Hierarchy and scene

Here’s one for you all.  One thing they (whoever they are) teach in improv is the idea that a scene becomes interesting whenever there’s a change in status.

Status is simply how each person sees themselves in the grand scheme. You might think you’re better than your neighbor. But that guy down the street with the better car and job, maybe you’re not as good as that person. Status can be anything where you compare yourself to others and make a decision about where you are in the hierarchy.

Thus, you might see status demonstrated thus:

JOHN: I’ve been having a rough past couple of weeks. They had me down at the dialysis center every other day.

LUCINDA: Dialysis? At least you have a functioning kidney. They took mine out years ago and if I don’t hit the center every day, I’ll die.

FLORA: That’s nothing. I have to take heart medicine all the time, or I’ll die.

MIKE: You people don’t know anything about troubles. I died last week and they had to revive me with the paddles.

So that’s the idea. In this case, the status is in having worse health than everyone else.  Mike wins by mentioning that he died and they brought him back.

Some people are more status-oriented than others. You know the guy who has to top every story? There’s a bit on SNL where they have a woman who goes to parties and she does this with every story, no matter how far-fetched.

Okay, when you set up a scene, you have two people of different statuses. In their own heads they either see themselves as lower or higher than the other person.  It’s possible both people in a scene could think themselves higher than the other, or both could think themselves lower.  Your job as a writer is to establish the pecking order and where they think they are, and then during the scene, you flip status. The boss and the mail room guy, the mail room guy finds out the boss is doing something illegal, and reveals that. Conflict in the scene, and they flip status– the mailroom guy now owns the boss through blackmail.  There’s other ways to do this, but essentially when the low status person flips places with the high status person, the scene becomes a lot more interesting.

2 thoughts on “Hierarchy and scene

  1. Great pointer! Reminds me of the old sayings, “the shoe’s on the other foot” or “the tables have turned.” For whatever reason, humans seem intrigued with status reversals: crooked politicians going to jail, judgmental preachers caught with drugs and prostitutes.


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