Status Genre Conventions
Do you want to write a story about a character who wants to improve their social or economic position?
In this post, I’m going to cover the ten genre conventions that must be present in your status story to satisfy readers and to write a story that works. I’m also going to show you how these conventions show up in the movie The Devil Wears Prada.
But wait, why movies, not books? The simple answer is that movies require less of a time investment than books. And I'm hoping that if you haven't seen The Devil Wears Prada, then you'll at least watch it after reading this post to help cement these genre conventions in your mind.
But before we dive in, let’s quickly talk about what makes a status story or what makes the status genre unique.
What makes a Status story?
Status stories center around the protagonist’s inner need for respect that manifests as a specific desire to achieve or accomplish something in the external world. In most cases, these characters want to improve their current social or economic position as a way to gain respect from others.
Beyond that, status stories can have any tone or style, be set in any place or time, and have various levels of romance, adventure, mystery, or magic. They can include different subplots as long as the protagonist’s inner need to gain respect and improve their standing in the world remains the story’s focus.
That being said, you will need to choose an external genre for your status story. The external genre you choose will act as the scaffolding to hang your status story on. In other words, the external genre will provide the plot, while the internal genre provides the character arc. Our example (The Devil Wears Prada) has an external performance genre with a romance subplot.
Why do people read Status stories?
Readers of status stories want to feel hopeful that the protagonist will succeed. They want to read about someone who works hard to improve their situation–and they want to feel a sense of triumph when that person succeeds. Readers want to feel like they’re capable of raising their own self-esteem, just like the protagonist.
If you’re writing a story with a negative ending, readers will likely expect to feel a sense of pity as the protagonist sells out their values more and more.
And like all genre fiction, you have to deliver the emotional experience readers are looking for in order for your story to work. To deliver this emotional experience, you need to include the obligatory scenes and conventions of your genre in your novel.
What are Obligatory Scenes and Conventions?
Conventions are a reasonably well-defined set of roles, settings, events, and values that are specific to a genre. They are things that readers intuitively expect to be present in a work of genre fiction whether they consciously realize it or not.
Obligatory scenes are the key events, decisions, and discoveries that move the protagonist along on his or her journey. These key scenes are what will evoke emotional reactions in the reader—and when coupled with your genre’s conventions—will give the reader the experience they’re looking for.
As I go through these conventions, I want you to consider WHY each of these roles or settings or events would need to be in a status novel—or what purpose they serve in the overall narrative. You’ll probably notice that each of these conventions has a really specific reason WHY it needs to be there—and because of that, you can use these conventions (plus the obligatory scenes of the status genre) to help you craft an outline or the first draft of a story that works.
What are the Conventions of a Status story?
#1. The protagonist wants to rise in social or economic standing. They want external validation, but what they need is self-esteem.
The status protagonist has an inner need to rise in social or economic standing. They’re focused on improving their standing as a way to gain respect and prove they’re successful. But what they really need is self-esteem, and they need to redefine what success means. Because this is an internal genre, the protagonist needs to have a flaw, wound, or outdated belief (relating to success) at the start of the story.
In The Devil Wears Prada, Andrea wants a job in publishing so badly that she will do anything to get it—including working at Runway Magazine.
#2. The antagonist opposes the protagonist and threatens their social or economic position.
The antagonist in a status story is someone who opposes the protagonist and threatens either their current social or economic position or their ability to rise in social or economic position. This could be a rival character who’s gunning for the same thing or an authority figure like a boss. If the antagonist in your story is someone who dominates others to maintain (or gain) their standing, your protagonist should be the opposite. They should try to gain (or maintain) their standing by prestige (or winning favor with others). Or vice versa.
In The Devil Wears Prada, Emily is quite harsh to Andrea, but so is Miranda. Both women have an immediate impact on Andrea’s ability to rise within the ranks of Runway Magazine, and both women tend to operate from a position of dominance rather than prestige.
#3. There is a clear definition of what it means to be successful, represented by something like a new job title, inclusion in a secret society, a certain reputation, etc.
In a status story, there needs to be a clear definition of what it means to be successful (according to the protagonist). Success is usually represented by something external, like a new job title, inclusion in a secret society, a certain reputation, etc. Really, this is just a way for readers to track the protagonist’s goal and to understand whether they’ve succeeded or failed.
In The Devil Wears Prada, it’s clear that Andrea is expected to be fashionable. There are also clear milestones Andrea is expected to hit such as being trustworthy enough to deliver “the book” to Miranda. Also, if she’s really successful, it might mean a trip to Paris for Fashion Week. For Andrea, she just wants to survive a year at Runway Magazine so that she can move on to a more substantial role in publishing (likely at a newspaper).
#4. The setting is very public and there’s an audience to witness whether the protagonist succeeds or fails.
The setting of a status story is usually very public. So, there’s an audience to witness whether your protagonist succeeds or fails. And if they fail, this setting or arena will no longer be available to the protagonist. So, it’s only for the chosen few who fit a very specific definition of success.
In The Devil Wears Prada, the Runway Magazine office is very busy and very populated. Andrea will definitely be seen (not only by coworkers but by a lot of people in the fashion industry, too), whether she succeeds or fails. And if she fails, she will no doubt be fired.
#5. The protagonist faces social problems or moral challenges as they try to change their social or economic position.
In a status story, the protagonist faces social problems or moral challenges like poverty, class divides, gender inequality, homophobia, etc. as they try to change their social or economic standing. So, there has to be enough meaningful conflict to challenge the protagonist’s outdated definition of success. Not only that, but the protagonist is usually somewhat of an underdog, too. And these social problems or moral challenges make it that much harder to rise in standing.
In The Devil Wears Prada, there’s a whole lot of judgment directed at Andrea for the way she dresses and for how little she cares about the fashion industry. There’s also quite a bit of betrayal happening around her, too.
#6. There is a foil character who demonstrates a different path the protagonist could take in regards to success.
There’s a foil character who demonstrates the multiple options available to the protagonist. This could be someone who has either sold out for success or someone who has redefined their definition of success in order to stay true to their values. So, this could be anyone from a friend, family member, colleague, or anyone that the protagonist has somewhat consistent contact with.
In The Devil Wears Prada, there are quite a few characters who represent all the different paths Andrea could take. There’s Nigel, Emily, Miranda, Christian, etc.
#7. There’s at least one mentor figure who gives the protagonist guidance, wisdom, or tools in relation to success, for better or for worse.
The status protagonist often has at least one mentor who gives them guidance or wisdom in relation to success, for better or for worse. A flawed mentor might show the protagonist a shortcut or compromise that could result in getting to the finish line quicker. A real mentor might advise the protagonist to remain true to their values even if it means losing external success.
In The Devil Wears Prada, Nigel is a great example of a positive mentor for Andrea. Christian is an example of a mentor with ill intentions.
#8. There is at least one shapeshifter character who says one thing and does another. And usually, this hinders the protagonist’s ability to rise in position.
There is at least one shapeshifter character who says one thing and does another. And usually, this hinders the protagonist’s ability to rise in position. This could be anyone from a rival coworker, to a boss, to a friend or family member, or anyone really!
In The Devil Wears Prada, Christian is a shapeshifter. He gets close to Andrea (and sleeps with her!) all while knowing he’s working with Jacqueline Follet to oust Miranda from her position.
#9. The protagonist has a wound or outdated way of thinking that they must overcome in order to gain self-esteem and/or rise in position.
The protagonist has a wound or outdated way of thinking that they must overcome in order to gain self-esteem and/or rise in position. And this wound or outdated way of thinking should directly contribute to why they don’t already have enough self-esteem to define success on their own terms. So, consider their backstory here. What made them this way?
In The Devil Wears Prada, Andrea is willing to do whatever it takes to spend one year at Runway Magazine so that she can eventually move on to a different (more serious and substantial) job in publishing. But what Andrea comes to realize is that it’s not worth climbing the Runway ladder, and that she could actually be very happy with a smaller life (living somewhere with her boyfriend, Nate, and working for a local paper).
#10. The ending is bittersweet.
The end of a status story is usually bittersweet. So, the protagonist has either sacrificed their original external goal and gained the self-esteem needed to redefine success on their own terms, or they have sold out to accomplish their external goal (and in doing so, it should be clear to readers that they will not fulfill their potential). In most cases, they’ve had to let go of the thing they want to get what they need (or if it’s a cautionary tale, they ignore the thing they need to get the thing they want).
In The Devil Wears Prada, Andrea leaves the fashion world after realizing she does not want to be like Miranda. She ends up applying for a local paper (and getting the job) and getting back together with her boyfriend, Nate. So, she didn’t get the big job in publishing, but she’s happy nonetheless.
So, that's it! Those are the conventions of the status genre. As a quick reminder, these are the elements that readers come to status stories for—they love them! So, don’t skip over these conventions or leave them out of your story.
Instead, use them to help you flesh out and construct your story and then figure out a way to deliver these conventions in new and unexpected ways. If you do that, you’ll not only write a story that works, but you’ll probably gain fans for life, too—and that’s the dream, right?
👉 Let's discuss in the comments: Are you writing a status story? Do you have these conventions in your draft? If not, how can you add in what’s missing? Can you identify these conventions in your favorite status stories?