Fixing the Most Common Intermediate Mistake:
How Scene/Sequel structure forces your protagonist to become active.
copyright 2011 Hilari Bell
Originally posted on hilaribell.com Summer ‘11
A common mistake among writers, many of them well past the beginner stage, is to assume that if your main character is in the middle of really dramatic events then the story is dramatic--even if all she does is witness and report what she sees. Just as they assume that if their protagonist runs around swinging a sword at everything that moves their character is active--even if he never makes a plan, or launches any of those swordfights in order to achieve his goals. And writers of all genres seem to be downright allergic to having their character sit down and think about what they want to accomplish, and make a plan to accomplish it!
This makes their characters the fictional equivalent of the people whose plan to get out of debt is to win the lottery--and they usually do win their fictional lottery, being rescued by chance, or having some other character solve their problems for them. But people whose problems are solved by a lottery win--whether it takes the form of the cool boy liking you, or being crowned king--will never be respected by the reader. In fact, that reader will probably have given up and put down the book in disgust, because the protagonist is just running around in circles witnessing things (and usually being given lots of help by other characters) instead of doing something themselves to solve their problems.