This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Active characters, perhaps unsurprisingly, take action. They don't just sit around thinking about their feelings or their situation, or get swept along by the events of the plot like a cork bobbing down a stream. They are in motion but, for that motion to be meaningful, they have to have a destination in mind. Enter 'The Goal' stage left …
Yes, I've said it before but that's because it's vital: Your characters have to want something. They have to have a goal and they have to care about that goal. More importantly, however, you have to make the reader empathise with or, at least, understand their motivation, so that they are invested in the outcome. As always, the key lies in making your reader care.
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When events in the plot thwart your protagonist or the antagonist pushes back, your protagonist will struggle on towards their goal and drive the plot forwards. In this way, your characters will stop being passive creatures, who only react to events happening to them, and force them to become agents of their own (fictional) lives.
This isn't to say that reacting to events is bad, however. There are plenty of things which can 'happen to' your character and they will (of course) find themselves in situations which aren't of their own making. What is important is that they react in concrete, active ways, which are consistent with their character and goals. An excellent example of this is when Katniss volunteers to take her sister's place at the beginning of The Hunger Games. Katniss is forced into the situation but her reaction to it is active, sympathetic and believable.
Use this in your own story. Look for places in which your main character thinks about their situation or an event and how they feel about it, and see if you can show that through their actions instead of just their thoughts.
Identifying a character's main goal can be surprisingly difficult, but I guarantee it will make your novel-writing easier down the line. Nine times out of ten when I'm stuck (especially in the dreaded middle), it's because I either haven't got a clear positive goal for my main character or I've lost sight of it.