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  1. John Bender
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    John Bender Banned

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    How handle the reluctant, passiv protagonist?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by John Bender, Jan 21, 2010.

    This is kind of an offshoot to my fist post:

    In writing, there’s always this thing about the hero’s journey. His dramaturgical goal, his overall development and his inner (psychological) needs behind all that. I know it’s not obligatory to run things by that rule book but I would like to try to.

    The problem is, I find it rather tricky to detect the drive and need in the ´reluctant`-hero kind of type. Many protagonists clearly want something: money, power, a certain girl, a car or to hunt down the villain…whatever…
    And you’re supposed to have that nailed down by plot point one.

    AND the hero is supposed to be the prime mover, the driving force in the story. Defined by his actions, driving the plot forward.

    But what about the passive, lethargic kind of hero? The one who thinks that everything’s for the birds anyways? The one who seemingly wants nothing but to be left alone…

    You obviously have to force him into action but at what point is he supposed to embrace the whole task and go spontaneously? Definitely NOT by plot point one because that’s when his development just starts. But how else get the thing in gear…?

    I don’t know if those wanderings get across what I mean but let’s just see if anything grows out of them anyway…
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    There needs to be a motivating force, It may take place when events make it clear that if he does not act, people he cares deeply about will suffer greatly. Maybe someone close to him even died.

    To overcome passivity, there has to be a change, a precipitating event. It won't hust happen out of the blue.
     
  3. John Bender
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    John Bender Banned

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    Yeah, sure, every protagonist needs a motivating force, either intrinsic or extrinsic. In a ´traditional` dramaturgic structure this motivating force makes it’s first appearance somewhere in act one, when the main plot is being kicked off. Like, a head hunter’s ordered to bring in a suspect. Or Luke sees Leia’s hologram. Or the guys set off to check out ´Jurassic Park` island. And then it’s kind of being reinforced and twisted at the same time at plot point one. When an unexpected incident makes it really hard or even impossible for the protagonist to accomplish the task ´just like that` or to turn back on it. Like, when the head hunter has to face the fact that the suspect will not fly in a plain. Or when Luke’s uncle and aunt are being killed. Or when electricity fails in Jurassic Park…

    Usually the hero gets in gear at that point, developing energies to hold against the odds and to get the job done regardless.

    But what if the main characteristic of the character is that he doesn’t see any point in getting in gear? It would be pointless to bring him over at plot point one, which is basically at the beginning of the story. What if I want to tell a story about somebody who has to learn to ´want` again? Who has to learn that it’s worth trying even if you might fail terribly? He’d have to be reluctant and restive for quite a while. But who’s in charge of driving the action forward, then?

    The whole approach seems to kind of twist and stretch the common structure…or maybe I just don’t see the obvious yet…
     
  4. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    No matter who they are, everyone has something that they hold dear, even passive, lethargic people. Threaten that or take it away and I see plenty of motivation.
     
  5. Anders Backlund
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    Anders Backlund Contributing Member

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    If you have character who's only wish it to be left alone, I suppose the best thing to do to make sure everyone he meets insists on bothering him.

    Basically, you can either have your character go look for trouble, or have trouble come find him. Put him in a situation where he has no choice but to act in order to avoid ending up in an even worse situation. That's your motivating force right there: the character simply doesn't want to be where he is, and getting out of that place may involve doing what he doesn't want to do.

    Actually, come to think of it, I'm pretty much describing Rensvind from Discworld, aren't I?
     
  6. Sieglinde
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    Sieglinde Member

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    In other words, he has the Hamlet Syndrome? ;) I knwo this type. Very hard to write. Always upstaged by the Ensemble Darkhorses.
     
  7. Show
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    I don't find passive protagonists too hard to write for as long as they have active people to complement them. I don't think there's a trick to it. I guess it just depends on what you want your story to be, or rather, what it has decided that it is going to be. If the has decided that the protagonist is quiet, reserved, and not the type to really actively try do more than obtain some contentment in their everyday life, you as the writer will make it work if you want to.

    Passive people exist, I am quite passive myself. I can relate to passive characters. It's probably why I feel so comfortable writing them. So I do think it's important that passive protagonists get their fair representation too.

    As for how you make a protagonist interesting, I guess it depends on the story. If it's an action story, obviously threatening what he cares about is a good way. For non-action stories, you probably have to be more creative. There's no general rule I can see, cause each story will have something different driving it, at least that's been my experience.
     
  8. InkDream
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    InkDream Senior Member

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    Everyone has a motivator in life. Everyone. No one is immune. It might be something small, or petty, but it's there you just have to dig for it. My questions are this: What does the "hero" do to be considered the hero? More importantly, how was it in his best interest to do so? because often in this case it's something somewhat selfish rather than altruistic. Money? To save his own skin? To get something that he wants? Does he do it simply to amuse himself? You have to answer this yourself. What drives him to be the hero, even if he doesn't want to be?
     
  9. SirSamkin
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    This may sound a bit blunt, and I don't do it very often for a reluctant hero, but depending on your genre you could have something "Fun" happen to him. (get mugged, shot, attacked by a dragon, married, etc.)
     

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