An exchange of power between characters is a fantastic way to get a tight rhythm going, whether in dialogue or with a physical struggle. In Shakespeare’s Rebel, watch how author CC Humphreys handles an exchange of power between his hero John Lawley and John’s friend Will Shakespeare.
At first, John seems stronger than Will:
It was John now who took his friend’s arm. “You have been careful, William?” he asked softly.
“This play. Its themes. The times are tender yet and it is only a month since you were called before the Privy Council to answer for Richard the Second.” He lowered his voice still further. “They let you off with a warning, I heard. You do not want to test that now.”
“This is different.”
“Indeed? As I recall the piece, it still features regicide, rebellion, usurpation…”
“All themes well established in Hamlet,” Shakespeare looked at the activity around him. “I do but rework an old piece, truly.”
John looked into his friend’s eyes. “And ghosts, Will?”
“They have always been in the story, too.”
“Not your own.”
Here, John has pushed too far, and now the tables begin to turn as Will shows by his body language as well as his words.
The playwright looked sharply up. “I do not know what you mean.”
Will here takes back his power and now begins to block John at every point. CC Humphreys is a swordsman as well as an author and writer, and he’s skilled at these turnings. Note that exchanges of power are not limited to struggles between enemies; allies must have them too.
If characters are trading information or threats, if they’re setting up for a trial of strength or a big reveal, writing their meeting with an eye to exchange of power is a mark of exceptional storytelling.
Shakespeare’s Rebel by CC Humphreys. Orion Books, London. 2013.