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  1. Killer300
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    Killer300 Active Member

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    The Reactive Protagonist

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Killer300, May 8, 2011.

    Okay, this is apparently just unacceptable for a protagonist, which has actually caused me to have weird quest to write a story with a reactive character just to be rebellious I guess:), so I'm wondering, why is this? I mean, is it because plots demand the main character pushes it forwards? Why can't the plot just push against the character? The reason I say this is because I think this is a severe limitation that one has to overcome when writing certain types of characters.

    To give an example, lets say your character is a hermit. Okay, this basically requires that something happen to the character, not the other way around. Or, at least I find it does. But anyway, under this rule though, you either only get to do that to start the plot, or not at all. This is a problem, because the hermit obviously doesn't start the story with such willpower, (keep in mind I'm referring to one that is a hermit because of lack of social skills, like a hikikimori) but that has to be gained over time.

    Now, I understand internal conflict counts too, however that still causes issues. Unless the plot is entirely internal conflict, and even then you still need the external world to,"push," the character more towards internal conflict in a sense.

    The reason I ask all of this is because I think some plots may be hurt by this, although not as damaging as the,"show not tell," can be, and I'm wondering if it's really necessary, or is just a guideline most stick to because it's too difficult otherwise?
     
  2. TheSpiderJoe
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    TheSpiderJoe Senior Member

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    To be honest (and I'm hope I'm reading into this correctly) it's because there wouldn't be a story.

    Who would want to read 80,000+ words of a hermit just living their life? It's boring. Conflict is what people want to read. Have you ever read a story where there wasn't a single problem or issue that comes up? This is what drives characters to action. It is also what drives readers to your story.

    The only way I can see it hurting the plot is only if its written poorly or the plot is just bad to begin with.
     
  3. Backbiter
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    Backbiter Contributing Member

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    What I'm getting out of this is that you want to write a character that, instead of creating a "plot" for his/herself, just reacts to everything that's thrown their way. If this is what you mean, then I feel as if that would be acceptable. You would have to have at least one character that does create some sort of conflict, otherwise the reactive character would have nothing to react to.

    I hope I understood your question correctly.
     
  4. Lord Malum
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    Lord Malum Senior Member

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    It wouldn't even have to be another character. Perhaps it's the world itself (i.e. Nature). Perhaps the hermit is forced out into the world because of some disaster destroyed his home. The story would be the hermit's inability to accept or look for help due to his poor social skills or predispositions towards society.
     
  5. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    A lot of the classic storyline where a hero sets out on a quest he's forced by events to go, and only after having to accept his quest does he start taking fate into his own hands. Hence the amount of villages that have to burn down and parents that need to die. It's just that the emotional storyline is about them learning to accept that they have to do something.

    I tried writing a novel where this guy goes on an epic fantasy quest just because it's his job and he's just following orders - only doing it because he has to. It had to be a fairly easy plot to have him keep going under his own steam though, so I've set it on the backburner while I try to come up with a good reason for someone living a more exciting life to come with him/join up with him before he loses the willpower to keep going against interesting odds.

    Another story I wrote the main character spends over half the novel experiencing things, panicking, and being pushed around by friends and mysterious strangers. Even at the end when they go off to set things right it's her more bossy friends who know what's going on that make the decision, and she follows along because they're going. She never actively stands up and says "I want to go save my friend!" but eventually feels a bit guilty because she probably should, and the others are going anyway. I made her emotional journey completely unrelated to the success of the quest, and so the lack of villain, serious antagonists of other sorts, or any seeking out of plot points on her part, have nothing to do with how awesome the novel is. (Pretty awesome :D)

    I think it depends on the personality of the narrator though. A lot of people might be passive and reactive, but only certain types would be interesting to read. You just have to find a way to write an interesting character who does stuff but not the stuff the plot might expect of them.
     
  6. Killer300
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    Killer300 Active Member

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    Ah, I see. Yeah, I was talking about stuff happening to the main character instead Spiderjoe, although actually someone has written a story about a hermit staying in their apartment most of the time and has made it incredibly interesting, that being Welcome to the N.H.K. Not only that, that one also has a good manga and anime, not just the light novel. Cognito is right in saying good writing can do a lot, however in that case internal conflict helped things along, among other things.

    Hey Malzaar, is that the story with the rich girl too? And the poor artist friends she has? Very curious about that novel now actually, sounds like one of the more interesting slice of life stories, although maybe I'm mistaking it for something else.
     
  7. JimFlagg
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    JimFlagg Contributing Member

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    Stories do not always need to be Person Verses Person. It can be Person verses Nature. Look at Castaway. Very little dialog but it was interesting because he had to fight against his own sanity and nature.
     
  8. Killer300
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    Killer300 Active Member

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    Yes, but that was an external conflict, i.e. nature. I'm not saying internal conflict is bad, hardly, I'm just saying that an external conflict is required to ignite it.
     
  9. Froggy
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    Froggy Member

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    If your character has serious enough issues, he/she will actually create the external conflict. To some degree anyways....

    Take the hermit for example, he/she shuts themselves off from society. Yeah, they may no call the lightning strike down on themselves, but they are responsible for the fact that there is noone there to help them. Maybe they even chased possible helpers away in the past.

    A depressed character may let their house go until something catches fire or they get physically sick because of it...

    A person with anger issues lands themselves in therapy...

    People with abandonment issues cling until everybody runs from them...

    Etc...

    For a heroes journey, there have to be obstacles to overcome. So in effect your character has to react to those obstacles to get to where they need.
    Whether the reaction is to run and bump into the next one, or to fight trough, that's up to you.
     
  10. Toni Pop
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    Toni Pop New Member

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    I believe in the video game Dragon Age 2, the protagonist, Hawke is fairly reactive. Of course, a lot of interesting stuff happens around him, but he doesn't drive the plot per se. I found the game very interesting and similar to real life, where it's not just one person who gets to decide what happens. Also, empowering the other characters made them a lot more believable. I reckon a reactive protagonist makes the story more similar to reality and thats not always appealing, at least not to a mainstream audience.
    Forrest Gump is a passive protagonist. I also reckon Kafka's characters are fairly reactive and his books are considered masterpieces, but it takes a certain kind of reader to appreciate such stories.
     
  11. D-Doc
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    D-Doc Active Member

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    I don't see the problem. A lot of real people are reactive instead of proactive, and a lot of great characters are based off real people. As long as the protagonist is interesting and he reacts to interesting events, it should work. A lot of people are thrust into crazy situations, so they react accordingly. That would be much more believable and less cliched than some fool wandering out and looking for adventure.

    I would like to throw in that being reactive instead of proactive is probably not the best way to live your life, but it can work in a story.
     
  12. Gholin
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    Gholin Member

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    I have a hard time really defining reactivity in a book.

    After all, Harry Potter chose to go to Hogwarts by following Hagrid, but that was a reaction to all the invitations he received. Yeah, he chooses to break rules and solve the mysteries he is beset by each year, yet, isn't this just a reaction to said rules being stated in the first place?

    I'd like to modify the scientific theory: Every action has a reaction... which in turn, produces another action. Action cannot happen except as a reaction to a previous action. So really, what character isn't reactionary? Maybe I'm not thinking about it right, but I too have a problem creating a story where the main character makes everything happen in the plot. Do other character's action not matter to him? Can't he react to a monster appearing or does he have to seek out the darn thing for the plot to be good?

    The rule that a protagonist cannot react seems a bit absolute and limiting if you ask me. Sure he or she should propel the story, but who says the story can't nudge them from time to time?
     

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