Checklist: 10 Ways To Create An Active Protagonist

Struggling with a passive protagonist? Let’s look into what causes this passivity. Remember, a hero is not ‘active’ because he is always running, fighting, arguing etc. A hero is not ‘passive’ because he is never doing any of those, either.


by Karel Segers

Here is a list of points that in my view will have a positive impact on the protagonist’s ‘activity':

1. The hero must have strong will power.
2. The hero should have a clear goal.
3. At least one character should state the goal explicitly .
4. The hero must not be forced but chooses to pursue the goal.
5. Once the goal is known, the hero should stay on the case.
6. The hero can only be distracted because of a new, stronger goal.
7. Keep showing us the hero really wants to achieve the goal.
8. Make sure the obstacles in the way are significant.
9. Stay in the Hero’s point of view for as much as possible.
10. If the hero seems passive, there must be a primal reason, e.g. fear of death.

Like any other principle, there will be numerous examples of successful films that stray from these. It doesn’t mean you can just ignore them without consequences.

This list is constantly being revised. Please give us your feedback in the comments!

- Karel Segers

Karel Segers is a producer and script consultant who started in movies as a rights buyer for Europe’s largest pay TV group Canal+. Back then it was handy to speak 5 languages. Less so today in Australia. Karel teaches, consults and lectures on screenwriting and the principles of storytelling to his 5-year old son Baxter and anyone who listens. He is also the boss of this blog.

(Revised on 30 April 2011.)

3 Comments

  1. Captain Sushil Bhan August 14, 2013 at 1:41 pm #

    Devise a story producing machine based on 10 principles you list. Like a microwave it should with one push of button turn corn into sought after snack, any writers idea into a riveting story. It would be legendary. . . STORYFORMER

  2. Mike February 7, 2014 at 4:26 pm #

    The way I see it, an active protagonist is one who has “decision points” throughout the plot–places of rest where the protagonist decides whether or not to continue and/or how best to continue.

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