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Passive Characters

Banes at 12:00AM, May 30, 2019
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Didn't Do Nothin'

During the making of the movie Cast Away, Tom Hanks and the screenwriter were developing the story, and
it was going well - other than the ending. In the end, the character was rescued.

Robert Zemeckis, the eventual director of the movie told them that the character had to get himself off the island. It was essential to have the character do it himself somehow.

Apparently it's a common practice for beginning writers…and even experienced writers… to write passive characters.

Things happen TO them, rather than them doing things, fighting for things, pushing toward their goals.

Of course, things happen to people in life all the time - and things happen to characters in fiction all the time.

It's not that these are just made up “rules” for no reason; I think it's the fact that passive characters will just ‘feel wrong’ in a story. It puts people off. Makes them tune out. We don't read and watch stories for that.

But in the stories that will feel right, or don't feel ‘wrong’, the things that happen to the characters will be brought into being by actions the characters are taking. They are moving toward what they want, and create these obstacles as they go, and then overcome them.

I've written passive characters. Definitely. Maybe it's something to work on - does a passive character work sometimes, though? Maybe in comedy. Maybe in the right circumstances. I'm not an authority on that…

…so for now I'll hang back passively and see what happens.

-Banes

comment

anonymous?

ozoneocean at 6:57AM, May 31, 2019

Passive characters are not generally interesting. At the moment I can't think of too many instances where they are.

ozoneocean at 6:56AM, May 31, 2019

You're right!

usedbooks at 3:21PM, May 30, 2019

They made one book (well three, but one one with Rincewind) into a mini series. It's called Color of Magic, and David Suchet plays Rincewind. It's how I got introduced to the books.

Banes at 7:55AM, May 30, 2019

hahaha! He sounds hilarious!

usedbooks at 7:11AM, May 30, 2019

Rincewind in the Disc World series is a great protagonist. He spends the entire duration of every book actively avoiding getting involved. He takes action only when forced to do so. But he haphazardly saves the world time and again. (And he never has character development. He remains the same level of coward book to book.) I find him highly relatable.

Banes at 5:49AM, May 30, 2019

@usedbooks - I’ve had the passive hero problem, too. Maybe not a rescue thing, but I’ve just had them falling into the next adventure and even falling into their victory at the end. Yeah, Romancing the Stone has a great arc for the withdrawn, nervous character to find her strength and courage!

Banes at 5:44AM, May 30, 2019

...but I might’ve said this stuff before.

Banes at 5:42AM, May 30, 2019

Oz - nope, I just like the picture

usedbooks at 4:03AM, May 30, 2019

My biggest pet peeve is the main character being rescued (or the WOMAN being rescued especially if she was set up as a main character or a costar). I caught myself doing that early on. I found a cheap way around it was to make the rescue party also main characters, so it's working at two angles. I definitely prefer a get out on your own story though. A rescue feels like lazy writing. Rescuing a woman (who has otherwise been presented as a strong character) is irritating tripe. Romancing the Stone has one of the best climaxes because it deliberately sets up and then knocks down romance tropes. Joan is cornered by the main villain and helpless. Jack gives up everything else to heroically come to her aid. But when he arrives, Joan has already defeated the bad guy. He's there for her to collapse into his arms, but she won the fight herself. The story would have been weaker had Joan been rescued. (She IS rescued in the climax of the sequel, which was disappointing.)

ozoneocean at 1:54AM, May 30, 2019

Best of Banes series? ;)


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