steering the craft

Is your hero a couch potato?

passive hero May 26, 2022

Have you ever been told your protagonist is too “passive?” If so, please know that you’re not alone. The passive hero problem is one that many (and I mean, MANY) writers have to work their way through. 

What do I mean by passive? 

  • Your hero tends to spend pages ruminating about things from the past (“but I need the backstory!”)
  • Your hero tends to spend pages observing and interpreting what’s going on around them (“but she’s the viewpoint character!”)
  • One or more secondary or sidekick-type characters seem to have all the best lines and best ideas about what should happen next (“maybe I should make her the hero?”)
  • If asked what your hero wants in a particular scene, the best you can come up with is “to be left alone” (“but she’s anxious/shy/sad, that’s her flaw! Isn't she supposed to have a flaw?")
  • When confronted by problems, your hero suffers but does not spring...
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the star of the show

Hero. Protagonist. Main character. Whatever term you prefer, this character is the star of the show. 

But what exactly does that mean? In weakly structured drafts, it often means that the writer uses the hero as a fictional doppelgänger. The character appears in every scene, observing and narrating, musing and mulling and commenting on all that she takes in. 

But this passive hero doesn't do anything. She has many feelings and opinions, but the events of the tale happen to her and around her. When a big push forward is needed, some secondary character is likely to step in to orchestrate the next step. 

This is using the protagonist to do the writer’s job. The big tell of this all-too-common type of flawed draft is that the secondary characters are always more interesting than the main character! 

Putting your hero in every scene does not make her an active protagonist. In a well-structured story, the hero drives...

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