Something I learned the hard way

As a reader, one thing I have really come to despise are passive Main Characters.

When I say passive, I don’t mean limp lilies, who waft about and ponder the nature of the universe (though I’m not fond of those either). I mean characters who only move in response to imposed narrative events. They can kick ass or fix the planet-saving device, but they don’t do it out of their own initiative. They are reactive to events, but don’t initiate anything. For me, as a reader or a writer, this is a story killer. If I can see where the story is leading the MC to, why bother to read the book? I already know it’ll be filled with waffling and indecision on the MC’s part. It’s only when the MC is in the driver’s seat that I get interested; what are they going to do next?

I used to do this reactive thing all the time in my own writing, and when I reread it, it would bother the hell out of me. Historically, I would then abandon the story and character, usually from disgust. Why couldn’t they be like the characters in the books I loved? Why were they so lacking in drive? But after doing it again and again, I had to stop and actually figure out what was wrong. I began to examine how I was writing them, and what I was basing the story design on.

A lot of advice out there, especially for nanowrimo, is to throw in events to shift your characters into action. Can’t figure out what comes next? Throw in a natural disaster!* Then you’ll get huge piles of words! While this is great advice for adding to your word count, it doesn’t generally do your story a lot of favours. And I’m at a point where I want the story to shine, not the word count.

I came to realize that what’s lacking is the right personality and motivation in my MCs. The character has to have a reason to do things, and a personality that is curious, inquisitive, or commanding. The MCs need both; a motivated but placid character will be a reactive-only character. This isn’t a fix, because the character still doesn’t take the initiative**.

A nosy, but personally unaffected character will need to constantly be driven in the right direction before they get too derailed. And the lack of personal involvement means that the reader isn’t all that invested in it either.

I wish I could go back in time, and take a writing course; I could have avoided years of churning out crap.


*One person I know actually did this; he had a volcano explode.

**Trust me, I tried this.


4 thoughts on “Something I learned the hard way

    • Sometimes I try to be subtle, but apparently one can be too subtle; then people ask, what the hell is that about (I have premature foreshadowing). Worse, if it’s been a while since I wrote it, I have no idea what I was hinting at anymore.

      Liked by 1 person

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