Passive to active: let goals be your guide

passive, active, protagonist

To make a passive protagonist active, clarify her goal

As a substantive editor, one of the most common problems I run into—especially with new writers—is that of the passive protagonist.

I suspect that this is because writers are, by nature, observers. We pay close attention to the world around us. That’s great, but it’s not so great when our protagonists become passive observers, when other characters in the story take the most interesting and important actions.

Remember: your story belongs to your hero. We want to see what she’s up to. So make sure that she has a clear goal and that she actively pursues and refines it, gaining greater and greater insight into what she really needs as her story progresses. 

That will keep your story on-track, which is a good thing, because, when the protagonist is passive—when she’s not pursuing a clear goal—the story tends to wander all over the place, spawning subplots, trying to find its core.

So give your hero a difficult task and set her at it!

About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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