There are people who have dominant personalities. We might call them an alpha. They don’t have to be abusive, arrogant, angry, or dismissive. In fact, when you combine the positive traits of dominant males with generosity, humility, and a few others, a compelling character can emerge.
Dominant Characters In Deep Point Of View
In deep point of view, you’re limited to just one or two (maybe 3) point of view characters. To make it even more challenging, the reader is limited to only what the POVC can see, know, feel, hear, etc. so it becomes really important to learn what dominant body language looks like to avoid telling and draw the reader into the story.
Remember, in deep point of view you (the writer) can only present evidence to the reader (judge), and they make decisions on character mood, emotion, attitude, etc. So how do you do that? In your writer’s toolbox, you’ll have your own character’s posture and gestures, thoughts, physiology, and words. You also have how others respond and behave when with your point of view character (their posture, facial expressions, words, etc.) Your alpha character doesn’t have to put people down, be a jerk or abusive to show the reader they’re in control.
“In the dim light, he saw a woman flat against the wall, pinned there even though the man before her wasn’t touching her. He was an inch away from her face…” The Light Between Oceans, M.L. Stedman
This book isn’t in deep point of view, but you see how the dominant body language is evident here in a negative light.
“‘Will you shut up, you stupid wom–‘ William Baker began, then took a sudden step backwards as Strike took a half-step forwards. Nobody said anything.” The Silkworm, Robert Galbraith
Amy Cuddy’s TedTalks videos explore power poses. I’ve spent some time just watching people in innocuous situations — waiting at a bus stop, at the theater, at a restaurant, etc. and these power poses are actually used unconsciously all the time. Do a search on an image site and it’s hard finding a male in a submissive pose.
A power pose is the body language of someone feeling powerful (in control, in authority) or victorious. You’ll often see athletes raise their arms up over their heads when they win. When you feel powerful, you’re more likely to feel uninhibited and adopt an open posture.
This often involves making yourself look bigger in some way:
- arms raised up or spread wide
- puffing out chests
- keeping head up (like there’s a string attached at the ceiling to the top of the head)
- putting feet up on a desk – lounging (though this really smacks of arrogance too)
- hands on hips (think Wonder Woman)
- standing upright or erect
- chin up, chest out
- legs spread apart
- chests, crotches, necks exposed or on display (not in an indecent way)
- elbows or knees spread wide
- Foot or ankle resting on top of knee in a figure 4 position
- looking down from a higher position or elevation
- man-spreading, crowding the space of others
Submissive poses are the opposite. This body language seeks to make a person appear smaller and they adopt a posture that appears to protect their vulnerable bits – chests, hearts, necks, crotches, etc. Power and submission poses are practiced equally by men and women, though women are often culturally conditioned to strike submissive poses because men find these kinds of body language attractive.
Let’s look at a real-world example. At the Yalta Summit in 1945, a media photo was released of the three most-powerful men in the world at the time: Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin.
This photo perhaps captures how each man feels about his place in the group or the outcome of the meetings. Churchill (left) is holding his hat in his lap covering his groin and appears to have his shoulders hunched. This is a submissive pose.
Roosevelt (center) isn’t covering either his neck, chest or crotch, but this isn’t a power pose. He’s confident but not feeling victorious or in control. Stalin (far right) with his open display of chest, crotch and neck is striking a power pose. See how Stalin is spreading his elbows and knees wide. He’s not slouched but has a very rigid posture. He feels he’s in a position of power or is celebrating a victory perhaps.
Deferring To The Dominant Personality
In deep point of view, it’s important to avoid “telling” the reader the character feels in control. Rather, we want to show it. One way to show who is the dominant personality in the room is by how others act around them.
One key body language “tell” is that everyone pauses and listens when the dominant personality is speaking. Those who aren’t feeling dominant (in control, victorious, etc) will unconsciously mimic the dominant person’s responses and posture. They’ll defer to that person when a question is asked.
Without the dominant personality, no one knows what to say. They are unwilling to meet anyone’s gaze. No one steps up. When a non-dominant personality exits a group, the conversation will continue and the circle will close in the gap like they weren’t there. When a dominant personality leaves, the conversation stops and people stare at the floor and they begin to shift and move about. They don’t know what to say.
Dominant In Specific Spheres
Dominance can be location or people specific. Someone could be the dominant personality in their own home, their work, their community, or social group. Their dominance may overlap with many spheres, or it could be limited to just one. Let their posture and body language shift between the spheres to show the loss or lack of dominance. You can really play with this. How would a contest for dominance look in a civilized setting? How would a good alpha assert his authority in public?
Consider the person who is dominant, but relinquishes that power to someone for a time, for a reason. The dominant personality in a meeting may temporarily give up their power in order to hear from an expert for instance. How would that affect their posture or body language? How will the “expert” react to having that power taken away again?
How Does All This Work In Fiction?
We know how things work in real life so how strictly do we need to stick to it in fiction? Let your character’s alpha-ness be a source of the conflict they feel internally or create externally. Many times in fiction, we’re writing about the outliers, those who don’t fit the society mold so there’s lots of freedom to depart from what’s above as long as you’re consistent.
In the age of #metoo, despite the popularity of the 50 Shades books and movies, your alpha hero can (and should) respect women and understand consent, etc. He can be an alpha without needing to dominate those closest to him. Your alpha doesn’t have to be a Wolverine when they could be Professor X. Not many writers are interested in creating those types of characters–or at least, avoid celebrating them.