Can the Passivity of the Protagonist Spoil the Perception of Your Book

I decided to raise a very interesting topic that, in most cases, is typical to novice authors, but sometimes peculiar to both advanced and world-known writers.

Yes, today I’m going to talk about the passivity of the protagonist. That is the hero that has no will and acts at the behest of others. So why does this phenomenon take place in literary works, and how does it affect the success of the book? Finally, how to deal with it?
Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to recognize the passivity of the protagonist. Very often, the author manages to skillfully mask it behind a series of plot events and conflicts that distract the attention of the reader. And if the writer knows his or her stuff well, the unsophisticated public may not even suspect that the character doesn’t have any influence on the storyline.

Well, the eye of the critic will always notice that kind of mistake. So what lies at the core of the passivity that spoils the whole story? I believe that’s the inability of the hero to affect things that happen around him. The protagonist may have some goals and interests, but if events develop by themselves, he becomes passive.

The main thing that distinguishes active from passive is actions. If the character makes decisions and acts, he’s active. But if these actions are the reaction to events happening around, then, no doubt, he’s passive.
Traits of the Passive Protagonist
  • The lack of goals. You won’t succeed with your book if the hero either does not know what he wants or has a very vague understanding of his goals. I think that’s the basic point. If the hero has no motivation and no a specific and clear purpose, then the whole story takes a different angle. Incidentally, the existence of a clear goal can easily justify the overall straightforwardness of the story! Look at the numerous thrillers and adventure novels: do they have well-thought out and sophisticated plots? Of course, they don’t, but a cool guy saving  his daughter from captivity easily holds the audience's attention. An understandable goal along with an actively acting character creates the plot itself, and often it’s much more interesting to empathize than wait for the next ace in the hole.
  • No search for ways to achieve the goal. The path of the character towards his intentions is another important element of a good story. If the fate and will of the author favor the protagonist by all means, then why empathize the already lucky man? It happens that on the way to the goal, the hero solves some puzzles. If the answers and solutions are simple and easy or provided to him by another character, it adds another passive trait to the image.
  • Passivity as part of the character’s personality. Take a look at your character’s temper. If he’s active and energetic, you won’t have any problems, but if you conceived him as an apathetic thinker who tends to observe and analyze instead of act, you may experience some problems in the course of the plot. That’s why, if choosing a calm and balanced hero, think in advance how he will motivate his charge to action. Otherwise, you’ll get the same passive hero.
  • Dialogue with a lot of questions. Pay attention to the way your hero or heroine speaks. Is he or she asking questions all the time but never offers a personal opinion? That would suggest a passive character. A lot of the time, others will ask an active character questions, not the other way around. This is a fairly subtle point, so please don’t overlook it and don’t forget that, first and foremost, the hero should act, not talk.

The presence of several of these signs in the image of the hero can seriously spoil the impression of the book. I believe the author should consider the purpose and motivation of the protagonist in advance. Don’t let the hero be a faceless observer in the flood of troubles and tribulations. Constantly ask yourself the question "What is the hero going to do next?" and build the story around it.

Lucy Adams is a blogger from the website where you can get the best research paper writing help. She’s able to cope with a vast number of topics, from education and writing to psychology and health. Yes, Lucy is a generalist! Feel free to supply the author with your best ideas and get high-quality posts for free.


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