Thursday, July 28, 2016

How to Write Passive Characters

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.

Most writers don’t start out creating passive characters on purpose. We try to create proactive, vibrant and vital people. We know that our heroes and heroines should be larger than life if they’re going to be interesting and memorable.

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.

Interesting friends.
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.

Active writing.
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.

Inciting incident.
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.

Test her.
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?


If you’d like a chance to receive a $15.00 gift card from Starbucks, please leave your e-mail address.

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.





78 comments:

Tina Radcliffe said...

Cara,

Quite frankly, this is fascinating, because it really puts a different way to look at the inner journey. You are so right. I never thought about it. Most heroes and heroines are not Indiana Jones. Most are passive. They don't see the need to change. They don't want to change and go kicking and screaming into it.

But in the end they realize that they have more to gain by going after the deep desire they are denying. Which really follows the Hauge Identity to Essence.

What a different spin on this. Thanks. You've given me lots to think about.

Vince said...

Hi Cara:

I think one can be passive in some respects and active in others. Lilly Westbrook leads a very active life. Writing romances is an active pursuit. Trying to kept her activity secret also takes very active measures.

One's philosophy can also make one passive. It's hard to think of a more passive person than Gandi (except Jesus) and yet few have accomplished as much in a lifetime.

Was Walter Mitty active or passive? His imaginary life was as active as any. In a way, a character that starts out passive and becomes active, like the Hulk, is really an active character. How about a character who stays true to his beliefs yet remains passive from start to finish? Passive does not have to mean 'weakness'.

How important is activeness when compared to being interesting? What about active but predictable vs passive but full of surprises? And isn't it true that 'active' does not have to imply physical activity or energy?

You've given me so much to think about I'll have to sleep on it and come back in the morning.

Come to think about it, how about Rip Van Winkle? Isn't he famous for being inactive?

Vince

P.S. I think "Love on a Dime" is the one romance all true romance aficionados should read.

Trixi said...

I would consider myself a passive person and do love to see passive characters in books. It's fascinating to watch them grow and change due to circumstances outside of their control. You see them become a much more interesting character, and like you said, once the crisis (or whatever) is over, they often revert. But you can see something has changed and made them stronger inside :-) They are much more balanced, they can be passive but yet they've learned to be strong when needed. Maybe they hadn't discovered that strength in them until they are tested! I kind of like to think of myself a bit this way as well.

Roseanna White is a good example in her book "The Reluctant Duchess" (second Ladies of the Manor series) Her heroine Lady Rowena was very passive at first, but as things started happening in the story, you could see her gain more confidence, be more assertive and stand up more for herself; all without losing who she was! The author did a splendid job of portraying an amazing transformation in a character. There have been many more authors I know that have done this, but this one stuck out to me as a more recent book. I love her writing :-)

Now, don't get me wrong, I like my strong characters too. Those go-getters who take control of a situation and are larger than life. They do make the story quite exciting and get the heart racing! I say, as long as there's a good balance (not overly shy or abrasively bold) and character development & growth, it's all good in my book (no pun intended)!

YAY for the passive character(s).......what a great reflective post Cara! Really enjoyed this as you don't hear too much about those quiet ones. They say you better watch out for them, lol! Still waters run deep and all :-)

Please put my name in for the Starbucks card, coffee is always good, thanks so much!

Trixi said...

P.S. Cara you have me so enamored by your description of "Love on a Dime" that I'm borrowing this book from my Overdrive library system (ebook) to read right now! :-) I also noticed they have "Love on Assignment" and "Love by the Book", I'm taking a gander that these are a series? If not, I'm still going to read them!!!!! I just LOVE discovering new-to-me authors and their books.....YAY!!!!!

Cynthia Herron said...

Hi Cara, you've given me food for thought. I don't know that I've ever intentionally set out to write passive characters, but as our characters grow and evolve, your tips make complete sense. That's why we delight in their journey, I think. We live vicariously through the folks we create, and as our characters change for the better, so do we.

Jackie said...

Hi Cara, what an interesting post. I love that the character's arc can take her/him from passive to active. You've given me a lot to think about. Thanks!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Cara, you have laid the common sense of the situation out in such terms that it seems so plain, and yet often forgotten!

This makes absolute sense.

Brava!!!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

COFFEE IS HERE!!!!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

You know, I liked Melanie WAY MORE than Scarlett. Self-absorbed brats annoy me, so Scarlett's dramatics and selfishness left me cold... but the warm, loving sacrificial nature of Melanie won me.

I wonder how odd I am in that?

I loved the book... "Gone With the Wind"... but I thoroughly disliked the heroine.

(Julie, DO NOT READ THIS!!!!!)

Jill Weatherholt said...

Hi Cara! This is such an interesting topic. I never really thought about it this way, but as our characters grow, they often start out as passive. Great stuff...thank you!

Cara Lynn James said...

Tina, I think passive characters are more like most real people than Indiana Jones types. Personally, I don't know many swash buckler people. But if you're writing about police, military, fighter pilots etc. they'll tend to be Type A personalities who tend to be assertive by nature. They'll change in a story, but their character arcs won't be as steep as the arc for more passive characters.

Debby Giusti said...

The reluctant hero! Isn't that the one who appears passive at first? Great blog, Cara. Very insightful. I wrote a reclusive heroine who was forced to uncover secrets from the past that put her in a very difficult situation. Perhaps she was passive at the onset.

I'm thinking about my current WIP. Your blog might apply there as well.

Sipping coffee and reflecting...

Debby Giusti said...

Ruthy, I loved Scarlett. She's a "can do" girl when the going gets tough! I always think back to that scene before the movie intermission when she's digging for potatoes, isn't it? She's ready to fight for Tara...and she does!

Cara Lynn James said...

Vince, you're right, Lilly is active in several ways. Writing books isn't a passive activity! It takes an engaged mind and lots of energy. But Lilly is passive in the sense that she keeps her writing career secret until it's not feasible any more. People force her to change which is a good thing in the end.

I certainly agree that Gandi and Jesus had passive personalities but were hugely influential. Jesus still is, even after 2000 years. Love and non violence are active ways to live life, but they're active internally more than externally. It's their philosophies, as you said, that capture people's minds and hearts. They weren't as active physically as Attila the Hun!

I've know many more Walter Mittys than Indiana Jones's. Usually, neither type changes very much, at least not on the surface. Walter would need a big jolt to get him going.

I'm so glad you liked Love on a Dime. That was so much fun to write.

I think when editors talk about active characters they mean characters who are both internally and externally active. Writing a character who is externally passive at first can be a challenge.

Cara Lynn James said...

Trixi, a passive character who responds to a particular situation doesn't stay assertive when the crisis is over. It's not her personality. She's grown stronger because she's passed the tests. But she won't remain an aggressive type. Showing courage in the face of the enemy or adversity isn't restricted to just assertive people.

I'm going to read The Reluctant Duchess. It sounds wonderful.

I hope you'll enjoy Love on a Dime.

DebH said...

This is an awesome post, Cara. BTW, I absolutely LOVED Staging a Romance... actually the whole collection was AWESOME!!!! Which reminds me, I need to go post a review for that today (during lunch break).

After reading your post, I think if I were a book heroine, I'd be a passive character *sigh*. I wonder what my inciting incident would be to get me more assertive. Hmmmm...

Cool post. I'm off to go purchase Love On a Dime. I know I've meant to get it before, but a quick review of my Kindle library says I don't have it. Blast! Must rectify immediately.

Cara Lynn James said...

Cynthia, I didn't set out to create a passive Lilly when I started writing Love on a Dime. My editor pointed out Lilly was passive. I never thought about it myself. But Lilly reacted to a situation because she couldn't ignore it.

Cara Lynn James said...

Jackie, I think if we're aware of the differences between active and passive characters, we can create better character arcs. That should improve our stories.

Glynna Kaye said...

Good morning, CARA! This is an excellent topic to address. So often writers are advised to make heroes/heroines proactive right from the start. Bold. Take charge. Make things happen. (But one of my all-time favorite heroines is Lucy in "While You Were Sleeping.")

Lots to think about here. Thank you. I have a feeling there will be tons of discussion on the topic that I'll need to return to and catch up on as the day progresses!

Cara Lynn James said...

Thanks for the coffee, Ruthy! I think I'll have another cup.

Like Julie, GWTW is one of my favorite books/movies. Scarlett is so courageous, yet she's also terribly self-absorbed and selfish. I admire one aspect of her personality, and dislike the other part. Melanie seems one dimensional to me. She's so good. In real life I like my friends to be like Melanie because she's so kind and thoughtful. But in difficult times, give me Scarlett. You know she'll find a way to overcome.

Nicky Chapelway said...

After reading the beginning of this post I was like, 'man I need to make a passive character to write about, that would be interesting' but by the time I was done reading this post I had realized that I already had with really both my characters the one published and my current WIP. Chelsea Welling (the published) hates change and is perfectly content to continue living her life just as she is until she becomes trapped in a magical world with three of her friends. Then she has to start actually doing stuff to try to get back home, but along the way she starts to fall in love with her childhood friend (one of the three trapped in this world with her) however she fights against it with everything in her because she hates change and she doesn't want romance to change her relationship with him.

My other heroine Cecilia Dempshire (the current WIP) is slightly less passive, because she is actually fighting for a goal, but her goal is a rather passive one. All she wants is to duck out of society, unmarried if need be, and live the rest of her life in peace.

I hope that those are good examples!

Myra Johnson said...

Love this post, CARA! Many of my central characters start out passive. As the story begins, they usually don't have an urgent goal. That comes later, when the inciting incident upsets their comfortable world and sends them in directions they never would have chosen otherwise.

So in these cases it can be hard to narrow down goal/motivation for a GMC chart. Mine tend to read something like, "Heroine's goal is to live a quiet and peaceful life. But when XXX happens, her goal then becomes to survive/change things for the better/save the day/etc.

Thanks for explaining the passive character's journey so clearly!

Julie Lessman said...

Oh, GREAT POST, Cara, and an original one, I think, because I don't remember anyone touching on this subject before!!

You said: "Interesting friends.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."

Sooooo true!! I actually don't have many passive characters in my books (BIG SURPRISE,THERE!!), but I just finished writing one now for book2 in IOH series, and I dearly loved pairing her with quirky characters, so I believe that's crucial for a story with passive characters.

You asked: Do you know of any passive characters in fiction who make memorable heroes or heroines?

Wellllll ... as Ruthy already mentioned (and rather rudely, in my opinion, to diss Scarlett like she did!), the first that comes to mind for me is sweet Melanie Wilkes in Gone With the Wind, who actually got on my nerves. I never really liked her until she shot the Yankee. Mmm ... what does that say about me, I wonder? That I need to shoot more people in my books??? Yes, Mary, I will consider it ... ;)

Thanks, Cara, for such a thought-provoking post -- I really enjoyed it!

Hugs,
Julie

Julie Lessman said...

Ruthy said: "You know, I liked Melanie WAY MORE than Scarlett. Self-absorbed brats annoy me, so Scarlett's dramatics and selfishness left me cold... but the warm, loving sacrificial nature of Melanie won me. I wonder how odd I am in that?
I loved the book... "Gone With the Wind"... but I thoroughly disliked the heroine.
(Julie, DO NOT READ THIS!!!!!)

LOL ... too late!! Scarlett is one of my favorite characters of all time, so that's rather scary, isn't it??? I still remember a picture my sister took of me at the age of thirteen or so, posing in the mirror with my pajama top slipped off the shoulder on one side and my eyebrow in the air like Scarlett. Sigh. Unfortunately, I looked nothing like her, so I was never the belle of the county. :)

Cara said: "Melanie seems one dimensional to me. She's so good. In real life I like my friends to be like Melanie because she's so kind and thoughtful. But in difficult times, give me Scarlett. You know she'll find a way to overcome."

YES, YES, YES!! That is exactly how Melanie seemed to me -- "one dimensional" and heaven knows there is NOTHING one dimensional about me, so I guess I'm not fond of that in characters either. In fact, I have trouble writing passive characters. I wonder why???

BUT ... I do have one passive character I wrote who I dearly love, and that is Emma Malloy from A Heart Revealed, the woman whose drunken husband threw hot grease in her face and scarred her for life. Emma was sweet, quiet, and shy, so I paired her with Charity, and I have to say, it was a match made in heaven for me, with both bringing out the other beautifully and both causing each other to grow beautifully too. :)

Hugs,
Julie

Josee Telfer said...

Thank you Cara. This post is definitely giving me something to chew on. Off the top of my head, I'd say Vianne from The Nightingale started out as a passive character, especially when compared to her sister, Isabelle. I loved Vianne's growth and development throughout the novel. Her approach to fighting the war was very different from her gutsy sister but it was that very contrast that gave me an appreciation for both characters. Their circumstances (Vianne being a wife and mother) informed their choices.

I'm downloading Love on a Dime and a coffee gift card would be great to go with it. Thank you for putting me in.

ohiohomeschool said...

I love passive characters, because honestly. . I would rather blend and go along and not really change most days. It seems like life forces me to change. . which in the end is good. It also helps me relate to those characters, and connect with them. I have read Love on a Dime, and I remember liking Lily for that very reason.
Thanks for your post. I would love to win Starbucks card. ohiohomeschool at gmail dot com.
Have a good day.
Becky B

Cara Lynn James said...

Hi, Jill! It makes sense that a character who has to face her fears or an enemy etc. would have to find the courage she didn't have to summon up every day. A Navy Seal is heroic. He knows he's going to get into tight spots and he's prepared. We expect him to rise to the occasion. It's different for a passive character. It's a much larger challenge and the circumstances are often unexpected.

Cara Lynn James said...

Debby, I think a reluctant hero is passive at the beginning. It's part of his basic nature. But he does what he has to do.

Cara Lynn James said...

Deb H, I hope you enjoy Love on a Dime. Staging a Romance was the first contemporary I wrote in years and it was interesting to write since I'm so used to 19th and early 20th century characters. There's a big difference in dialogue, culture etc. I found I like writing both contemporaries and historicals.

Cara Lynn James said...

Glynna, I never heard of an editor encouraging an author to write a passive character. I think it's harder to make her interesting at the beginning. But most writers enjoy a challenge.

Cara Lynn James said...

Your stories sound great, Nicky! The first one reminds me of The Wizard of Oz which is a favorite of mine. I think even passive characters have some sort of goal or something they really care about that pushes them into action. A goal doesn't have to involve going for something. It can be about avoiding something. In this case, the goal isn't obvious to the other characters.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Good morning Cara What a great post and such an interesting take on character development. I have to say that I like active characters and its probably because basically I'm such a passive character. LOL We want to aspire to our fantasies. Right?

My heroine in my current wip is passive and has to take action. An action from the past that presents itself again in the present. I never thought of her as a passive character, but now I see that she has to overcome to achieve her character arc.

Great take on this, Cara. And I loved Love on a Dime.

Cara Lynn James said...

Myra, striving to avoid something can be a passive character's goal, too. It's a valid goal, but it's often not visible to anyone but the character unless she happens to confide in a friend. I imagine passive characters might tend to be introverts which does not mean recluse.

Cara Lynn James said...

Julie, Melanie Wilkes in GWTW is a perfect example of a passive character who comes through when it's necessary. But later she reverts to her basic sweet personality. Shooting a Yankee doesn't transform her into a proactive, trigger happy woman. That wouldn't be believable. The experience must've changed her a little bit and given her confidence that she could deal with a crisis.

Cara Lynn James said...

Josee, I always love a story with characters who are very different from each other in temperament, values, goals etc. It's fun to see their differing reactions to a challenging situation and how they clash with each other. Unfortunately, I like my hero and heroine to get along and be the same personality type. So I need strong external obstacles (i.e. strong plot) to keep them apart and strong inner conflicts that often involve some incident in their pasts.

Cara Lynn James said...

Becky, I'm a go along to get along kind a person, too. It surprises people when I get to a point where I push back hard. Maybe I'm more comfortable writing a heroine like myself since I know how she'll react. The thing is all types of characters work if the story is interesting and well written.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Scarlett....

Give me a movie poster and I'll use it for dart practice! :)

Okay, I'm not that offended by her brattiness, but I do love Melanie's goodness. Self-sacrificing, and able to step in wherever and not thinking of her losses, but others' gains.

I love her, Cara!!!!

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Cara, I love this post. I see passivity in some of my characters. I think the key is we need to put them in situations where they HAVE to rise up, to make some changes. At least temporarily. I hadn't considered this before! I have to give her a reason/motivation to change, to take action. Thanks for showing me a way to have some characters who have passive tendencies and yet keep the story interesting. You got my brain cells firing this morning.

Please put me in for the Starbucks card. :) wetalk2biz(at)q(dot)com. :)

Mary Connealy said...

I really liked this, Cara. It made me think back on my own characters and notice something of a pattern in my books. Not always of course, but I tend to write a passive heroine in most of my three book series.

In the Kincaid Brides it was Ethan's wife, the very sweet Audra, married to an older man who's awful to her.

In Trouble in Texas, the abused Glynna, who needs to be rescued and in Fired Up, needs to learn to cook.

I don't think any of the sisters in Wild at Heart series is exactly passive, the sweetest if Kylie, but even so, she's a determined young woman. She just doesn't like western life and it's not a fit for her.

Now in the new series, Cimarron Legacy, in comes Angelique, the widow from Omaha who comes to live and work at the orphanage with her aunt, Sister Margaret. She makes her entrance by stepping off the train and collapsing, right into Justin Boden's arms.

Now I'm wondering if I do it TOO much.
I originally wrote mostly really tough women. When I created Cassie Dawson in Montana Rose, it was a very deliberate choice on my part. An exercise to force myself to NOT just write the same feisty lady rancher over and over again.

But now I'm thinking I've gotten in a rut. Hmmmmm......

Mary Connealy said...

Great post, Cara. And yes all my passive 'victim' woman grow and get tougher. Though most of them, beneath the surface are really just sweethearts without a lot of killer instinct. But they toughen up. Then might have a husband to care for them but they are trying to stand on their own two feet and be a partner with their husband, not a dependent. Not so much out of pride as out of a desire to help.

In fact, in book two of The Cimarron Legacy, Long Time Gone, sweet, fainting Angelique end up bashing a couple of people on the head with a rock to save her man. You've gotta love that!!! :)

Mary Connealy said...

Cara I see myself as a very passive woman.
But My Cowboy and my four children are very emotional people and I have this vision of myself in the eye of a hurricane, trying to be calm and steady and THINK instead of feel. (someone has to!)

But then I shoot people in my books. Can that be a coincidence???

Trixi said...

CARA....if you're going to read Roseanna White, I'd highly recommend reading "The Lost Heiress" fist as it's the beginning book of the Ladies of the Manor series. Though you don't have to, as they are stand alone for the most part, there are elements that carry over and are better understood by reading in order. The mystery of the Fire Eyes for example, you won't know the background to them. And you get the depth of character and setting to savor. I think you'll enjoy her writing, she knows how to spin a story!

I did start Love on a Dime last night, I really didn't want to put it down! My eyes told me they were much too tired to read any longer,lol! I'm wondering how she's going to keep her writing a secret for long. I believe Irene, her sister-in-law suspects something :-) I already detest her, lol!

Connie Queen said...

This post makes me think, Cara.

I tend to like passive characters because I equate them to likable, but as mentioned, put them in a situation where they must fight or step it up.

I've never been able to get into most of the crime-fighting shows on tv because I find the heroine's annoying. Sometimes the hero's too.

Most of my characters follow the path of ordinary people who do the extraordinary.

It's me becoming Super Woman when the time calls.

Connie Queen said...

Cara, Love on a Dime was the first book I read of yours.

Loved it!

Sherida Stewart said...

Very interesting, Cara...lots to think about. Melanie from GWTW came to mind...I liked her quiet (passive?) personality, but she was strong in her devotion to others. Definitely passive appearing personalities can rise to the challenge of the situation, and this makes for a story I like to read, probably because I identify with quiet heroines. I know there is a strong current underneath the quiet lake.

BTW: I really enjoyed Staging a Romance! Watching Jenna and Nate use faith to resolve their problems and develop their romance is lovely. I'm not a decorator, but Jenna's job is intriguing to me. The setting brought back sweet memories...my husband and I went to church camp together in Connecticut...by a lake. All the stories are perfect for summer! Hiking? I'm there...and so much easier when I don't need to lace-up my boots to experience the trail.

Janet Dean said...

CARA, interesting post! I was shocked at first by the idea of a passive hero or heroine but then thought more about it and realized The Bounty Hunter's Redemption's heroine had a passive goal after her abusive husband died. She wanted only to take care of her son and work in her shop as she'd always done. Nothing exciting there. Until hero Nate comes along with a deed to Carly's shop and threatens her world.

Sorry, Ruthy. I won't be throwing darts with you. I love Scarlet. Yes, she was spoiled and childish--a product of her times. Except for her feelings toward Ashley, she did what she had to do to save Tara. She's a complex, fascinating character that stirs a love or hate reaction. Surely the reason the book lives on. Perhaps we need to think out of the box more.

Thanks for generating this interesting discussion, Cara!

Janet

kaybee said...

CARA, this is helpful to me. The main female character in my novel "Trail, a Novel of the Oregon Trail," is an impoverished young widow who takes a job cooking on the Oregon Trail because she has no other choice. She does change (she even kills a man in self-defense), but she starts out, really, as kind of a victim. I need to make her more interesting and spunky near the beginning.
Tks
Kathy Bailey

Meghan Carver said...

What a terrific post, Cara, and I'll add to the others that I never thought of it like that before. I think that's why I like writing suspense. I'm passive, and I tend toward passive characters. But nothing gets a heroine going like a bullet whizzing past her head! That, and a handsome FBI agent with news that can change her life.... :-)

Josee Telfer said...

My example wasn't a very good one, as far as heroine and hero go! I'm with you Cara! I find it unconvincing when the main characters are polar opposites. Yes, they attract, but do they have staying power?

I like my characters to have heart AND spunk! I also love stories of redemption and what I find is oftentimes, characters who have suffered a great loss appear passive because they're weighted down by their pain. A new love wakes them up and sharpens their dulled personalities!

Chill N said...

Cara, you've helped me realize something about books I read. I enjoy watching an initially passive character discover strengths and talents they didn't know they had, or didn't know they had that much of. There's something positively shining about watching a character realize her/his potential. And there's often comedy or satisfaction when the newly-emerged characters surprises people who 'know' them.

Thanks for helping me look at passive characters in a whole new way! Fascinating.

Nancy C

Cara Lynn James said...

Sandra, I think of you as an active person, definitely not a coach potato!

Cara Lynn James said...

Jeanne, we absolutely do have to put our passive character in a situation where she has to react, become strong and assertive and grow. Essentially, it's a character driven plot. But to push her out of her passive comfort zone we have to give her powerful motivation and a dire situation. So that calls for a strong plot.

Cara Lynn James said...

Mary, since you write so many wonderful books it's good that you don't keep writing the same person over and over. I think we all have that tendency. After a while, writing the same heroine with different color hair and eyes would get boring and stale.

Tanya Agler said...

Cara, thank you for your posts. I feel like my current heroine is rather passive as she is responding to the events of her life rather than making them happen, and I've been worried about whether that is okay, and you've given me some hope that she's a passive heroine and here's hoping it will turn out all right in the end.

I love the premise of your book. One of my favorite movie heroines, Theodora Lynn, starts out as passive but (the movie is from the 1930s-Theodora Goes Wild) once she starts wearing the outlandish costumes and asserts her personality, it's easy to see she's anything but passive.

I'm going to weigh in on the Melanie and Scarlett comment thread. I love Melanie. She's my favorite GWTW character. I think she has a lot of gumption, and its her quiet strength that draws me to her. Who else could have saved Ashley and Rhett the way she did?

Tanya Agler said...

Oh, and I forgot to enter myself in the drawing (tagler2@comcast.net). Cara, I won one of your gift cards earlier this year, and I was so appreciative during my writing visits to Starbucks.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Thinking on this. Debby is right..the reluctant hero starts off as the passive hero.


Walter Mitty again!!! hahaha!~

Even Tom Cruise in The Firm..he is totally a reluctant hero.



Debby Giusti said...

I like The Firm. Read it a number of times. Watched the movie over and over. Also Pelican Brief. I wanted to understand how the heroine could survive on the run. Both stories were good learning tools. Ah, but his first release...A Time to Kill! That was so well written. He'd spent lots of time on it and it showed. Great story.

I haven't read Grisham in years. Perhaps I should.

Cara Lynn James said...

Trixi, thanks for giving me the tip about The Lost Heiress. I'm going to get it on my Kindle.

Cara Lynn James said...

Connie, I'm not into super heroes, either. I usually don't like action movies unless the action is just a small part of the story. I love a good plot combined with good characterization.

Cara Lynn James said...

Sherida, I agree passive characters are not weak characters. It's just that action isn't their first response to a situation. I think they're more apt to be thoughtful but not necessarily saintly. Each one is different. I'm glad you enjoyed Staging a Romance. I chose Connecticut for a setting because that's where I come from originally.

Cara Lynn James said...

Debby and Tina, I've seen the movie The Firm several times and it's one of the few I've bothered to see more than once. Like GWTW I remember it.I also remember A Time to Kill. My all time favorite is To Kill a Mockingbird, but I digress.

Cara Lynn James said...

Janet, the Civil War is an exciting background for GWTW and Scarlett is a fascinating woman. Love her or hate her, she's memorable. Great story and vivid writing.

But the novel has an uneven plot. The beginning spends a lot of time with Scarlett, her neighbors, the Tarleton twins and the families who meet at the barbecue. We don't see much of them after the War starts. Also, there is a big information dump about Scarlett's mother Ellen. But she doesn't have much of a part in the rest of the book. It doesn't matter, I loved the story.

Cara Lynn James said...

Kathy, your story sounds interesting. As long as your heroine isn't boring, I wouldn't worry if she's too passive. A victim means she has an exciting but awful past and probably a secret or two.

Cara Lynn James said...

Meghan, LOL. A bullet whizzing by the heroine's head certainly starts the action going whether she's passive or not.

Cara Lynn James said...

Josee, I agree that the pain a character suffers can and probably will cause her to be passive and maybe withdrawn for a while. The challenge is for the hero's love to bring her out of her shell in addition to a great inciting incident.

Mary Connealy said...

You know, the Gone with the Wind and sweet, gentle Melanie made me think that Ashley Wilkes was also passive.

And, someone mentioned To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch was a fairly mild-mannered, maybe even passive character.

Vince said...

Hi Cara:

Oh, my goodness!

I just finished "Staging a Romance" -- Loved it! I've been a real estate broker since 1982 and I saw 'staging' begin in California. I thought it was too Hollywood at first but then results started coming in.

Your story is 'right on' with staging. The plot is rich enough to become a novel.

Do you know how many Realtors® and real estate licenses there are in the US? Over 500,000 Realtors® and 2 million active licensees. (I would estimate that there is one inactive licensee for each active one.)

Most of these licensees are women and do you know what they do at open houses when no one comes? They read novels!

As such I think it's time to serve up a Realtor® novel (be sure to always use the ® as the Realtors® legally must defend their registration mark or they will lose it.) Ideally have a female agent on the cover with an "Open House" rider on the "For Sale Sign". I figure that cover art will attract the favorable attention of about 10,000,000 women agents, both inactive and active, plus past agents.*

BTW: there are about 3,700,000 classroom teachers in the US. Now consider: how many teachers are heroines in romances compared to real estate agents?

I really enjoyed your answer to my post. I reread it this morning and thought: "How is anyone going to answer all these questions?" Then when I read your answer, I thouhgt: "That's how you do it!"

Vince

*P.S.
Years ago there was a joke going around about real estate agents. A real estate agent was cashing a check at a grocery store and the clerk asked to see her real estate license. Surprised the agent said,

"Usually checkers ask for a driver's license."

"That was true until we found out that not everybody has a driver's license."

Vince said...

Hi Tina:

On The Reluctant Hero

"Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done."

Luke 22:42

Cara Lynn James said...

Mary, I agree that Ashley Wilkes and Atticus Finch were both passive characters. Ashley did his duty and went to war because it was expected. He wasn't especially helpful to Scarlett during Reconstruction. Atticus, on the other hand, didn't have to defend the black man. But he was courageous and willing to risk his career, place in the town etc. because he wanted to do the right thing.

Cara Lynn James said...

Vince, I love your realtor joke!

I bought a condo in San Diego around 1975. What sold me was the perfectly staged model home. It was so beautiful. Unfortunately, I couldn't afford to furnish mine like the model, but I loved my condo anyway.

I never thought about writing a novel about a realtor, but why not?I have a few friends who are realtors. It sounds like fun. Maybe you should write one, Vince!

I'm glad you enjoyed Staging a Romance. I liked writing a contemporary for a change.

Laura Conner Kestner said...

This is a great post CARA!! So interesting! Going to mentally review and maybe rethink some of my WIP characters while I'm cooking dinner. Will be back later to read the comments. Thank you so much!

Cara Lynn James said...

Hi, Laura. Cooking dinner is a great time to think about characters, as long you don't have kids who want attention! Then it's hard to multi-task.

CatMom said...

Sorry I'm late stopping in today (been babysitting a two-year old *smile*).
But so glad I read this helpful post - - thank you, Cara! I learn something everyday (especially here in Seekerville from you wise, talented ladies).
I'm reading STAGING A ROMANCE right now and loving it!! Love these novella collections!
Hugs, Patti Jo

The Artist Librarian said...

Aw, I want to re-read Love on a Dime now ... I think that was one of the first books I won from Seekerville. ;-)


I just finished watching the "Your Lie in April" anime, which is based on a manga (comic book)series. Kousei, the protagonist is definitely passive. He was a child piano prodigy who left the competition scene after the death of his mother. At 14, his world is turned upside down when a passionate violinist, Kaori, enters his life (the inciting incident). Besides quirky Kaori, his two best friends are extroverted, outgoing, and definitely interesting. He's definitely tested and stretched ... If you love a sweet, emotional story about first loves, friendships, the power of (classical) music ... definitely check it out! I'd call it a Japanese romantic comedy (with feels). Official Trailer =)

I'm all over Starbucks --thanks for the chance! jafuchi7[at]hawaii[dot]edu

Edwina said...

I love the suggestions to bring passive characters to life!

Please put my name in the drawing for the gift card!

Cara Lynn James said...

Hi, Patti Jo! I'm happy you like novellas! I do too because they're so quick and easy to read and fun to write. You must be tired after babysitting a 2 yr. old. They're so cute at that age, but they can be challenging!

Cara Lynn James said...

Hi, Edwina! My, are you an early bird!

Rebecca McLafferty said...

Hi Cara,
Thank you so much for this lesson. Since I am a passive person myself, I tend to write passive characters. This was a good eye-opener to keep them interesting and really involved. They're busy plotting and then reacting...very interesting! Many thanks!