Is your main character (MC) driving the action in your story? What makes this particular story belong to this particular character? Is this character just a victim on the sidelines, or is this character taking action to drive the plot forward? Writing your character as proactive instead of reactive drives the plot and gives us reason to root for the character. It’s okay if your MC is failing (in fact, road blocks are great building blocks to plot) as long as she is trying to do something to get where she wants to go.
In the “Q&A with Veronica Roth” section at the end of Divergent, author Veronica Roth tells us that she gave herself one primary rule with regard to her main character, “Beatrice is the agent… she’s always choosing, always acting, always moving the plot by her behavior.” Active, rather than passive, characters help your plot to be both more character-driven and more action-driven. In Divergent, Beatrice, or Tris, drives the action at the beginning of the story by choosing her faction. There must be a reason that this exact character is telling this story. What is so special about your MC that they deserve to be the one telling this story? What is it about them and their experience that makes them the person to follow?
In The Hunger Games, Katniss drives the action at the beginning of the novel by volunteering to replace her little sister at the reaping. Katniss made a hard choice, but it was her choice. If she had originally been chosen for the reaping instead of her little sister, The Hunger Games would not have had the same emotional pull (and we as readers might not be rooting for Katniss in the same way). Although Katniss is caught up in the Games and definitely sometimes in a reactive position, she still continues to take action to drive the plot.
Why have an active rather than passive MC?
- Readers want to root for the main character more if they are trying to help themselves.
- We get to know the character better through their actions (showing vs. telling).
- Hard choices reveal the character’s innermost traits (Beatrice’s desire for independence, Katniss’s love for her sister).
- This story belongs to these characters – there’s no way it could be told in the same way by anyone else. The characters become more memorable.
What are your favorite stories where the character drives the action? Do you think this is something that is important to move the plot forward?
P.S. Check out this old post from Nathan Bransford about character choice.