Dominance is something that comes across in a variety of different scenarios and genres. It’s also something that people understand on a subconscious level, but sometimes have trouble writing. We’ll start off by defining dominance.
Dominance: Power and influence over others.
That’s simple enough. To put it in broader terms, someone who is dominant is usually characterised as being a leader; they control the people and the situations around them. There are two main ways of doing that. First, you have the flashy, aggressive, brute force people (or creatures), and then you have the naturally dominant personality.
The reason that I separated those two out is that the first character type will have to work constantly to try and maintain their position of power. That’s exhausting, and gives plenty of openings for other beings to try and take over their place in the hierarchy. The latter, however, is very comfortable and entirely in control. They don’t waste energy, as they have what could be called true control. Dominance is a core part of their being. They don’t need to think about it or work on it, it’s just them.
How does this come into writing?
Well, dominance is something that factors into a whole range of different situations. Take shifters for example; there will be dominance displays between the varying creatures to decide who stays where. That then goes on to influence the rest of the situation: who gets breeding rights, the best food, etc.
Outside of the obvious shifter stories, there are also BDSM scenes and stories where a clear-cut power dynamic is in play. On the subtler and less obvious end, you have scenes relating to business or dealing with police or a courtroom. Someone is in control and in the dominant position; they are controlling the situation and those in it.
How do you actually write it?
A lot of it comes down to body language. We’ll start with someone who’s the aggressive form of dominant and says that they’re currently in power. They are likely to make themselves look big and scary; they want to remind people that they will put them back down in their place. There will be displays of aggression and clear power plays where they eat the best food, they sit at the head of the table, and they are given or take all of the things that everyone wants. They’re likely to have someone or something large and dim to help beat the other things and keep them down. They’ll also be paranoid, insecure, and constantly looking for the next creature to take their place.
This creature is likely to be quite tense a lot of the time, show lots of displays of muscles or teeth, and perhaps even cover the throat out of insecurity. They’ll have a weapon, or if they’re a shifter or similar thing, have their claws or some such on display quite a lot of the time. It’s all about appearances.
Then you have the natural dominant, the creature that displays dominance as part of their core personality and self. We’ll say that this particular creature is in a position of power. They’ll be the opposite of the one above. They’re calm, they don’t raise their voice, they control the situation and everything below with a single look or word. They openly bare their throat, lean back in their chair, expose their stomach, and don’t bother keeping weapons around. They have little or no concern about the notion that someone else might try and take their position. That’s where they belong, and that’s that. They’re cool to the point of being unflappable, and the other creatures find themselves happy serving them without conscious thought.
This creature is very relaxed and could even be written as blasé. They put no effort into controlling things, as they don’t need to. It’s just the natural order of things, and the concept of them being in any other position in the world just doesn’t quite function in their head.
We’ll look at a business setting. We’ll use the boardroom.
We have Andrew; he’s the aggressive, insecure, not naturally dominant type. He’s dressed in an expensive, flashy designer suit with a nice, bright power tie. He wants everyone to see him and pay attention to him. When he walks into the room he looks at everyone and makes a note of their reaction; he’s looking for admiration, weakness, and any potential rivals. He starts his presentation. He uses a lot of big gestures, he makes little quips about rival companies and how they’re weaker, and he speaks very loudly. When someone dares ask a question about something that doesn’t make sense, he makes a big show of putting them down. He raises his voice and makes strong eye contact. He gets as personal as the situation allows and belittles them, while watching to make sure that the rest of the group approves. He’s tense, and he towers over the questioner, trying to use his size and standing position to increase the sense of dominance.
Then we have Ben. He’s in a nicely fitting T-shirt and a pair of smart jeans. He tucks his hands into his pockets, but keeps his head high and greets people with a friendly smile. He doesn’t pay that much attention to the people in the room, just enough to get a feel for who’s where before he starts. His hands are quiet, his voice is controlled and steady, and he’s completely calm and relaxed. When someone questions him, he offers them a small smile, leans back a little, and brushes them off before continuing on. When someone starts to lose interest, he merely quirks his eyebrow a little and carries on without losing his focus.
On the aggressive end, we have a lot of motion, a lot of big actions and loud noises to keep the people under control and focused on Andrew. On the other side of the coin we have Ben, who’s complete calm, relaxed, and at ease with things. He doesn’t need flashy displays, because he’s where he belongs and everyone in the room is comfortable with him being there.
In summary, dominant behaviour is that which controls and influences those around the character. Some people are naturally dominant personalities; they display that through a cool, calm demeanour and a complete lack of concern. After all, they belong there, that is their place in the world. There are, however, other personalities that push to reach the dominant position yet they must depend on big displays and aggression to maintain control over the situation. They’re anxious, tense, loud, and grandiose. It’s down to the writer to know which their character is and cater their thoughts and actions to fit.