Since the beginning of the year, I have been submitting one short story a week for competitions / magazine entries.
Having to review so much material for submission, I began to see in some of my older work, a common trait with main characters in stories that I was unhappy with: they had a tendency to be passive.
These particular stories exhibited a plot line that developed, except the events didn’t come from the main characters, they simply responded to what happened to them.
Were you to leave some of these characters in a room on their own without any external stimulus, that is where they would stay, quite happily. I’m not even sure that they would hum or whistle.
In response to recent submissions by the public to The People’s Friend, Fiction Editor Shirley Blair told The Writers’ Forum magazine that most pieces which required re-working were because:
“Instead of honing in on the central character, they lost pace by building up the background to give a full picture. Also, the central character was often too passive – the action was happening around her but she wasn’t actually taking part.”
It was as though Shirley was talking directly to me and I asked myself the following:
- Does the action tend to happen to my main characters rather than by them?
- If I replaced my main character with another character would the story have the same outcome?
- Are my protagonists’ actions expected by the other characters?
- Do I focus more on the background and supporting characters, waiting to see how my main character will react?
In these weaker pieces, the answer was more often than not yes to all of the above.
What really made me think about this however, was how passive characters don’t just exist in fiction, and I myself have been prone to the passivity trait once in a while.
Now that I freelance I have noticed more than ever, that just like my characters, if I remain passive, I won’t get to a destination of my choosing. If I don’t put the wheels in motion on projects, articles, contacts, nothing will happen.
The hardest thing for some people however, is that the results from activity often come in delayed waves.
- If I actively seek contacts, it is 2-3 weeks before I have to send proposals
- If I send out short stories, it is 2-3 months for feedback
- If I start running after prolonged indulgence from Christmas, it is 3-4 weeks before I see results in my fitness.
I think that is sometimes how we fall into the passive trap, because we are deterred when we don’t see immediate results. Rather than sit back however, we need to be constantly investing our efforts into our goals.
Considering that many of our actions will not come to fruition, it is so important to make sure that your actions contribute to your main goals. Being pro-active, isn’t just action, it’s focused action, something I’d like to touch upon in a separate post.