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Critique and Editing > Passive Protagonist?

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message 1: by Les (last edited Sep 09, 2019 03:22AM) (new)

Les Ey | 23 comments One of the tips for writing a good story is to have a character who is proactive. The character is not merely watching things happen, but reacting and striving to reach a goal. I am writing a story that has a mostly passive protagonist. I've written about a third of it and I have most of the plot worked in my mind. The main character is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, (PTSD). The character withdraws socially and that is a cause of tension for his wife. It is important to me that the character has PTSD because I want to minister to readers with anxiety and PTSD and show them that there is hope (without pretending that it is easy or that people who overcome it are always brave). The later part of the story will involve a vision. The protagonist watches it happen, but he learns from it and is changed. That is not to say he will not act at all but a lot of the story will be happening to him. I would love your thoughts, is such a story doomed to fail?

For example what about George Bailey from "It's a Wonderful Life?" (One of the all-time favorite movies). George's main goal is to leave town but one thing after another conspires to stop him. He stands up to the antagonist but faces jail for his trouble. All that leads to him wanting to end his life but an angel comes to his rescue. Then there is Mackenzie from "The Shack". (I mention this for the sake of analysis not to start arguments - I have some reservations about it myself.) Mackenzie becomes less sociable and bitter towards God. From my perspective, Mac is a passive character. What made those stories so popular?

message 2: by Lara (new)

Lara Lee | 500 comments Mod
There are many stories with a passive protagonist, especially among classics. One thing that gets tiring about many writing groups is that they often create rules where there shouldn't be one. You just want to make sure your story continues to move. A book that has the reader focused on a stagnant set of events that don't go anywhere is a pretty boring book. As long as the character is developing and things in their life is changing to drive our interest, it doesn't matter too much if they are the one initiating it or not. The root of this "rule" is the modern thriller or suspense novel. A passive protagonist often means a slower book, but not always. Many of Jane Austin's books have passive main characters. Uncle Tom's Cabin has a passive main character. Some of Charles Dicken's books have passive main characters. The Man and the Sea is another one.

message 3: by Stan (new)

Stan | 288 comments Mod
Spy Story by Len Deighton may also be considered to have a (mostly) passive protagonist. The "accidental spy" so to speak. The Russia House by John le Carré would also fall into this category. So, even spy stories can involve your "average Joe" who inadvertently gets caught up into something bigger than himself.

And, if you've never seen The Russia House starring Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer (my spelling is horrible) the final scene has some of the best acting the two have ever done, IMHO. It is a slow movie, just as it is a slow novel, but the finale was so well acted and filmed - I really felt the two nailed the characters and the emotions involved.

I commend your work to minister to those with PTSD and anxiety too!

message 4: by Smaug (last edited Sep 09, 2019 11:30AM) (new)

Smaug the Unmerciful Editor (goodreadscomsupremedrake) | 28 comments It's a Wonderful Life, as I'm sure you know, was about what would've happened if George Bailey was a passive character, i.e. if he'd never been born. So the reality he visits is the passive one, and the reality he lives in is the active one, where he does save his brother, and marries his wife, and saves the bank. So it's a story, I guess, about passive vs. active. They managed to make the MC passive AND active at the same time! Wow!

I think passive could work for your story, since it's not set in a time and place where being passive is boring, like a fantasy or sci-fi or adventure. If Indiana Jones was a passive characters, what a bore that would be! If Luke Skywalker was a passive character, that'd be just as bad! But since your book is more of a self-discovery, your man doesn't have to be active in the ways that Indy does. He just needs to be active in the way that he changes himself and others around him. And according to you, he does. So that should be enough.

Of course, like George, your dude's circumstances should dictate his reaction. If, say, his wife dies, does he spiral into suicidal depression? Or does he act and change himself, accepting his loss but not forgetting? Really, if everything is done for him, then that's pretty passive. But since he acts according to his circumstances (he has PTSD so he doesn't like socializing), then that's pretty active to me. And really, having a vision is fine too, as long as you know why he's changed and you see how he's changed.

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