Is Your MC Proactive or Reactive?
This week I’ve been writing on topics that were brought to the forefront of my mind when I was at the ACFW conference and spoke with dozens of writers about their books. Today I want to talk about your protagonist, or MC (main character). I’ll make this brief:
Your MC must be proactive and make the story happen.
You cannot have an effective protagonist who simply responds to events happening around him or her. Your protagonist must act, not just react.
In Gone With the Wind, the Civil War begins and changes the lives of everyone in the South. Scarlett O’Hara’s sisters Suellen and Careen stay on at Tara waiting for the war to come to them. But the story isn’t about them, and good thing, because it would be darn boring. Instead the story centers on Scarlett, a strong-willed heroine who repeatedly takes matters into her own hands, making decisions (usually bad ones) and taking radical action in her attempts to make things turn out the way she wants. She might be making mistakes, but at least she’s making them, rather than sitting back and letting life happen to her.
In some stories, part of the heroine’s character arc is learning how to take control of her life. She may start off fairly weak and allowing circumstances to determine her fate, but later learns to be more assertive and make her own decisions. In this case, you have the challenge of making this character likable. She needs to have a streak of hidden strength that the reader can see, even if the character herself doesn’t. Generally a weak or ineffectual protagonist won’t hold a reader’s interest for long.
Look at all the major events or plot points of your story. Did your MC make them happen? Or is your MC simply reacting to these events?
Is your protagonist creating the story, or is he/she simply being tossed on the waves of the story?
Often when you find your story or your MC isn’t compelling enough, you can trace it back to the MC’s passivity or reactivity in the story. Get your MC to make decisions and take actions that change the course of events, and boom! a much more effective protagonist and a better story.