Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Active-Reactive Formula

One of the most salient pieces of writing advice that you're bound to find on the internet is that a good protagonist is active, not passive. Meaning they take charge in shaping their own destiny, rather than reacting to events that happen around them. Someone who steers a boat through rough waters as opposed to someone clinging to a piece of driftwood.

But it's important not to take it too far in one direction.

In any story you start with a problem that gets worse until it's resolved. If the main character is always active then she is the one making the problem worse. And that's good because stories are about growth and change and responsibility. But there comes a point when a character makes too many bad decisions and readers begin to think she's foolish or frustrating. They turn against her.

So a balance is needed. Or the character needs to be forced into making decisions with no ideal outcomes, like sacrificing a knight in a game of chess. When plotting a book, a formula that sometimes works for me goes like this:

- Situation

- Action

- Consequence

- Reaction

- (repeat)

Like anything in writing, that formula doesn't work all the time. It's just something I try when I'm stuck in the mud.

All that said, an active protagonist is far better than a reactive one. And it's better to err on the side of overly active. Who doesn't like to watch someone overcome a mess they made?

This is based on a comment I left on author Ava Jae's website in her post about passive characters.

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