performance and War share the Esteem level of the Gas Gauge of Need with Status and make natural genre bedfellows. (Consider the great Performance stories Rocky, Billy Elliot, and Big Night, which all have Status internal genres. My favorite combination is Status and Society. You can  learn more about the Society Genre and how it compliments and differs from Status by reading Secrets of the Society Genre.

Find and absorb as many Status stories as you can. I’ve offered a few suggestions here. You’ll think of more by remembering tales of enterprising young go-getters, social-climbing wannabes, pitiable losers, or uncompromising heroes. Remember, too, that plenty of status stories are comedies.

Read, read, and read some more. Watch movies. In stories that work, try to find the obligatory scenes and conventions. In stories that don’t feel to you like they work, try to identify what’s missing.

Time to put it all together.

Now you hold in your hands the keys to the Status Genre. You have the tools you need to go write a better Status story.

Test your protagonist for values of success and failure. Check that they want worldly success and need self-esteem and respect. Get your words on the page and then compare your story to masterworks. Check it against The Story Grid book and the Status Genre secrets I’ve given here.

Use what you learn to edit your work and finish that story.

Your readers, like me, are waiting.

*Special thanks to Anne Hawley, Certified Story Grid Editor, for the Global Value infographic and for editing this post.

About the Author

Rachelle Ramirez helps writers develop their stories and believes stories are our most important catalyst for change. She received an MA in psychology from Goddard College and attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago's Masters in Creative Writing Program. Rachelle served as the executive director for a national writing community before becoming a Certified Story Grid Editor. She is honored to have edited the award winning fiction of some amazing authors but her favorite work is with first-time novelists and memoir writers. She is easily bribed with promises of iced coffee drinks, piles of puppies, and long walks in thunderstorms. She is currently on contract, writing a Story Grid guide to a masterwork. Her forthcoming novel is White Grrrl, Black Sheep. Contact Rachelle to schedule a free 30 minute consultation on your writing.
Comments (76)
Author Rachelle Ramirez

76 Comments

Rachelle Ramirez says:

jdrosewood, Im so glad you enjoyed the post. I’ve been working in the Status Genre for awhile now and am really glad to finally have a spot on this site to share with you all.

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Rachelle Ramirez says:

jdrosewood, Want to share what you’re working on now? Do you think your genre is Status?

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Krista says:

OMG! I absolutely needed this post! I can’t decide whether to laugh or cry… laugh that this is EXACTLY the kind of story I want to write (and that I loved as a child)… or cry that the 10k words of a mystery story that I’ve been writing is now, well, wasted time? THANK YOU!

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Rachelle Ramirez says:

Ten Thousand Owls, You and me both. Only my Status story thought it was in the a Maturation/Worldview Genre. Lots of rewriting to cover those bruises. But this is the beauty of Story Grid, right? I mean, look at how much time we would have wasted if we didn’t have access to the work others have done before us. You could do a great Status story with a Mystery secondary genre or thrilling Mystery with a Status secondary genre. It doesn’t matter which one you pick as your A Story as long as you pick ONE to be on top. I’m excited for you. What’s next for your story?

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Krista says:

Thank you for th encouraging words. I think the protagonist can stay… don’t think there needs to be so many dead bodies, so will have to clean that up. I need to read this post at least 3 more times and then work on my outline again. And the cast maybe. The dog can stay I guess. 🙂

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Rachelle Ramirez says:

Krista, You are cracking me up. I can really relate. Yeah, let the dog stay, right? This is tough stuff and I hope we’re helpng make the process a little easier. Consider doing a free consultation with any of the Story Grid Editors. We can cover a lot of ground in a short time and we don’t try and sell our services in the calls. We focus on providing value to the writer because that’s why we’re here.

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Krista says:

Are there any other Status stories I should read/watch? I feel like a lot of 1980s kidlit was Status (yes, I’m that old). Madeleine L’Engle seems like a good source for Status stories… the Wrinkle series would be paired with Fantasy, though I now (after this post) know I liked the Status aspect at heart. Which explains the mismatch in my library… it’s the Status story that runs through them!

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Anne Hawley says:

HI Krista. I’ll weigh in while Rachelle is considering her own answer. A terrific children’s status story, albeit a very old-fashioned one (and a bit problematic because of it) is Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess. It’s Status/Admiration (the uncompromising protagonist) and kind of a fun read.

Think in terms of stories about an individual’s success or failure in a particular venture. I won’t swear to every obligatory scene and convention, but Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Risky Business probably both have big Status elements. Old-fashioned love stories where the heroine “marries up” have a huge Status component (Jane Eyre, anyone?).

It’s helpful to remember, too, that there’s a fine line between Status and Performance stories, since both reside at the “Esteem” and “Third Party Validation” level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs. Shawn has made a pretty good case for “Rocky” (the original movie) being external Performance and internal Status.

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Rachelle Ramirez says:

Before I wrote this post, I was working on a post about the Status Genre through the progression of the John Hughes movies of the eighties. That’s a fun post that I’ll get up when given the opportunity. Ferris Bueller is Story Nerd insomnia creator because it doesn’t seem to have a genre. It’s meant to entertain. Ferris is awesome in the beginning (wish fulfillment, don’t you wish you could be like him?) and he is awesome in the end. He doesn’t change. No one in the movie changes except his best friend and that is not by choice but because Ferris has backed him into a corner. The whole idea is “Seize the Day before it passes!” I’m going to watch Ferris again soon and let you all know what I come up with from a Story Grid perspective. As far as the John Hughes movies, written in this but not made in this order, Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful, there is a clear progression of message and genre. Status as a commentary on society. High School as the microcosm of society. But they aren’t Society stories by Story Grid standards. More on those to come.

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Rachelle Ramirez says:

Krista, You’re thinking like a Story Nerd. I love it. Those eighties Brat Pack movies did a lot of genre mixing of Status/Love/Society that has us a bit confused. Most of those stories didn’t work all that well. We loved them because they were new and our undeveloped brains hadn’t seen anything like them before. Trying to do 3 to 4 genres per movie, all with equal enthusiasm, wouldn’t make it to the big screen today. Audiences have gotten much more savvy around stories. They expect delivery of the story they are paying to see, no matter what the genre. More on that in my upcoming post on the John Hughes movies.

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Rachelle Ramirez says:

My Fair Lady wasn’t mentioned but that’s an example of Anne’s suggestion for the “marry up” story. I highly recommend Memoirs of a Geisha if you can tolerate the idea of a white man from Harvard stealing the story of a Japanese woman who was once a slave. The author settled out of court and I heard she (protagonist) did well, but she hadn’t wanted the information shared.

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sherylgwyther says:

Thank you, Rachelle. An insightful, well explained and very useful article. You’ve helped expand my mind into the possibilities of this genre. As usual, the more I learn about the Story Grid the more I realise there is still so much to know.
Would love you to write an article now on the Worldview genres too. Best wishes!

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Rachelle Ramirez says:

Sheryl, I’ll check to see if another Certified Story Grid Editor plans to write a tell-all on Worldview. If they don’t, I’ll get mine scheduled. I have a lot to say on it and I think it would be very helpful for writers to be able to compare the internal genres and get a better picture of what we talk about when we (Shawn) say the internal genres are “squishy.” Are you writing in Worldview or Status?

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Simon T says:

Could you also add morality / self-transcendence to that list? I’m planning a trilogy in which I’m hoping to move the protagonist through status in book 1, worldview / self-actualisation in book 2 and morality / self-transcendence in book 3.

It seem logical in theory but might be a terrible storytelling idea. Now would be a good time to find out…

Many thanks for this post, contains heaps of information, all very clearly presented along with lots of food for thought.

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Rachelle Ramirez says:

Simon, Yes. I only get to post about once every two months because about 10 of us Story Grid Editors rotate in the system but I will get Morality on my list. I like that you understand that your series doesn’t have to all have the same genre. The Morality Genre is a tough one to end on even though it seems the most logical that a protagonist would be climbing the ladder of Maslow’s needs. You certainly can do it but here are some things to consider: In the Morality Story the core event is whether the protagonist chooses to sacrifice or not. It turns on alrtuism vs. selfishness. So if you have a selfish character moving to altruism, you won’t have a very likable protagonist in the beginning (which is where you’d be leaving the protagonist off in the second book). The story can also go from altruism to selfishness and be a great story but it would be a cautionary tale when it seems like your first two books are prescriptive tales.It doesn’t mean it couldn’t work. As long as you stay true to the Genre you could pull it off. But is that what you want? If your overall story is a Status story, I could see how that would be really interesting. The first two books the protagonist is making good choice and striving, though they are significantly flawed, but in the third book they make a choice to sell out for an unworthy goal. It’s something to think about. Suggestion? Focus on book one. Focus on the primary genre and get book one to the best it can be. No one will read book 2 or 3 if book one doesn’t deliver. Also, you might change your mind about what the protagonist wants and needs as you get to know them better through the first book. It’s amazing how characters become an informant to the writer. You never know what will happen. You might want to kill them off in book number two. And, we can spend a lot of time planning stories and not writing them. I’m really good at that and a lot of people who are attracted to the Story Grid are as well. Keep in mind that you can do a 30 minute consultation with any Story Grid Editor for free. You can sign up on the Editing Services page and editors won’t use your call time to try and sell you services. They will spend their time focused on your story and providing as much value as they can. Since Story Grid Editing Services sell themselves, those calls are all about the writer.

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ryannagy says:

Thanks. This is awesome. For some reason, the “status” genre had never made it into my awareness. It seems to me that it is a great one for marketing and sales stories as well.

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Rachelle Ramirez says:

Hello Ryan, You’re right. The Status Genre has huge implications in narrative nonfiction. When I go deeper into the genre in subsequent posts, we’ll start to explore how status applies to all genres. I’m excited about where we’re going with this. Are you writing a Status story?

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Rachelle Ramirez says:

Krista, Yes. I’ll do the Secrets of the Status Genre, Part Two. It will be the PhD in Status blog. What questions would you like answered in the post?

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Krista says:

Gosh, questions… how do you prevent a status story from being boring? I think this is why I glossed over internal genres in the clover…. doesn’t sound very exciting. But lo and behold, all my favorite stories fall In this genre. And clearly I don’t/didn’t think them boring. I am drawn to writing YA — I am a mom to an 8 yo and an 11 yo (boys) who are reluctant fiction readers. I want to create something that will engage kids and impart valuable life lessons (without being heavy handed about it). I’m not so into fantasy and that seems to be where all the YA fit (thanks Harry P), especially for boys. Anyway, that’s my main question right now. I’ll post more if any occur to me. 🙂

Rachelle Ramirez says:

Thanks Krista for the questions. I have kids the same age and the ten year old dislikes fantasy. Wha she really likes is Action/Status stories. Have you read The Good Crooks Series? What about the Joey Pigza series? Joey Pigza is amazing and my ten year old really loved both series, even though the Good Crooks is pretty silly.

Maya Rushing Walker says:

Rachelle, I’m reading your article RIGHT NOW because I am working on a foolscap RIGHT NOW for a novel that I am actively editing RIGHT NOW, and guess what, everything I write falls into the Status genre according to everything you’ve discussed above. Yikes, even my suspense novel is just a thinly veiled Status journey for my characters! This is great! Thank you so much! So helpful!

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Rachelle Ramirez says:

Maya, I was talking to a friend of mine who is a successful author and Story teacher. He said he teaches that every story is a Status story underneath. Like Shawn says, there is a Worldview/Maturation plot, to a certain extent, in every story because it is basically the Hero’s Journey. Status is in everything we do. We establish status in our multitude of social groups. It’s hard not to see Status in every story I read now. I think it’s my genre. Best of luck to you in your story.

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Lan says:

I’m curious whether you think The Godfather (the movies 1 and 2, not the book) fit into the Status genre. Certainly the stories are about Michael Corleone’s reluctant rise to the ultimate prestige and dominance. But instead of those being his goals, he actively resists them in both movies until a turning point. In part 1 he resists being involved at all in the family business, and in part 2 he resists rising even higher as a criminal kingpin, trying to go legitimate. But he doesn’t have a specific mentor figure, nor a specific rival figure, but rather an ensemble of both. Do these films fit the Status template? I ask because I see something in common with my own current project, and while this article rang a lot of bells, I still have my doubts.

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Rachelle Ramirez says:

Lan, Here is what Shawn wrote, “The Godfather is an example of a crime novel combined with a political society drama.” The movies have a lot of Status issues in them. Like the Worldview/Maturation plot, some level of Status is in all the genres because it is so ingrained in how we operate. But, not having watched the Godfather movies in 20 years, the reason it’s not a Status secondary genre is because of the shift in power toward the end from one portion or “society” to another. Society can be within a family, gender, etc. group. In your story, is there a shift in power in the end? If not, it’s most likely Status. If you want to chat about it, I do free 30 minute consultations. But I’d also recommend any of the 19 Story Grid Editors. We don’t try and sell our services in the consultation calls, just give you an idea of what we do and try to provide as much value as we can.

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Mark says:

For someone who has the book and followed the Shawn and Tim’s podcast from the beginning, it’s fantastic to read genuinely new material like this. Thank you and well done on your analysis!

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Rachelle Ramirez says:

Mark, I can’t tell you how excited we (Certified Story Grid Editors) are to be sharing with all of you what we’ve learned in our training and consultations with Shawn and in our work together, mining his material and pairing it with complimentary resources. The energy around here is amazing and I think you’ll be really happy with upcoming content. To quote Anne Hawley, “The brain trust of these 19 editors is incredible.” One of the main things we’re focusing on is making the language more accessible when needed. Shawn did go to Harvard and his story knowledge is so ingrained in his thinking that I sometimes imagine he believes it is common sense. It’s in his DNA now. Also, as you know as a writer, it’s damn hard to know what is in your head vs. what is on the page. We’re just bringing the age old ideas to you in fresh ways. I’m glad you liked the post. It means a lot to me to know I can help other writers tell better stories. These are the tool we need.

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Mark McGinn says:

I’d love to know what’s in my head. It’s a mystery until my fingers tap the keyboard which is why I’m primarily a pantser I’ve heard a lot of very popular and well-known authors say that if they don’t know where the story is going, then the reader won’t be able to guess what’s coming up. While that appeals, I think us pantsers go down more rabbit holes. Anyway, thanks again for your contribution. I’ve emailed you privately about a chat.

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Rachelle Ramirez says:

It’s interesting how we all work differently. Some people would feel strangled with a simple outline and others could feel strung out in chaos without a spreadsheet before their first sentence. I love the opportunities we have to explore.

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Kristi says:

What a great discussion of the status genre. Now, just to figure out if I’m writing a status story or a love story. Choose One, Shawn says. 😅

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Rachelle Ramirez says:

Kristi, My current novel is a Love Story and Status Story. I’ve decided to go with Status because it feels like it has more range and possibilities. I think the main thing to consider in choosing genre is to ask yourself, “What got me excited about this story in the first place?” That’s usually a green arrow to your genre. If not, you can ask yourself, “What kind of story do I want to tell?” And alternately, you could get all panster-like and write your way into it. Some of us rush the decision on genre and some of us delay t too long but, if we stay committed to telling our best story, we’ll get there. If you’d like to brainstorm on your story, all of the Certified Story Grid Editors do free 30 minute consultations and you’d be surprised just how far you can get with someone who is asking the right questions in helping you find the core of your story.

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Tricia says:

Incredibly helpful. I too have followed Storygrid from the beginning and have learned so much. And now with these posts I feel all that knowledge beginning to coalesce into a big picture which I really get. Such a goldmine. I hadn’t realised how many of my favourite books were status stories.So thank you! More posts like this please. Great clarity! Please tell me whether the intention is to produce a book from these posts?Also how do I find out more about the Storygrid editors and the services you offer?

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Rachelle Ramirez says:

Hello Tricia, We’re having a great time here at The Story Grid sharing what we’ve learned from Shawn, Tim, and one another. Together, we can consult one another, build our ideas, mine resources, cross check with Tim and Shawn via phone calls and really cover some ground. Its an amazing team. The schedule we have, behind the scenes, for these posts looks amazing and I’m excited that we’re getting this info out to writers. Are you writing a Status story? I don’t know about you but having Status come up as my genre was quite a surprise.

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Georgina Green says:

Hi Rachelle,
Thanks for this. Thought-provoking. I’m intrigued by the idea of internal genres being ‘squishy’ and how that relates to the obligatory scenes. They seem a little less specific / more open to interpretation or inference than in the external genres…is this what Shawn means?
I was wondering if The Lion King is a status story or a maturation / worldview plot. It sounds like it could be both. I feel like the connection on your diagram between self-actualization and the worldview plot makes the connections between the status genre and the worldview genre seem like the worldview genre is the internal genre of the status genre. The need for success is explained by the need for self-esteem, a recognition of your true worth and talents.
The element that interests me in The Lion King and which made me think about this is the shame of Simba, who mistakenly believes he was responsible for his father’s death. In Gladiator, Maximus feels responsible for the death of his wife and children. On the deepest level (but not the global level perhaps?), these stories seem to be about moving not from failure to success (which seem like external trappings) but from shame (the negation of the negation) through low self-esteem to good self-esteem to fully recognising your self worth in a way that allows you to change or fulfill your purpose…
I love how the story grid makes me think about stories in this way. I think one thing that stoops it being formulaic is the interplay between the genres. So many possible combinations.
Thanks again for laying this all out so thoroughly.
Georgina

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Georgina Green says:

Could it be that the genres are like Russian dolls where the smallest one is also the most profound one, the apex of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, self-transcendance? I feel like I’ve had a bit of an epiphany…

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Rachelle Ramirez says:

Georgina, It’s a very interesting question, isn’t it? Shawn’s gas gauge is basically Maslow’s hierarchy of needs turned upside down and applied to Story. So, if our greatest calling is self-transcendence, is it really the smallest genre? I’m not sure. I haven’t looked at the genres in terms of size but it is the pinnacle of Maslow’s infographic in which it is represented as smaller than the others. Generally, when I think about genre and size, I think about the number of readers or sales in that genre. For example; Love is number one, accounting for about 70% of the book market. What are you writing?

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georginaperry says:

Hi Rachelle, I think I chose a confusing metaphor. I actually meant smallest in terms of the smallest russian doll, the one at the deepest level, inside all the others, where there is nowhere else to go with the character’s growth. And if you think you want esteem, it may be that what you actually need is self-actualisation. If you think you need security, it may be that what you actually need is love, and so on. And maybe, at their most fully realized level, all stories have a kernel of the morality genre. The genres we need to be aware of as writers are the ones which your story is most explicitly and extensively concerned with. Just a theory!

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Rachelle Ramirez says:

Good points. It’s an excellent idea to tie the Russian Dolls to the Maslow’s graphic in that way.

Rachelle Ramirez says:

Georgina, I like to do a rule the genres out game when I’m confused about a story. It’s pretty easy to rule out most of the External Genres. Then it gets interesting. We talk a lot about the squishy genres here at The Story Grid. Shawn recently said something like this, “One person’s Status story is another person’s Worldview story, just like I might see it as a Morality Story. It depends on who you are, how you read it, and what you focus on. And that’s fine. Pick the story genre you want to write in and stick to it. If someone wants to read it as a different genre, great for them.” I think what’s so interesting is the mix of the need for esteem level of the Internal and External Genres. See Gas Gauge of Need. Performance, Society, and Status. Two external genres and one internal but they are focused on the same need. The difference is the external objects of desire and how the protagonist goes about achieving them. It’s interesting you bring up shame because shame vs. respect is the Core Value range for the Performance Genre and yet you don’t get a Performance Story unless you have a specific event or goal that the protagonist is training/preparing for. Well, you could have shame without that right? So then we look at the other two choices Status and Society. You don’t have a Society Story unless power changes from one group of people to another. That leaves us with Status. Shame, without the Core Event of either the big performance at the end or the shift in power in the end, leads you back to the Status story. Excellent angle. I like your thinking.

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Georgina Green says:

Thanks for the reply, that helps a lot. I like the idea of a process of elimination. This will be easier the more we hear from you editors who seem to be using a division of labour to flesh out the genres. I see potential for a great flowchart infographic…

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Georgina Green says:

What happens if the value poles are self-loathing (equivalent of shame) to self-respect? I think this is key to understanding it as an internal movement. There could be an ironic element of gaining 3rd party esteem but experiencing self-loathing (I guess this is selling out). I guess it’s more flexible to phrase the value shift in a way that it makes it possible that the reader / another character is the one making the judgement about the character as a sell out, even if the protagonist hasn’t got that level of self-awareness. Hmmmm…

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Rachelle Ramirez says:

Georgina, I’m not the best flow chart designer but let me think about that for awhile. It’s an excellent idea! If you get anywhere with it yourself, please share with us.

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georginaperry says:

Ok, I’ll have a crack at it. I’m not a writer but I edit middle grade and young adult fiction. I’m a fellow story nerd.

Rachelle Ramirez says:

Wow. I can’t wait to see what you come up with!

Nicolas Lemieux says:

You guys blow my mind. The idea of 19 editors working as a team, using the same language, putting their heads together, consulting with Tim and Shawn… the idea takes my breath away, really. I’m not writing a status story per se (the global genre would be action-labyrinth), but I can see how much status there is in it. I also see the performance aspect in there, though I think the internal genre leans more toward maturation, with a dose of redemption (self-loathing to self-worth?). All of them are in there, at different degrees. Too many layers? Geez. I get confused with these squishy genres, often I think the story is too complicated. But after this post, I can look at them as russian dolls, and put them in the right perspective relative to one another, hierarchize them in a way that makes sense. Thanks for the post and comments!

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Rachelle Ramirez says:

Nicolas, Are you on your first or second draft? If so, only focus on getting that primary genre nailed. If you don’t get in all the obligatory scenes and conventions in there, if you don’t focus in on your core event, controlling idea, and global value of that front story, it doesn’t matter what you have a secondary genre or third. Your story won’t work. Pick your top story and drive it home. Then look at what has surfaced as your secondary genre. Keep in mind every story has aspects of the Status and Worldview stories. That’s our nature, that’s the Hero’s Journey. What you have to determine is your protagonists want and need and how they think it best to go about getting those needs met. Then, what are the obstacles. These questions will help determine your genres. Just make sure ONE stays on top. If Action is your primary genre, focus on the core emotion the reader is looking for: excitement. Focus on the life and death aspects of the story, drive everything toward the core event of the hero at the mercy of the villain. Your story runs pretty parallel to Tim’s story so keep your ear to those podcasts. If you get stuck, take advantage of a free 30 minute consultation with a Story Grid Editor. You’ve got this. You now have the tools and support you need to get to the bottom of your story and level up in your writing.

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Nicolas Lemieux says:

Agreed! It’s back to work today, and back to discipline. I’m 100% with you on this: for the second draft, I’ll focus on nailing the global genre, and not worry about the others. I’ll just let them breathe freely, and see how they evolve afterwards. Thanks for your support!

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Rachelle Ramirez says:

Nicolas, I like your thinking. Keep it as simple as possible. Facing resistance is hard enough without making the work itself complicated. The reader doesn’t see our simple spines in the background of the story because so many layers go on top. But if we can get the structure right, the rest can be cake.

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amy says:

Hmmm . . . a lot of meat-n-potatoes here. I really have to think about what this article is presenting. Truthfully, I have been toying between the status genre (as I know my main character wants to achieve a dream that is no longer ‘literally’ achievable — and he ends up achieving it in a ‘non-literal’ way, which only happens because he is able to see his dream from a different POV — via a subplot that reshapes the way he sees his dream and how to achieve it) and the worldview genre, since that focuses more on self-actualization of the inner gift (which, in this case, is the realization that one’s creative, imaginative mind) holds the key to achieving success). I know this might read like a convoluted explanation, but do any thoughts or insights spring to mind on which should hold precedence? Honestly, I have read so much material that I feel like a hamster in a wheel. Ugh.

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Rachelle Ramirez says:

Hello Amy, It’s confusing isn’t it? Trying to apply all this knowledge we’re gaining so rapidly to own work can be exhausting.You’ve already come a lot farther than most writers ever do if you’re exploring and trying to apply the Story Grid principles to your own work. My Secrets of the Status Genre 2.0 post will be all about how Status Stories work as both primary and secondary genres and how to integrate other genres, always one being at the top. It doesn’t matter which you choose as the primary genre as long as you choose one and stick to it. There is a Maturation story in every story, that’s basically the Hero’s Journey and there are levels of Status and the aspirations of status in every story. The key is to figure out what is at the core of the story. Is your character really seeking self-esteem or have they gone higher than that and are getting closer to expressing their inner gift? The want of a story can often be found in the external genre of the story and the need in the internal genre. Stories work best if they have an internal and an external genre, though they can not be equal. One has to be the boss of the story. Both Worldview and Status are internal genres, so have you considered an external genre to back your primary one? In Sentimental Status stories the protagonist may not get what they want but they always get what they need. So if your character changes their definition of their want, look at the last 3 obligatory scenes of the Status Genre and the last two conventions. Do they ring true? Is the Core Event of the story when the protagonist decides to do what’s necessary to obtain their success or change their mind about pursuing that avenue of success? If that’s your Core Event, you probably have a primary Status Story. If your Core Event is that the protagonist has to change their black and white thinking in order to accept the irony of the world, then you probably have a Maturation story. If you’d like to chat more specifically about your story, keep in mind that all Certified Story Grid Editors do free 30 minute consultations and you can get pretty far with any one of us in that amount of time. We don’t try and sell our services in those calls. We focus on providing value to the writer. Story Grid Editing Services sell themselves so there’s no funny business in the calls. The time is all yours. You can contact an editor directly to schedule a call or request on through this site on the Editing Services page. And, please feel to ask me any questions here as well.

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Simon T says:

“The want of a story can often be found in the external genre of the story and the need in the internal genre.”
Now that sentence should be printed out in big type and nailed up somewhere for daily viewing. It clarifies things a lot. Thanks…

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Rachelle Ramirez says:

Simon, I only connected those dots recently myself. It seems there is an endless amount to learn here. That’s what keeps it interesting. Are you writing in the Status Genre?

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amy says:

Thank you, Rachelle! I saw the fee for services (which I can’t really afford), but was not aware of the 30 minute free consultation. Thank you for bringing that to my attention. I will ponder and work through your comments to my question and try to get as close to what I think my novel is doing before I call. Man, my heart is skipping a beat right now, knowing I can get some useful and helpful direction!! 🙂

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Rachelle Ramirez says:

Those calls are gold, especially if one has trouble setting aside funds for more comprehensive editing services. You can take your drafts pretty far on your own with The Story Grid methods.

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Stefan says:

This article got me thinking. I haven’t wrapped my mind around status yet, because I don’t care. Well, not entirely, it comes in handy for doing business, but that’s it. It’s a means to an end at best.

I think that status is external. It is always a Want, never a Need. Nobody needs status, self-respect alright, but not status. And self-respect can’t be a status, because it is subjective and internal.

I’d say that Status is an External Content Genre with a built-in Internal Content Genre. Similar to the Love Story genre has a built-in Redemption plot. What’s that ICG? It’s the conflict between what needs to be done to gain a status, power, money, and what one is willing to do, how far one is willing to go. It’s balance between ends and means. And this is a conflict worth writing about, because we are subject to such choices on a daily basis. It is a balancing act between our inner world, which is merciful and kind, and the outer world which is severe and undeviating.

How to name that built-in ICG? I don’t think it’s in Shawn’s list. It has to do with self-respect and being true to oneself. It’s like Luther’s “Here I stand and cannot otherwise!” (which he didn’t say btw). It’s not worldview, redemption, or morality. Good and bad are external/objective values and a man or woman can be immoral, but true to themselves. Quote from Walking Tall: “A man needs a code or he is nothing.” Martyrs fall in this category – whether it’s worth to die for a believe or not is another question. The movie Silence explores that subject – worth watching.

Possible value chain:

Self-doubt Opportunism Diplomacy Neutral Passion Self-certainty “Being Yourself”

It shouldn’t surprise that I have trouble coming up with good terms on the right side, since society is not in favor or what’s going on there. It’s ‘doing your thing’, ‘fulfilling one’s heart’s desire’, ‘building life from the inside out’.

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Rachelle Ramirez says:

There you go again Stefan, always bringing enriching thought to the conversation. This is where primary stories and secondary stories, one being internal and the other being external, can both create something wonderful and be a large source of confusion. My Status 2.0 article is exactly about this. Or maybe it will be the Status 3.0. There is still a lot of ground to cover. Thanks for being part of our Story Nerd World.

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Stefan says:

Thanks Rachelle. Yep, there we go again. 😉 Can’t stop digging.
I think the issue is that in the Storygrid, internal and external values are sometimes mixed up. Another example is ‘confusion’ in the Life-Death value chain. “Confusion” is a state of mind, hence internal. I’m not saying that Shawn got this wrong, because he has observed genres and noted how people perceive them. I’m saying that there is an opportunity here to sharpen the pencil and take the Status genre to the next level by separating the external value (status) and the inner value (self-respect). Such external Status genre would be close to the Performance genre (shame/respect), maybe a sub-category thereof. If we settle on the core value of self-esteem or self-evaluation, the internal Status Genre requires a new name. Social status is external evaluation. Trying to achieve self-respect through other people’s evaluation of oneself doesn’t work. We don’t need esteem. We want it. We need to achieve self-respect.

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Georgina Green says:

So do you think Shawn was wrong to define status as an internal genre?
I’ve been pondering this and I think the status genre is internal because the actions of the character in the external world are driven by an internal need for self-esteem or external validation. The fundamental driver of the status genre is not a specific event (e.g. a big fight in Rocky Balboa or a big competition in Dodgeball) or an injustice or lack of power in society that gives (Milk? Erin Brokovitch?). Instead, the status genre is incited by the internal desire or need for esteem. The need for esteem according to Maslow is linked to the need, not only to belong (as in the need for love) but to have status and respect in the community to which you belong, and to feel respect for yourself (its tragic but without feeling you belong and have security, it is very difficult to develop self-esteem, the lower needs will allow you to do things that make you loath yourself in the long run). This internal genre of status can be paired with any of the external genres, which it couldn’t be (successfully) if it was an external genre.

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Tim Murphy says:

Thanks very much Rachelle. This is my work in progress though I have not seen it and your thoughts are very, very helpful. Quite timely as well, as I try to weed out unnecessary scenes.

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Rachelle Ramirez says:

Thanks Tim. I’m really doing my best to extract the knowledge Shawn’s been sharing with us all along for faster reference. Bit nothing can substitute for reading well in one’s genre. Weeding out scenes is quite difficult if you have your genre wrong. Most writers have great difficulty finding their genre. I know I did.

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Noelle Fox says:

Rachel, thank you SO much for this post. It’s hugely helpful as I start brainstorming for a middle grade performance/status novel where a 12-year-old girl enters a historically adult world.

I’m a little hung up on the differences between the Sentimental and Admiration subgenres, as I try to figure out what it is I’m envisioning. I was thinking Admiration, but that subgenre specifies that the protag can get both what they want and what they need but at “great personal sacrifice.”

Two Admiration examples given in the blog post have protagonists that die at the end (clear that’s the “great personal sacrifice”). Is the “great personal sacrifice” that the protag had to make in A Little Princess the fact that she had to live in poverty until she rose to wealth again? Is this “great personal sacrifice” something that the protag has to deal with through the course of the book, or a sacrifice they have to make near the end and have to live with thereafter? This is where I’m unclear.

I keep thinking of the movie “Legally Blonde,” where the main character sticks to her principles as she navigates the unfamiliar territory of law school and the legal system (Malibu fish out of water in stuffy Harvard). I consider this a Status genre. She has to work hard to prove herself and win the big case while also staying try to herself. At the end, she both does what’s right and wins the case, and goes on to become a successful lawyer. Would you call this Admiration or Sentimental? I was thinking Admiration, but again not clear on what yo’d call the “great personal sacrifice” because she goes on to live a charmed life (shaped for the better by her experiences).

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Rachelle Ramirez says:

Noelle, Great question. The sacrifice is relevant to the character and doesn’t need to be something you or I consider a big deal. It must have to do with the character’s want and the result should lead them to what they need. In Legally Blonde, based on your description, it would be Sentimental because she hadn’t gained any status at Harvard or in the law community. She was the underdog, subjugated, and coming in to the good ol’ boy system at a disadvantage. Had she come from the law community, already had Harvard ties in the family lineage and her goal was to rise farther in Status, maybe become a judge to have more impact on the justice system. it would be admiration. Would she have to die? No. But to make that admiration story (sounds like a drama) interesting she’s going to have to give up some important wants (maybe the boyfriend who she discovers is on the take, the father she has defy and lose based on his hatred for judges, maybe there are peers that act as antagonists who want to put her in her place and rape her, you get the idea). A great personal sacrifice can be the abuse she endures during her rise but those antagonistic forces but be firmly aligned with intent to prevent her from getting what she wants. However, she will endure and she will get what she needs.

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Rachelle Ramirez says:

Noelle, Have you looked at the Morality Genre? There is a lot of similarity between Status(Admiration and Sentimental) and Redemption/Morality. The difference being whether the protagonist is starting as admirable/subjugated or amoral. If the protagonist of Legally Blonde begins as a woman just attending Harvard for her Mrs. degree, after Daddy paid her way into the school, and she learns that she must give of herself in order to help gain justice, it’s Redemption.

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Chad says:

Hi Rachelle,
I’ve played with status a lot through improv (like in Keith Johnstone’s Impro books) and seen it applied to writing (Steven James’ book Story Trumps Structure). I enjoyed getting your insights on it. I find them quite fresh and interesting.
Thanks!
Chad

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Rachelle Ramirez says:

Thanks Chad. It’s interesting that you mention acting because I just took apart a movie to show how status was used, on multiple levels in every scene. I’m going to use it for a blog post in the future. Also, Shawn does a lot of comparison of the Story Grid methods with acting. Glad the article was helpful in some way.

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dapelican says:

a quote from the article:
A world of admiration, joy, catharsis and pity that you can harness and deliver to your your readers.

See the YOUR YOUR TWICE, this drives me nuts, spell check! spell check! do it twice twice please.

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Rachelle Ramirez says:

Thanks David. Good point. This is why even editors need editors. Writers are often blind to their own work. We read it like we meant to write it. We see what’s in our heads and not just what is on the page. Editors are worth their weight in gold.

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skodabanton099 says:

Thank you. The whole time I thought my Internal Genre was Disillusionment. Your check list has shown me the way. It was a Status story all along. This article has signalled a huge leap forward in my progression.

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Rachelle Ramirez says:

I am so glad the article helped. As we do these posts on a volunteer basis, it really means a lot to us to hear that our work resonated with someone. The Status Genre is my favorite. I wish you the best with your story. When you’re ready, each of the Story Grid editors do free half hour consultations for potential clients. The feedback we’re getting on those is pretty incredible. And there is no risk, except perhaps feeling vulnerable, to the writer. Best of luck and hard work to you.

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Rachelle Ramirez says:

Next week, I have a Secrets of the Worldview Genre blog post coming out here on the SG website that you can compare with the Status Secrets. Best of luck and hard work with your story.

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Beverly Lyle Patt says:

AWEsome blog post and I want to tell everyone to take Rachelle and the other SG editor’s offers of a free 30 min consult! I spoke with Rachelle today and she was both professional and down-to-earth as well as exceedingly helpful and knowledgeable. She totally demystified the genre question for my current manuscript. Do it – you won’t regret it!!
Thank you Rachelle!

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Rachelle Ramirez says:

Thank you! We aim to assist in every way we can when it comes to story. I enjoyed hearing about your story.

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