Every protagonist in a novel should start in one place and end up in another irrevocably changed. Character arcs are crucial building blocks of novels.
One very common arc involves a character who starts off shy, timid, and/or aimless and has to become brave or find their voice and purpose.
The problem with wholly passive characters is that they are very difficult to invest in. When characters don’t try to shape their destiny and don’t try to change their circumstances, they appear to lack any convictions whatsoever.
It’s tough to connect with characters who appear to have just thrown up their hands in the face of their problems. If they’re not trying they can’t care that much.
But this raises a conundrum: how do you make a timid or aimless character active?
Here’s the key: show them trying but failing to be brave and purposeful.
They might try to summon words they can’t voice out loud. They might stick their neck out an inch and get swiftly shot down. They might fail in a key way that makes it that much more difficult to summon courage down the line.
The crucial element is that we should still see them trying.
The beauty of this approach is that it makes their eventual transformation feel earned rather than arbitrary because it’s something they had to work hard for. They didn’t succeed at being brave on the first try.
If readers are finding it difficult to connect with your timid protagonist, try putting them at the center of some unsuccessful attempts to shape their destiny. Chances are your reader will be gripped by their struggles rather than baffled by their passivity.
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Art: “Stier und Maler” by Heinrich Bürkel