Active vs Reactive

I’ve been thinking lately about Michelle’s advice re my characters being reactive as opposed to active. At least that’s what they were in my original synopsis. I never really thought about this before – of course they were active, they were walking and talking and making decisions, right?
But that is not being active. They didn’t take charge of the story. They sat there and waited for stuff to happen to them.

I found this happened with chapter 1 of my re-write. I was feeling unhappy with what I’d done and I couldn’t figure out what the problem was. And then the light dawned: my hero was looking at the heroine waiting for her to come to him. The heroine was looking at the hero, too bound up in her conflict to actually take that step. The consequence was lots of staring but not much doing. No action at all. What needed to happen was one of them needed to act.

Had to be the hero – my mountain climber wouldn’t stand around staring, he’d get out there and get what he wanted. So this my hero did. He got out and took charge of the scene, making the heroine have to act intstead of her just sitting there waiting for something to happen. And it’s a much, much better scene now. It has movement. It’s more pacey. And sets off a whole chain of choices and actions that bring both characters slap bang up against their internal conflict. Phew!

Anyway, this kind of thing is new to me so I’m going to have to keep thinking about it as the book progresses. I have to say, being conscious of having your story flow from the choices your characters make, certainly makes things more dynamic. Which for me – a very waffly writer – is a very good thing. And it makes me more certain than ever that they were right to reject my earlier manuscript. The first half was so slow compared to the second half! Nothing a complete re-write wouldn’t fix however. 😉

Okay, I’d be interested to hear what anyone else thinks of this. Any insights?

13 thoughts on “Active vs Reactive”

  1. Very interesting, Jackie. Thank you for sharing what you’ve learned.

    In a Modern Heat who drives the plot?

    Do H and h take turns in instigating an action? (which the other then reacts to)

    Or does one clearly take the lead and the other mostly react?

  2. I think it depends on the story, Janet. And the conflict.
    For Modern Heat, the internal conflict, and the characters actions around that conflict drives the plot.

    As to instigating the action,
    Michelle told me that the main turning points of the story need to be created by the main characters. So it really depends on them and how your story unfolds.
    I’m still getting to grips with this, so I may not have it right, but I think it’s more a give and take. For my present wip, the story unfolds due to the hero’s actions. He’s testing the heroine’s boundaries so she’s having to react to him. But then in the second half, she takes some of the lead. I think it’s all about the actions of each character deepening the conflict, rather than having secondary events or characters do it.

    Does that help? Or have I made the waters murkier! 🙂

  3. Ahh yes active vs reactive. The funny thing about this is that although I know it I don’t always pick up that I’ve got the H and h in reactive mode. It’s very naughty and means a lot more editing 🙂

  4. Lacey, at least you knew! I didn’t even realise about this. No wonder my earlier draft was so episodic – it was just characters reacting to other things that drove the plot forward rather than the actions they take themselves.

  5. Really interesting post Jackie – I think from what I’ve learnt lately the hero needs to be especially Active, if he’s reactive it lessens his alphaness… And if the heroine is reactive it lessens her sassiness I suppose.
    Something else to add to my checklist!

  6. Yes, definitely the hero has to be active. And that was what was wrong with my scene – hero was not acting and that’s not particularly alpha. The naughty man.

  7. Ooh – another thread which I am enjoying and learning from! Thanks for your reply as to your blog motivations, Jackie – it is the market researcher in me who wants to ask everyone WHY they are doing what they do! (I often feel that I’m torn between writing a M&B, doing focus groups with their readers – or rolling up my sleeves to get involved with their global brand identity/ strategy! – multiple identities are funny things…) – Anyway, sounds as if you are going great guns! – Chris

  8. LOL – Chris, I too am a market researcher, more quant than qual, but lets not get into that.

    Jackie – Insightful as always, now to see how it applies to my current h&h. Also, I too have the issue that my secind half of my sotry rocks while the first half is somewhat ho hum…

  9. Hey Janette – I always have the opposite problem. I love the first half but the second half leaves much to be desired! Perhaps we should collaborate… I’ll write the first 25k… you finish! 🙂

  10. So much to think about…I’m still trying to get my head around conflict.

    Seriously, great post Jackie – you’ve really got the hang of making us think about our stories.


  11. Cheers Chris! No reason you can’t do all three eh??

    Janette, could it be some naughty character not taking action when they should? Takes me a while to see what the problem is, I have to confess. And sometimes I don’t at all and someone has to point it out to me!

    Rach, collaboration sounds great. What I’d like is someone to write the story for me, while I put my name to it and get all the glory. Heheh.

    Thanks Suzanne. This kind of stuff is good to think about, but y’know, sometimes you can take it on board and sometimes you can’t. Anyway, I’d get the conflict sorted out first if I was you – that’s your story after all.

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