Passive character.. oops.

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    The Fledgling Artist

    So I came to the realization that one of my main characters is completely passive throughout most of the story. This seems like a problem, but I don’t really think it’s one I can fix without changing the character to the point that they no longer serve their purpose for the larger story.

    He’s not far from the type of character you might think of when thinking of someone who just wants nothing to do with what the rest of the main characters are trying to accomplish, and is lowkey just there against his will.
    As I hinted at, his passivity serves a purpose, so I don’t feel like there is much I can do to give him more agency, (although toward the end of the story he does get a little more.) so my question isn’t so much, how do I give a passive character agency, but is there anything I can do to write a passive character well?

    @taylorclogsten @daeus -lamb @j-a-penrose @anyone-who-wishes-to-aid-my-quest

    "Though I'm not yet who I will be, I'm no longer who I was."

    Sarah Inkdragon



    I have come to finally answer your question. XD

    Okay, so first, since I like my definitions, let’s look at exactly what a passive character is. According to our wonderful friend the internet, a passive character is a person that doesn’t act externally, but instead has all conflict internally. They don’t contribute much to plot points or external conflict like battles/decisions/etc, but instead keep to themselves and simply don’t do anything.

    That might sound bad, but considering that a considerable amount of conflict can be created when a character doesn’t do something they should for whatever reason, or when a character ignores what they should do, I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all. Consider Zuko’s arc for a minute. He’s a decisive, impulsive person who greatly impacts the plot, and he is by no means a passive character–but how much conflict is caused by him not doing what he should? He should realize how evil his father is, he should help the Avatar, he should learn to find worth in something other than his father’s approval–but he doesn’t, not for a long time. And that combined with the plot is what gives us the amazing internal conflict on his journey to a hero.

    Passive characters are all about internal conflict, in my opinion. Your character is a reluctant hero, and for whatever reason he’s being dragged along on a quest he doesn’t want to be on. Well, think about why he doesn’t want to be on that quest, what he would be doing if he wasn’t on that quest, and where he will go if he completes this quest. What are his dreams, hopes, and fears? What does he want over everything? And how does that want conflict with his role in the quest? Give him a dream or want that is directly conflicting with this quest, but give him a reason to force him to stay, whether it’s by his own logic or an external force that won’t let him leave. Is he staying over some sense of duty or loyalty, or can he literally not leave? Who is he loyal to then? Or why would they be keeping him?

    The basis of all of this is internal conflict. Your character needs to have a reason to not be on this quest, and a good one that we can get behind. But at the same time, you must also imply the importance of this quest on your audience, so we also understand why he has to be on it/do this. Show us what’s important to your character, and what’s important to the other characters/plot/world. Make their wants conflict.

    To be honest, I can’t say much more without knowing more about the situation, but I hope this helped! Tag me if you’ve got more questions/thought. 😉

    "A hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head."

    - C. S. Lewis

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