The 6 Scenes Every Status Story Needs
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 six key scenes your status story needs to satisfy readers. 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, you'll at least watch it after reading this post to help cement these key scenes 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 will provide 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 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 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 key scenes, I want you to consider WHY these moments 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 key scenes has a really specific reason WHY it needs to be there—and because of that, you can use these key scenes (plus the conventions of the status genre) to help you craft an outline or the first draft of a story that works.
What are the Key Scenes in a Status story?
#1. The protagonist becomes aware of an opportunity to rise in social or economic position.
The global inciting incident of a status story is when the protagonist becomes aware of an opportunity to rise in social or economic position. So, they already have an inner desire to rise in position, but now they see a real chance to do so.
In The Devil Wears Prada, Andrea gets an interview with Elias Clark and meets Miranda Priestly, who runs Runway Magazine. Andrea believes this is her “in” with the publishing world. If she can survive one year at this magazine, she will be off to a more serious and substantial role in the publishing world.
#2. The protagonist commits to pursuing this new opportunity, leaving their comfort zone or current circumstances to go after it.
By the end of act one, the protagonist fully commits to pursuing this new opportunity, leaving their comfort zone or current circumstances to go after it. So, they’re committed to using this opportunity to rise in social or economic standing based on their outdated definition of success.
In The Devil Wears Prada, Andrea asks Nigel to give her a makeover so that she will fit in better with the people of Runway. Despite this, she’s still holding onto the belief that if she can stay here for a year, she will end up with quality references that will help land her a different job.
#3. The protagonist sees the true nature of the antagonist and/or learns what the antagonist wants and why.
Around the midpoint of the story, the status sees the true nature of the antagonist and/or learns what lengths the antagonist will go to in order to gain (or maintain) their position. So, usually, this understanding comes from seeing what the antagonist wants and why they want it. The protagonist might also realize that the antagonist is going after the same external goal, or is a better fit for whatever they’re pursuing, too.
In The Devil Wears Prada, when Andrea messes up with “the book” delivery, Miranda takes her revenge by asking Andrea to get unpublished copies of the most recent Harry Potter book for her twin daughters. Andrea realizes that Miranda wants her gone and that she’s basically setting her up to fail. Andrea almost gives up on her goal here.
#4. The protagonist reaches an all-is-lost moment where the antagonist or rival character takes the lead and/or destroys the protagonist’s chance at getting what they want.
Around the end of act two, the protagonist reaches an all-is-lost moment. This usually happens when the antagonist or rival character takes the lead or when the antagonist ruins the protagonist’s chance of getting what they want (in the way they planned to get it). So, the protagonist can keep trying (despite feeling like all hope is lost) or they can accept defeat and go back to their old life.
In The Devil Wears Prada, Andrea gets the offer to go to Paris with Miranda. Andrea accepts even though she knows it will kill Emily. Miranda makes Andrea tell Emily the bad news, and Emily gets hit by a car while talking to Andrea. Now that Andrea has accepted Miranda’s offer, it really does seem like there’s no going back. Oh, and Nate broke up with her, too.
#5. The protagonist faces the antagonist, and either gets what they want or redefines their definition of success to get what they need.
In the climactic moment, the protagonist is usually offered the very thing they want—a higher position in social or economic standing. So, they either get what they want by selling out their values (or, in rare cases, by using a special talent, gift, or skill from their old life), or they decline the offer, thus redefining their definition of success.
In The Devil Wears Prada, Andrea realizes she doesn’t want to be like Miranda and doesn’t want to work in this world anymore. Getting her valuable referral letters so that she can get a more serious job in publishing just isn’t worth it to her anymore. She’s changed.
#6. The protagonist is rewarded externally, internally, or both.
After the climactic moment, the protagonist is rewarded externally, internally, or both. So, they might get what they want, but not what they need. They might not get what they want, but get what they need. Or they might get both. This is the resolution of the entire story.
In The Devil Wears Prada, Andrea gets a job at a small paper (and a killer reference from Miranda to boot). She also gets back together with Nate, and it seems they’ll be very happy.
So, that's it! Those are the key scenes your status story needs. As a quick reminder, these are the scenes that readers come to status stories for—they love them! So, don’t skip over these scenes or leave them out of your story.
Instead, use this framework to help you flesh out and construct your story and then figure out a way to deliver these key scenes 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 key scenes in your draft? If not, how can you add in what’s missing? Can you identify these key scenes in your favorite status stories?