Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Basic Plot Failure: Passive Main Characters

The basic plot of a novel consists of a main character trying to accomplish some genre-appropriate task (save the kingdom, solve the crime, stop the bomb, overcome obstacles to love, whatever).  It follows that one basic way in which a novel can be bad is that its main character can be passive in its main plot, just experiencing things that happen to him or her.

This makes for a bad novel for two reasons.  First, it makes the main character unsympathetic (we'll talk more about sympathy another time, but, to foreshadow a bit, we sympathize more with characters who are active).  We don't care much about characters who don't care enough to do something.  Second, it makes the plot uninteresting, just a series of things-that-the-author-makes-happen-to-some-schlemiel.

Are there exceptions?  Maybe; we could argue.  But, in terms of film, if you think Forrest Gump or Being There were great movies (I have not read either underlying book), let me ask you this: were they great because of the plot?  Or were they great in spite of a weak plot?

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