Will He or Won’t He?

Active vs Passive Protagonist

How many times have you walked away from watching a movie, frustrated by the protagonist/hero’s lack of action? Or that they seem carried along by events without actually engaging in the process and making efforts to do something? Yes – this is the passive protagonist, and can make your film seem twice as long, and leave your audience wandering to the nearest bar to drown their sorrows. Well, maybe not quite, but you get my drift.

In a recent screenwriting class, we examined several examples of characters whose role was to carry or drive the story, but managed to avoid any real activity. We saw the need to ensure that our hero needs to be active in the process to engage the audience and take them on the journey with that character. As viewers, we need to sympathise with and relate to the character in some way – we need to find something likeable. As writers, we need to like our hero in some way, and so give our audience a reason to cheer him or her on.

We writers have the power to grab the audience’s attention and take them on a fabulous ride with us, throwing impossible situations at our characters and pulling them through. But we need honest characters, flaws and all, who somehow reflect a little bit of ourselves and let us into their inner lives.

PS: Thanks to Karel Segers at The Story Department for the fuel for this post. Want more? Check out The Story Series.