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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

March Madness, Part 5--The Players Must Play

So, the coach got his team into the tournament. He gave them clearly defined goals and powerful motivations, and their opponent keeps them on their toes. Now, it's up to them to act. They have to play the game. They can't just stand there and do nothing. Of course, there are exceptions to this. Sometimes, during a close game, when time is running out, the players of the leading team won't pass or shoot in order to prevent a steal or rebound that could give the other team a chance. Instead, they simply let the clock run out. In this case, their inaction is actually action. Readers prefer characters who do something about their situation. They want the protagonist to fight for their cause instead of just hoping that fate will smile upon them. If you want a character's inaction to qualify as action, you better make sure he/she has a darn good reason for doing nothing. Otherwise, he/she will come across as weak and not worth rooting for. What do you think about inaction? Does it qualify as action if done correctly?

27 comments:

Solvang Sherrie said...

I get really annoyed when I read a book and the character just thinks about doing something or hides from everything. I can't think of any books where inaction qualifies as action. But I'll be interested to see other responses!

Angie Muresan said...

If there are books like that out there, I haven't come across them. Nor do I want to. I feel that there's enough inaction as it is around the world, and I don't want to read about it.

L. T. Host said...

No examples leap to mind, but I don't really read more literary types of works. I know in literary fiction, it's often more about internal changes in the character than action on the outside. But there's a reason I don't read most literary stuff-- it kinda bores me.

Not that there isn't good literary stuff out there-- or that all literary stuff follows these rules-- it's just not my cup of tea.

Patti said...

I think in novels, inaction, or letting the action take place around them without reacting, isn't very effective.

SO who are you routing for now that Kansas State has been knocked out?

Karen said...

Inaction can be a very useful character development tool. One character might jump right into the fray because it's in their nature, while another sits back and waits for things to unfold. And there could be all kinds of reasons for doing that.

But watching the world collapse while they sit back with a cup of coffee is usually not going to be very effective.

Julie Dao said...

Yep, fairy tales are culprits when it comes to characters who sit around waiting and do nothing! I want a strong character that I can sympathize with so it's very rare that I'll like one who doesn't do anything to help themselves.

Carolyn V. said...

I was dealing with this in my last ms. My MC wasn't doing anything, she was having things done to her. So I have to rewrite the thing. I guess it all comes back to learning as write. =)

Elana Johnson said...

I think so. In FEED, Titus does nothing while his girlfriend goes through this debilitating disease of sorts and dies. I mean, he did NOTHING. I couldn't figure it out. I was like, why isn't he going over there? Messaging her? (It's futuristic.) Then I realized that while she was in love with him, he was not in love with her. He didn't want to. He didn't have the same feelings, he didn't have any feelings compelling him to do anything.

And so he didn't.

It was masterful. And made me realize that sometimes characters don't have to do anything and that it speaks as loud as when they do.

Great post, BTW.

MG Higgins said...

Curious question. I wonder if inaction might be okay is it's the MC's big problem--it's the arc he/she must overcome by the end of the story. If there's enough action going on around the MC, and we're rooting for the MC to finally "get it," it could make for an engaging story. Maybe!

Tamika: said...

For today's reader I think moving the story along is vital. Too much inaction can stunt the reader's interest. I never want to leave them with the occasion to set the book aside from boredum.

I have a really hard time with watching football. It takes too long to score! Now basketball is the kind of fast paced sport that keeps my interest.

T. Anne said...

This is great for me, because my MC is getting ready to DO something. It's always exciting to watch out characters grow and mine for sure is in an uncomfortable situation.

Leah Rubin said...

I think it's possible to make that work, but as usual, it would depend on the overall setting and situation.

Thanks for another thought-provoking post!

Stephanie Thornton said...

I've read (and critiqued) novels where the characters just react to what happens. Or sometimes they rarely do that. It drives me nuts!

Stephanie Faris said...

So true! I hate it in real life and I hate it in characters. You want a character who gets things done. Plus, if someone just sits around letting life happen, how interesting is THAT?

Jennifer Shirk said...

Yes, I want a character to "do" or "react". But even if she/he wants to hide or be inactive, sometimes inactivity can cause something to happen in the story which can then force the character to respond. Follow that? LOL!!

Amber Tidd Murphy said...

This is such an interesting post. I think inaction can work for certain characters and loved Elana's example with FEED.

I think inaction can often be a character defining moment -- like in THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, when Frannie chooses to stay in the truck with her husband rather than chasing down Clint Eastwood in his beat-up truch which is driving away forever.

I think that is such a powerful moment. She stays put -- inaction -- but it is because of her belief that her duty is to her family, so it speaks to who she is.

Jody Hedlund said...

As you know, I posted today about the fast-action books need. And I think we can create this pace in any type of story and in many different ways.

David F. Weisman said...

Usually you would probably need an internal struggle, so the action is in the protagonists head and heart. If the character should logically do nothing for a considerable time, and had no internal conflict about it, that might be tough to do.

If the character is waiting for an ambush, or the perfect shot they can only try once, the anticipated action can be so vivid it might make it easier.

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

i think dialouge can be active.

Susan Fields said...

I don't think it's done often, but I do think it can be done effectively, like in Elana's example. Too much of it would get aggravating pretty quickly though.

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

I think it can be, but I think it's really difficult to do.

Tara McClendon said...

Great post. This is a tough one to master. I know I'm not up for it yet.

Erica Chapman said...

That's a tough one, I think they have to do something! It's okay to have a slow part and let a subplot enjoy some time for a bit, but the MC better be involved in some way ;o)

Fabulous post!

Danyelle said...

Interesting thought, and not an easy one to answer. I think that for inaction to qualify as action, it has to propel the plot forward. It's not enough to just not do something or to run and hide--there has to be consequences for doing this. And those consequences need to move things forward. :)

Lily Robinson said...

Yes, inaction may be important to a character's personal struggles... addiction, victim of abuse. There are some reasons for being inactive that can endear a character to us.

BTW... I'm loving 'Breakout' when I get a chance to read it! Just learned I've got to kill someone. ;)

Mrsblogalot said...

Susan, have a wonderful weekend!!!

Terri Tiffany said...

I'm trying to make my current characters DO something about their situations as much as I can! My MC in my last book was too passive I think. She let life happen to her and didn't act, just reacted.