[personal profile] rj_anderson
I've seen a couple of criticisms cropping up in reviews lately -- not reviews of my own books necessarily, but of some very fine books by other authors. They're often stated somewhat crankily, as though they are universal rules and every author worth her word count ought to know better than to flout them -- but as a matter of fact they are comparatively recent expectations, and not ones that every reader shares or, I think, even needs to.

The criticisms are, as follows:

1. The protagonist must drive the plot at all times;

and

2. Any development which is surprising to the characters must also be surprising to the reader.

Today I'm going to tackle the first one.

Now, on the surface, insisting that the protagonist should incite the plot of the book or at least keep pushing it forward sounds like a solid fictional principle. After all, nobody wants a book where nothing happens, and nobody wants to read about a main character who never does anything. If a particular protagonist never grows or changes or becomes stronger or takes decisive action, one may be tempted to wonder why the author bothered to write a book about them at all (and this is certainly a fault which dooms many an unpublished manuscript).

But I am not talking about books so obviously flawed as all that. What puzzles and annoys me is that I've seen the "protagonist isn't doing enough" charge leveled against books which I really don't think deserve it. To use one specific example, I've seen a couple of reviews of Erin Bow's lovely, haunting, utterly unforgettable upper MG / lower YA novel Plain Kate which accuse Kate of not driving the plot enough -- that too many things happen to Kate rather than being initiated by her.

Now to me, this is just mindboggling, because Kate has a quiet strength and determination which is very evident from the beginning of the novel. She is not spineless or soppy or whiny; she suffers greatly and experiences deep sorrows, but she also displays great courage. And if Kate were what these critics seem to want her to be -- a feisty take-charge type who sets off into the world to have a great adventure -- then Plain Kate would be a very different story, and not nearly so emotionally affecting as it is.

Yes, we all enjoy reading about larger-than-life characters who do extraordinary things. But people like that are only a small part of any world's population, and most of us readers aren't like that ourselves. Very few of us get to be constantly in charge of our lives or otherwise making things happen; instead we spend most of our lives reacting to what others do around us, or to us. And when we face obstacles and challenges, we don't all leap at them with drawn swords and hack until the walls come down. Sometimes we run. Sometimes we hide.* Sometimes we're too busy reeling in shock to do anything for a while.

To me, as long as an MC keeps responding to the things that happen to her in a way that I can understand and find at least a little sympathy with, and as long as the plot keeps moving forward to the next situation or circumstance, there's nothing wrong with her not being Miss Spunky Dynamic. In fact I find it easier to care about her and identify with her if she isn't, because that makes her seem more realistic to me.

Of course, at some point in the narrative the protagonist has to take some kind of deliberate action to face their fears or confront the villain or solve the mystery, or they aren't worthy of being the protagonist at all. When a character is completely passive and does nothing but cringe and moan about their hardships without attempting to resolve them in any way, they become contemptible to the reader.

But if the character reacts to a succession of difficulties by trying to make the best of them, or trying to escape them, they are taking action, even if it isn't a big showy action. We aren't all knights of Camelot setting out on quests, after all. Often we're more like Hansel and Gretel, abandoned in the woods and trying to find our way home. And I think we need both kinds of stories -- and both kinds of protagonists -- to remind us of that.

Now, having shot off my own mouth on the subject, I'm interested to know what you folks think. Can you tell me about books you've enjoyed where the MC is more of an observer or reactor than a take-charge type? (I'll give you one: Alice in Wonderland.) Or do you have a different perspective on this subject that I might not have acknowledged here? Let me know in the comments.

And tomorrow I'll tackle #2, about surprising the characters vs. surprising the reader, and whether the two always have to be the same thing.

--
* Sometimes we draw on all the fire we have inside. (And +100 points to anybody who gets that reference WITHOUT googling.)

Date: 2010-10-20 07:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pontisbright.livejournal.com
The one that always springs to my mind is Arthur Dent in Hitch-Hiker's Guide. He's the ultimate 'guy that stuff happens to' - but how ridiculous would his story be if he suddenly leapt into the fray claiming to know better than anyone else how to deal with a Vogon in full flood?

Looking forward to your thoughts on #2!

Date: 2010-10-20 07:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rj-anderson.livejournal.com
Oh, that is a good one! The eternally befuddled [Babel]fish-out-of-water protagonist is sometimes exactly the right one for a story.

Perhaps it's a little more obvious that such a protagonist is needed when the worldbuilding is central to the story. Alice in Wonderland or Gulliver's Travels is this kind of tale, as is HHGTHG in its modern way; I'd also include D.M. Cornish's Foundling, in which the hero is a sweet young boy making his goggle-eyed way through a big scary world full of monsters and strange people.

Or as C.S. Lewis put it, "Every good writer knows that the more unusual the scenes and events of his story are, the slighter, the more ordinary, the more typical his persons should be. Hence Gulliver is a commonplace little man and Alice a commonplace little girl."

Date: 2010-10-20 09:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pontisbright.livejournal.com
Ooh, what a lovely quote to have at your fingertips!

(And re the below, I have a suspicion I know the blockbuster you're talking about, and YES, THAT. Many many odd writing/editorial choices there.)

Date: 2010-10-21 06:16 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mary-j-59.livejournal.com
Yes - love that quote! It sounds like a couple of Chesterton essays my sister and Adam Gidwitz were just citing at a library meeting.

And I don't mean to spam this thread, really. I'm just curious. What on earth is HHGTHG? I've been trying to figure it out, but can't. Is it a book I should read?

Date: 2010-10-21 07:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rj-anderson.livejournal.com
It's short for Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Date: 2010-10-20 08:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] olmue.livejournal.com
Well, sometimes I think the problem is simply that the reader had a certain kind of book in mind, and was miffed that the book they picked up wasn't that. The reader just kept trying to turn it into a different story, one the reader wanted but that wasn't really part of the author's vision at all. My advice to that person is, go find another book? Because you may not like that book, but someone else likely gets it and loves it.

There is a famous book that gets that criticism a lot (the MC not doing enough). It didn't bother me, because the interesting part of the book for me was the struggle an important secondary character was going through, ie, trying not to eat his girlfriend/the main character. And seeing that ultimate triumph play out was what made the book satisfying to me. It was okay for me that it wasn't the MC having that struggle. But some readers receive that book differently. *shrugs*

Date: 2010-10-20 08:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rj-anderson.livejournal.com
I do sometimes have a problem when the MC gets knocked out at the climax of the book and doesn't actually witness the big showdown, but has to be told about it afterward. That seems to me a problem that afflicted not only the book you're talking about but another big blockbuster that came out just a few weeks ago, and in both cases it made me wonder why the author made that choice.

Date: 2010-10-20 08:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] imaginarycircus.livejournal.com
Where to even start?

The Hunger Games--things happen and Katniss reacts.
Catcher in the Rye - Holden is mostly an observer
The Sound and The Fury to a certain extent
Harry Potter? He is always reacting to Voldemort's actions until the end.

I know there are tons more.

Date: 2010-10-20 08:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rj-anderson.livejournal.com
The Great Gatsby? Nick is really just an observer throughout, with only a little plot to call his own.

I don't think Harry counts, though, as he does do some pretty spectacular things to advance the plot and try to thwart the villains he encounters along the way, even if he doesn't always realize the significance or repercussions of his actions.

Date: 2010-10-20 08:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] imaginarycircus.livejournal.com
I think there are so many ways to tell stories, and even good, smart ways to break rules and still tell a great story. Those sort of blanket "you must never do X" rules make me cranky.

Though when I work with beginning writers I do try to get them to see that withholding info doesn't increase tension 99% of the time--it just leads to inadvertent hilarity at the writer's expense. My favorite example of this is a novel MS that I read in a slush pile that started off describing a woman with a "mysterious metal object under her skirt." lol It was a gun, but it really sounded like something else.

Date: 2010-10-20 08:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] brandy-painter.livejournal.com
Thanks for writing this. I've been seeing it crop up a lot lately as well. As a writer of reviews it is good for me to be challenged about how and why certain phrases are used in the world of review writing.

I am currently reading Blind Justice by Bruce Alexander and that is told from the POV of a 13 year old who is of the observer/reactor type. I am thoroughly enjoying the story and this status has in no way diminished my respect for the character.

I am very much looking forward to tomorrow's post.

Date: 2010-10-20 08:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rj-anderson.livejournal.com
Love your icon! Thanks for weighing in and I'm glad you found this post interesting!

Date: 2010-10-20 11:02 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] brandy-painter.livejournal.com
I didn't make the icon (it's credited) but I love that quote. It is from G.K. Chesterton.

I was thinking about this topic while making dinner and I thought of another book. Henry York in The 100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson is definitely a passive character. It isn't until the second book of the trilogy that he starts to take initiative in anything. And that first book is awesome just the same.

Date: 2010-10-20 08:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nuranar.livejournal.com
I think this is a lovely topic. :p I haven't anything particular to add for #1, since my mind invariably becomes a blank when invited to give examples of anything. But I have noticed these, and similar, critiques of fiction lately. (Mostly on LJ, which may give fanfic color to the reviews I see and my conclusions.)

Increasingly, a stock set of criteria has become most people's standards for measuring fiction. These criteria, it seems to me, have arisen from sets of rules forumlated for fanfic writers. The majority of fanfic out there is really abyssmal, and it's easy to see trends of poor plotting and writing. I think it's also easy to for more experienced fanfic readers (and writers) to turn these common elements into offical Thou Shalt Not commandments, instead of considering the elements in the context of the whole work.

For example, "The protagonist shall always drive the plot." When a fanfic author drops an original character protagonist into an established fandom, integrating that character with original characters is very tricky. When the so-called protagonist can be cut out with no change, there's a problem. And reviewers and developing writers, reading dull train wrecks like that, extrapolate the rule that protagonists must drive the plot. Then they proceed to apply that rule to everything else, as if going down a checklist, without considering each work on its own merits and context.

Furthermore, fanfic absolutely should be judged differently than original fiction. You imply that particularly when you mention worldbuilding. Fanfic, almost by definition, does not do significant worldbuilding. Mostly-passive protagonists really ought to be pretty thin on the ground in fanfic. But original fanfic should not be bound by a rule like that.

Another example is I think driven by a knee-jerk reactions against rampant Mary Sues. Protagonists with any unusual features or extraordinary abilities are immediately deemed suspect Mary Sues and somehow less legitimate. In away, they seem to reject actual heroes in favor of someone every reader can identify with. I'm sensitive to this because some of my favorite published fiction involves extraordinary events, and extraordinary situations can required extraordinary people. It's not that there isn't a place for the average man or woman as a hero. But the average only exists because there are above-average people, too, and stories about those people are just as worthy. Sometimes I like reading about people who can run faster, think faster, and shoot straighter than I will ever be able to. The fact that I could never arm-over-arm up a greasy, icy cable doesn't mean that no one can, and it doesn't impair my enjoyment of the story.

But this is just my opinion (and rather disconnected), and I can't pretend to be terribly well-informed anyway. :)

Date: 2010-10-20 08:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rj-anderson.livejournal.com
The fanfic angle you brought up is very interesting. I'm not sure it's what's behind these particular reviewers' reactions, but in at least some cases it might have been an influence.

And it's also interesting to me that people seem to find Mary Sues (or rather, characters they deem deserving of that epithet) in fiction a lot more obnoxious than they find the obvious Marty Stus like Sherlock Holmes, James Bond etc. Apparently it's perfectly fine for men to be extraordinarily good at something (or everything), but as soon as women start being extraordinary in a similar way they need to be cut down to size?

Date: 2010-10-20 09:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nuranar.livejournal.com
Actually I meant both male and female Sues/Stus; I just neglected to specify. For some inexplicable reason I have come to vastly prefer male protagonists in what I read, and I'm well aware of the criticisms leveled at both genders. There are other reasons for the sheer numbers of Marys versus Martys, but I honestly wasn't considering that. It was interesting to read in previous comments that Harry Potter is may be a passive protagoniist, when on LJ many people consider him a Stu.

But really, absolutely no, I haven't noticed any tendency to attack female protagonists for being Sues but not males for being Stus. Personally I wouldn't consider Holmes to be one, but I can see Bond. Ironically, one of my favorite writers was in direct competition with Ian Fleming, and managed to write very different but also extraordinary heroes. They tend to be definitely above-average, but definitely none were Stus.

And personally, I don't think there ought to be such a concept as a Mary Sue or a Marty Stu. Or at least, not one defined by rules instead of by context. As long as the character fits the context of the story, and is believably human, considering humanity's vast variety and potential, I'm fine with the character. The published character who comes closest to a Mary Stu IMHO is Simon Templar, the Saint. He really verges on the superhuman at times! But he was WILDLY popular for decades and scores of reprints. And to say he's extremely well-written is understating the case. Surely there's a place for larger than life characters in literature, anyway?

Date: 2010-10-20 08:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] megancrewe.livejournal.com
I think some people get so caught up in some maxim of how stories should be that they can't look at each story individually and evaluate it on how well it works in itself. Which is unfortunate.

I get bothered by protagonists who come across as aimless, letting events push them one way or another without showing any desire toward any particular outcome. Even if there isn't anything the MC can do to change their situation at certain points, I want to know that they want things, and will try to get those things when they can. I also get bothered by protagonists who just accept their lot or what other characters tell them without thinking things through and making up their own minds. As long as the MC can think for him/herself and makes some sort of effort to achieve something some of the time, I don't see it as an inherent story flaw.

Date: 2010-10-20 08:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rj-anderson.livejournal.com
I think that's a good point -- that the protagonist has to want something and be striving to get it, even if it's something as simple as a decent night's sleep or a cold glass of water.

Date: 2010-10-20 09:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pigrescuer.livejournal.com
Sophos. For the first half of Conspiracy of Kings, things are happening to him, he's just observing/reacting. Then he takes charge and dashes of to Gen. Then he returns and you think he's just settled back into his observing/responding/dust-mote-in-the-shade when in actual fact, he isn't.

Another character I can think of by looking at my very tiny uni bookshelf if Bindy from Being Bindy Mackenzie. If you've read it, you will know she is in the true sense an observer.

Date: 2010-10-20 09:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rj-anderson.livejournal.com
Oh, of course! Sophos is an excellent example! Thanks for mentioning him.

Date: 2010-10-20 11:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mary-j-59.livejournal.com
Excellent essay! Two books came to mind at once for me: Our only May Amelia, which won the Newbery some years back, and Mockingjay,whose main character was accused by some readers of becoming passive, because she was reacting to what was done to her rather than acting to change things. I thought their criticism short-sighted in Katniss's case, and I don't know what they'd say about May Amelia, whom I love. It just doesn't seem realistic to me that a single character is always the instigator of the action - especially a juvenile or teen character. After all, that's not how adults live their lives! And kids are usually more powerless than adults.

OTOH, I think it can be quite reasonable to be annoyed by a protagonist who fails to change or respond in believable ways to the things that happen in a story. But that's not at all the same thing as instigating all the action.

Date: 2010-10-21 02:23 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rj-anderson.livejournal.com
I think it can be quite reasonable to be annoyed by a protagonist who fails to change or respond in believable ways to the things that happen in a story. But that's not at all the same thing as instigating all the action.

Yes, exactly -- well said!

Date: 2010-10-20 11:37 pm (UTC)
ext_1358: (Default)
From: [identity profile] grav-ity.livejournal.com
oooh, I am intrigued by the second one, because I have Definite Thoughts. ;)

I can't wait to read "Plain Kate" (OBVIOUSLY!), but I've also heard more than a few criticisms which accuse Mockingjay-Katniss of the same thing (which is funny to me, because she was basically a reactionary character THE WHOLE TIME, it was just a bit less "Here is a sledgehammer, please hit yourself over the head with it" in the first two books). Obviously I agree with you. Sometimes cool stuff happens to people other than the protag.

(My own Bess is like that. As is Arod to a degree. They're just kind of...there, and then the people around them are all "WAIT! WE CAN USE THIS!" and the story starts.)

Date: 2010-10-21 02:25 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rj-anderson.livejournal.com
Will look forward to your Definite Thoughts on my second post then! Thanks for weighing in.

Date: 2010-10-21 12:09 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] scionofgrace.livejournal.com
Would Sam Gamgee count as a passive protagonist, at least somewhat? Tolkien called him the "real hero" of the story, but his primary motivation is to keep Frodo safe/well. The destruction of the Ring is his duty almost by proxy. He has some wonderfully proactive moments (the bit where he alone figures out that Frodo is ditching the Fellowship is one of my favorites), but things tend to happen to him. He even beat himself up for making a decision without any "wise" people around, because it wasn't his "place". In RotK, he's front and center (and awesome), but in FotR, he's just kinda there.

I dunno. There are too many great books that have simply too much plot to be driven by one person, even primarily.

Date: 2010-10-21 02:21 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rj-anderson.livejournal.com
That's a good point about Sam as the "real hero", especially from Tolkien's perspective. And your comparison between his role in FotR and RotK show that it sometimes takes time until characters get a chance to show us their proactive sides.

Date: 2010-10-21 12:51 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] thegameiam.livejournal.com
I've heard this characterized as a UK/USA difference: Alice had things happen to her, while Dorothy made things happen. I'm not sure I fully buy the national character interpretation, but it certainly does reflect different storytelling styles.

Date: 2010-10-21 02:00 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rj-anderson.livejournal.com
Oh, now, that's very interesting indeed. I hadn't heard that before!

Date: 2010-10-21 12:57 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fandoria.livejournal.com
I think you've got an excellent point there. In real life, there's things that happen because of choices we make and then there's choices we make because of things that happen. Some things just happen no matter what we do or don't do. As long as you're making choices and dealing with what happens, you're still acting. So if your protagonist has a mix of that, then it just makes it all the more realistic to me. And really, if you think about it, it's impossible to have anyone creating/causing things 100% of the time. It's usually more along the lines of, they make a choice (the act), there is a consequence, and then they have to deal with that (react) which lead to something else and so on. So unless your protagonist does nothing but react, this complaint is rather unrealistic and silly. At least, that's my two cents.

Date: 2010-10-21 02:08 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rj-anderson.livejournal.com
Well said. Thanks for weighing in!

Date: 2010-10-21 01:20 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] patty1943.livejournal.com
This is one of those posts I love because I get the names of new books!
I often find that the protagonist is doing too much and not acting like an actual person. I like character driven stuff. Dumb people who wind up in trouble because they do something no one would do, just to make the plot go, are boring! If they are going to take charge, for me it needs to be realistic.
I suppose I could add Elizabeth Bennett and Anne Elliott to you list of people who have things happen to them.
Thanks for the new titles.

Date: 2010-10-21 02:14 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rj-anderson.livejournal.com
That's an interesting perspective! So some readers (like yourself) find protagonists doing too much to be frustrating, while the reviewers I was talking about dislike characters who don't seem to be doing enough. Which goes back to the axiom about not being able to please everybody...

Date: 2010-10-21 03:00 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] patty1943.livejournal.com
Yeah. It is nice that not everyone agrees. One of our strengths as human beings, I feel. If we a liked the same things in the same way, life would be very dull.
I have to say that the reviewer you talked about in your post sounds pretty idiotic. Or narrow.

About Sam and Harry-

Date: 2010-10-21 02:23 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mary-j-59.livejournal.com
I'm going to chime in again, if you don't mind. I think perhaps the real question here is: what counts as action? If a character grows and changes as a result of what they go through in the story, that is action. And, as far as that type of action goes, Sam is definitely a protagonist, and a strong one. His interactions with Gollum are absolutely key. I really, really love Stratford Caldecott's essay, "Over the Chasm of Fire", about Sam as a hero, and it's worth reading if you haven't come across it yet.

But Harry Potter is a blank slate as far as I'm concerned. Yes, he rushes around doing things, but he never grows up. Not once does he have to say he is sorry for anything, and his victories, such as they are, are handed to him without his having to learn any discipline, As a result, I could neither believe in nor care about the character. I ended up disliking him pretty intensely.

As far as the physical action of their stories goes, Harry certainly does as much as Sam. But, as to their emotional and moral journeys, there is no comparison. Sam is a protagonist, and Harry is not.

My two cents, as always.
From: [identity profile] jmarkhus (from livejournal.com)
Am a guy who has read novels since i was 5 or 6 and am now 34. Though i haven't read all the comments, I think the idea that "protagonist must drive the plot" is being misunderstood. who defined driving the plot as making stuff happen or reacting to stuff happening to ones self? In my most favorite narration of all time, Camara Laye's "The African Child" (visit http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/laye.htm), a child narrates the entire book and while sometimes stuff happens to him, most times he merely observed stuff happening and narrated it beautifully using the language of a child. Fatoman is the protagonist but also merely OBSERVES. If we went to film, and looked at the popular series Friends or the upcoming (in popularity) "The Big Bang Theory" it is not immediately clear who "the" protagonist is. one would say he/she switches episode to episode if you applied the narrow definition most ascribed to.
In conclusion i think yes, the protagonist does drive the plot though sometimes, it is disturbing when the reader is left to his/her own devices when it comes to finding out who the protagonist is. To my African friends, consider this without reading the synopsis would you have figured the single woman to have been the protagonist in Elechi Amadi's (The Concubine)? I was hard pressed myself to even find the whole witchcraft angle. I first read a copy whose back cover had been removed thus was at odds with my classmates for a long time.

sarah crewe

Date: 2010-10-22 05:28 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sally reumann apokedak (from livejournal.com)
I loved Sarah Crewe and she didn't really do anything to try to right her circumstances. Not only did she not drive the plot, she also didn't really react. She was a good girl. A girl with a good heart. And when she was mistreated, she didn't retaliate. She treated kindly those who were less fortunate. She worked hard. She was honest.

So that is how she reacted to conflict and misfortune--she worked hard and didn't complain.

But she was no wimp. She wasn't sitting around whining and weeping and playing the victim. She was kind of saying, "Give me your best shot, Miss Minchin, you won't break me because I'm made of better stuff than you.

I wanted to see her win.

I've always wanted to write a character like her, but I don't know how. I feel like I have to have my characters always planning and pushing and seeking after goals. :)

But it's not that a character always has to be proactive as opposed to reactive. Reactive is fine sometimes. I do sometimes criticize books I read when the characters are not proactive, though. I do that when the book has failed to engage me and I begin to look for things that might have caused the problem. Almost every time the books that don't engage me have main characters that are floating from place to place not changing things by their presence.

Even Sarah Crewe, by her goodness and her love for Becky, changed things. She ticked Minchin off. She wasn't trying to get a goal. She was just doing the only thing that a powerless girl could do. She was just living. But her goodness of heart made Minchin mad and made her situation worse.

I love a book that came out recently, The Charlatan's Boy, by Jonathan Rogers. The kid is kind of like Sarah Crewe or Oliver Twist. Powerless to change his circumstances. But he acts. He chooses. He is not driving the action, but he's having an effect on things. He's constantly watching and thinking and acting and growing. And you can't help but root for him, even though he doesn't really have a goal he can work toward. He has a longing. He longs for a mother to love him. But he can't do anything to get that goal. It's out of his control. He can't work toward it in even a little way. And yet, he's a wonderful engaging character--like Sarah Crewe. You long to see him find fulfillment because he's such a sweet kid.

sarah crewe

Date: 2010-10-22 11:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sally reumann apokedak (from livejournal.com)
I loved Sarah Crewe and she didn't really do anything to try to right her circumstances. Not only did she not drive the plot, she also didn't really react. She was a good girl. A girl with a good heart. And when she was mistreated, she didn't retaliate. She treated kindly those who were less fortunate. She worked hard. She was honest.

So that is how she reacted to conflict and misfortune--she worked hard and didn't complain.

But she was no wimp. She wasn't sitting around whining and weeping and playing the victim. She was kind of saying, "Give me your best shot, Miss Minchin, you won't break me because I'm made of better stuff than you.

I wanted to see her win.

I've always wanted to write a character like her, but I don't know how. I feel like I have to have my characters always planning and pushing and seeking after goals. :)

But it's not that a character always has to be proactive as opposed to reactive. Reactive is fine sometimes. I do sometimes criticize books I read when the characters are not proactive, though. I do that when the book has failed to engage me and I begin to look for things that might have caused the problem. Almost every time the books that don't engage me have main characters that are floating from place to place not changing things by their presence.

Even Sarah Crewe, by her goodness and her love for Becky, changed things. She ticked Minchin off. She wasn't trying to get a goal. She was just doing the only thing that a powerless girl could do. She was just living. But her goodness of heart made Minchin mad and made her situation worse.

I love a book that came out recently, The Charlatan's Boy, by Jonathan Rogers. The kid is kind of like Sarah Crewe or Oliver Twist. Powerless to change his circumstances. But he acts. He chooses. He is not driving the action, but he's having an effect on things. He's constantly watching and thinking and acting and growing. And you can't help but root for him, even though he doesn't really have a goal he can work toward. He has a longing. He longs for a mother to love him. But he can't do anything to get that goal. It's out of his control. He can't work toward it in even a little way. And yet, he's a wonderful engaging character--like Sarah Crewe. You long to see him find fulfillment because he's such a sweet kid.

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