One of the commenters on Nathan’s blog said:
Whenever I read something like: “you have to have a proactive protagonist,” I immediately want to go out and write a story with a protagonist who sits around and stares at a wall until he dies. No offense to Rachelle Gardner, I’m sure she has a good point. I just get contrary that way.
I got a good laugh out of that because I have to admit, I’m the same way. I don’t like rules for rules’ sake, and it’s completely in my nature to set out to try and prove that a rule is wrong or ridiculous. I’m always looking for the loophole; always interested in the gray areas much more than the black and white (if black and white even exist).
If that’s the way I think, then why do I post pithy little bits of advice like “Your protagonist must be proactive”?
Many of you noted in your comments that there are various ways to look at the word proactive, and that physical action might not actually be necessary for a good story. Duly noted. And that ties into the point I want to make here.
The nature of my blog is that any individual post is not meant to definitively address any issue. In fact, each post only touches the tip of the iceberg on the topic at hand. The purpose is to state a piece of my opinion, then open it up to you, the readers. You get to expand on it, to take it deeper, to dissect it, to bring up possible arguments against it, to uncover the shades of gray.
A bit of advice like “Your MC must be proactive” is, of course, a generality. Overall, in most cases, it’s a good thing to remember, especially if you’re a newer writer. However, as many of you pointed out, it’s not that simple. Quite a few wonderful books – entire books – have been written about characterization. The topic of creating powerful characters is worthy of hours of discussion and many, many more hours of wrestling in your writing. A blog post can’t begin to cover it.
So don’t ever think I’m trying to be definitive here. If I allowed myself free rein, then every post I ever wrote would be several thousand words long so that I could deeply and thoroughly cover every permutation of every topic. I don’t want to to that; I simply want to call your attention to something you may not have thought about before, or something about which you might like a reminder.
Often, I’m responding to something I see happening in the stories of those who pitch or query me, as I was doing in my Wednesday and Thursday posts last week. I saw a trend; I saw that a lot of people needed to be reminded about protagonists being proactive. So I addressed it.
When you post comments that tell me you’ve heard what I said, or you add a new dimension to what I’ve written, or you ask readers to consider another point of view… that’s when I know I’m doing my job.
So thank you for engaging. Thank you for participating, and for thinking, and for taking the time to express your thoughts here. And thank you for understanding that I am never under the illusion that I have the answers. I don’t. And I’m perfectly happy this way.