How to Write Passive Characters
Huh? you say. Nobody wants a passive character in their book because readers will be bored. Passive characters don’t act; they’re acted upon. They’re duds, not at all interesting or worth the time it takes to read about them.
They accept or allow what happens or what others do to them, without active response or resistance. Now that sounds mind-numbing.
That’s the conventional wisdom among writers. But wait a minute! Is that always right? Let’s see.
We design every hero or heroine with a strongly motivated goal. Our heroine wants something badly, sometimes for herself, sometimes for others, and she’s willing to struggle to get it. This push-pull causes tension, develops the character and keeps the reader whipping through the pages. So stick to the tried and true, ‘they’ say.
But once in a while we invent nice, ‘go along to get along’ characters they get caught up in terrible situations they didn’t create. We just know they’ll make great story people and we can’t let them go in favor of a more traditional character.
I think we can write an inherently passive character and make her fascinating.
Yet, in order to keep up the readers’ interest, the character (especially a hero /heroine) needs to change and become more assertive as the story progresses. She begins to react to her circumstances because she can’t find a way to remain the same as she’s always been. Inside she’ll still have her passive tendencies, but she becomes more reactive out of necessity.
Her conflict comes from external forces and also from the internal struggle. This can make a wonderful story because it comes from both character and plot.
How to create a compelling passive character:
Dig deeply into the character.
He cares about something, even if he doesn’t have a specific goal.
Get your passive character out of her head and out of the house. Let her meet fascinating people. They’ll add interest and pizazz to the story. Quirky, unusual secondary characters are a fun addition to every book, but especially to one with a passive hero or heroine.
Readers want to see what makes the character tick. So use active verbs and unique descriptions. Do your passive character a favor and stay away from passive words. The combination will put your readers to sleep.
Listen to the dialogue.
Bring out the thoughts of a passive character and make him thoughtful and articulate. Avoid useless chatter and add a dose of wisdom or humor because that will help the reader relate better.
Something provokes her and sets her into motion. This is where the story really begins. The inciting incident needs to be strong and powerful enough to jolt her into action.
She’ll soon start to change and we’ll see what’s deep inside of her and what she’s made of. But it will be a difficult struggle for a passive character to confront her situation head on. She’d rather avoid a direct conflict. Yet circumstances won’t let that happen.
Put her under pressure and turn up the heat. See how she reacts. She’ll be uncomfortable and out of her element but that’s half the fun for the author and the reader.
Love, fear and anger can change her. She can’t stand in a corner and watch the drama from afar because she’s now part of the drama.
She changes because she’d forced to, yet often it’s temporary. When the pressure ends, she might revert to her old self. Still, she’s learned she can rise to the occasion and be the person she needs to be.
In my first novel, Love on a Dime, I created a semi-passive character named Lilly Westbrook. She’s a rich young woman who secretly writes dime novels which would scandalize her family and society if they knew. Her only goal is to keep on writing her books without getting exposed. Lilly’s motivation is stronger than her goal and very altruistic. She donates the proceeds of her books to a charity.
All goes well until Lilly discovers that her new publisher is her former suitor, Jack Grail. She does everything in her power to keep him in the dark since he wants to publicize her along with her dime novels. At the same time, Lilly and Jack fall in love all over again. These problems cause her great internal conflict that she can’t easily resolve.
To add to her problem, an unscrupulous reporter tries to blackmail her. Lilly is forced to take action, although she’d rather run away or bury her head in the sand.
She’s is an example of a character, passive by nature, who has to confront the problems in her life if she wants to keep herself and her family from social ruin.
Do you know of any passive characters in fiction who make memorable heroes or heroines?
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Myra Johnson, Sandra Leesmith and I have written a contemporary novella collection called Love Will Find A Way.
In my story, Staging a Romance, a home stager desperate to keep her job meets a handsome man she remembers from camping days years before. She has to convince him to let her decorate the camp he wants to sell. As they unexpectedly fall in love, they both begin to question their goals in life. They learn that solving the conflicts that keep them apart require much love and sacrifice.