Struggling with a passive protagonist? Let’s look into what causes this passivity. Remember, a hero is not ‘active’ because he is always running, fighting, arguing etc. A hero is not ‘passive’ because he is never doing any of those, either.
by Karel Segers
Here is a list of points that in my view will have a positive impact on the protagonist’s ‘activity’:
1. The hero must have strong will power.
2. The hero should have a clear goal.
3. At least one character should state the goal explicitly .
4. The hero must not be forced but chooses to pursue the goal.
5. Once the goal is known, the hero should stay on the case.
6. The hero can only be distracted because of a new, stronger goal.
7. Keep showing us the hero really wants to achieve the goal.
8. Make sure the obstacles in the way are significant.
9. Stay in the Hero’s point of view for as much as possible.
10. If the hero seems passive, there must be a primal reason, e.g. fear of death.
Like any other principle, there will be numerous examples of successful films that stray from these. It doesn’t mean you can just ignore them without consequences.
This list is constantly being revised. Please give us your feedback in the comments!
– Karel Segers
Karel Segers is a producer and script consultant who started in movies as a rights buyer for Europe’s largest pay TV group Canal+. Back then it was handy to speak 5 languages. Less so today in Australia. Karel teaches, consults and lectures on screenwriting and the principles of storytelling to his 5-year old son Baxter and anyone who listens. He is also the boss of this blog.
Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst with experience in acquisition, development and production. He has trained students worldwide, and worked with half a dozen Academy Award nominees. Karel speaks more European languages than you have fingers on your left hand, which he is still trying to find a use for in his hometown of Sydney, Australia. The languages, not the fingers.
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4 thoughts on “Checklist: 10 Ways To Create An Active Protagonist”
Devise a story producing machine based on 10 principles you list. Like a microwave it should with one push of button turn corn into sought after snack, any writers idea into a riveting story. It would be legendary. . . STORYFORMER
The way I see it, an active protagonist is one who has “decision points” throughout the plot–places of rest where the protagonist decides whether or not to continue and/or how best to continue.
Hi Mike, I really like your perspective. Only yesterday I was talking about LOCKE, and he doesn’t really qualify as an active protagonist, as the entire film is really an execution of a decision point at the beginning of the story.
Have you seen it?