The Power of Association

“I don’t want you hanging around with so-and-so.  They’re not a good influence.”

You likely heard the above from a parent at one point growing up.  Maybe it pushed you closer to that person?  That would be the rebellious streak that seems to live in all of us.  But the focus of today’s post isn’t on what our reaction to this situation would be, it’s on the human nature that lies in your mother’s statement - ‘so-and-so is not a good influence.’

Is it not true that we’re all influential?  We can affect people in a positive way, or a negative one.  Likewise, they can affect us.  And it doesn’t matter how old we are.

As adults, we pride ourselves on our independent nature – “no one can control me” – but doesn’t the multi-billion dollar advertising industry prove that wrong every day?  In fact, it preys on the influential part of human nature.  Ask yourself honesty, what was the latest electronic gadget that you bought without any influence from the media?  After all, isn’t the thinnest laptop the best, and the largest flat-screen television the only way to go?  You get the point .

Association doesn’t just come in the form of people in front of you.  It can also entail what we allow into our home – the novels we read, television shows and movies we watch, or advertisements that inundate the world.  Basically, anything we take in, can be termed loosely “association”, and all of these have some influence (control, power) over us.

How can we apply this to our writing?

- Have one character’s manner of speech rub off on another one.
                It could be something as straight-forward as having a MC who swears, and a supporting character that never does.  Maybe they’re put into a situation, and suddenly find themselves swearing.  I had this happen in my novel SACRIFICE where the MC went “missing” for a bit, leaving her partner behind to figure things out.  The pressure of the case, and concern over his partner’s wellbeing caused him to say a few cuss words (normally he’s completely against it).  But the as the story evolves, so should the characters.  It was actually fun writing this portion because it happened naturally, and when they were reunited, my MC looked at him and said “you’re sounding like me”.

                It could also be something as simple as word choice.  Maybe you have a person who ends a telephone conversation with “okey dokey”?  You could have another character whom they’ve influenced slip and say it once.

- Have a character’s behavior or mannerism become evident in another.

- And even better would be having a character who considers themselves to be independent taking on traits from others in the novel.

- Have a character who is affected by advertising.  Maybe they need the latest gadgets.

- Have a character who loves a certain author quote their work periodically, or pull a word from their vocabulary.  Maybe it's an historical novel they love, and the word isn't common for the modern era in which your story takes place.

- This has been played upon before, but maybe a character quotes famous movie lines, or speaks in clich├ęs (maybe they even mess them up).

Just a precaution on the above-noted suggestions - use them sparingly.  And ensure that if one character is influenced by another, that there’s a basis for it.  The two characters must spend a lot of time together in the book.  It should be a natural development that flows as you write.  If you don’t watch these elements, you risk having “cookie-cutter” characters where everyone acts and/or talks the same.

What about you?  Can you think of any other ways to put this Human Observation to use in your writing?


  1. Great post. I completely agree with you. Character development is crucial and nothing kills a story more than a charcter without any depth to them. Like yourself, I believe characters need to grow with the storyline and show, in their actions, manner of speaking, or in changes to their personality, how the circumstances in the story are affecting them. If the author doesn't accomplish this, their characters appear to just be going along with the flow. If this occurs, they lose their believeability to the reader and, in my opinon, the story itself loses its credibility.

  2. You're so right about everyone being influence/being an influence. I love your suggestions for characters. I've had moments where the characters stopped and considered something because they had been influenced by someone in their life, or said something completely influenced by someone else. But you're right--you don't want to overdo it, and it needs to be realistic for that character.

  3. This is a really good device for showing character development. I agree, though, that it should be used sparingly: an MC that changes his/her mind too often based on what others think might come across as a flag in the wind. Not a trait we're looking for in our protagonists, I think!


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