Action Vs. Reaction: In Fiction And In Life

I’m willing to bet that pretty much anyone who’s ever picked up a how-to-write-fiction book in their life has stumbled across that famous “act, don’t react” bit of advice. For writers, it’s pretty clear: no one likes a reactive character.

You know the reactive character. He or she (though I tend to see more female reactive characters than male) doesn’t do anything. Things happen to them, but they never take any action themselves. The princess waits in her tower for her prince to save her. She’s reacting. Translation: doing nothing.

Example: Bella Swan. I know I pick on Twilight a lot, but it’s really good at pointing out exactly what not to do. Tell me, what does she ever do for herself? A thing once or twice, mostly resulting in something stupid. Or she almost acts. She almost takes action for herself, like a living person. Mostly, she’s more like a chess piece. Her boyfriend and the others around her move her around here and there, but she has no real will of her own. Besides being with said boyfriend.

Who wants to read about someone who never does anything for themselves? They dodge the rocks the story throws at them, and that’s about it. It’s like the written version of that kid who only ever sits in the corner with his nose in a book and never talks to anyone. The mean kids might pick on him, but sooner or later, everyone gets bored.

You don’t want a boring character.

Meanwhile, we’ve got active characters. The fun ones in school. The prince over there, trying to fight off the dragon.

Example: Katniss Everdeen, from Hunger Games. She could have easily dodged the whole mess by just staying quiet when her sister gets picked. But she decides to be a heroine and rescue the little sister, thus getting shoved face-first into the story. Yes, she reacts too. But every character in every story reacts to some degree.

She’s making decisions on the fly, adjusting her strategy, being cunning, and manipulating the people watching the chaos like it’s a TV drama, and she’s good at it. She even got two extra books and three extra movies to go along with it.

She’s an active character.

But naming active characters is fairly easy. If you’re a writer with a fair bit of practice and a world all set up already, even making an active character can be fairly easy.

But let’s be honest: fiction in general tends to be fairly easy. Not for the writers, but for those of us who enjoy it. It’s not real. Why else would I enjoy stealing and assassinating in Skyrim so much? I’m not a thief or an assassin. It’s easy, and it’s not real. You can do pretty much whatever you want in fiction; be it a video game, a movie, or a book.

Real life is more tricky. Here’s a question: are we all active people?

I’m not talking about your workout habits. I’m talking about your go-getter attitude. Because, yeah, we should all head to the gym more. But those muscles are only going to do so much for you.

Now, I’m hardly the greatest advocate for taking action. But I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and I’ve noticed that a lot more people would probably be happier (or at least less miserable) if they tried it.

A lot of people would rather wait for the boss to promote them, rather than dare to ask for a promotion and risk getting told no. Or worse, getting fired. *Gasp*

Except, it all depends, doesn’t it? Pointing out all you’ve done for the company/your division/team/squad/whatever in a non-bragging way, politely requesting a promotion firmly yet not pushy, and it’s possible that they’ll consider it. Now, don’t just take my advice if you plan to ask for a promotion. Get some books, look it up, research your company/boss, etc. But you get my point, right?

I had such a hard time in school. Debilitating shyness and a fear of social situations kept me away from most classmates and teachers; then I also had vision problems for the first semester of middle school; then I also had trouble with boys because I was an early bloomer; then… you get my point. If I had just not been so freaked out by the social situation and approached my teachers, asked for help, extra credit, redo a test, whatever, I might have gotten better grades. Rather than just wait for the report card to come through and cringe when I considered my parents’ reactions.

We all need to be more active when it comes to the world. Do that thing that freaks you out a bit, so long as it sounds fairly reasonable. I’m not saying try to climb mount Everest with no mountain-climbing training because some blog told you to “do what you like.”

But for the simpler, safer ambitions: what’s the worst that could happen? You’ll pay a bit too much on that family vacation to Disneyland? Your crush turns you down because they’re already seeing someone?

Hardly the end of the world. You get up, and you keep taking action. Keep going.

It’s time to get rid of this seemingly worldwide “I’ll do it some other time/when I’m feeling better/when the weather’s better/when I have more money/when I feel like it/when I didn’t just get my nails done” phenomenon. The average life expectancy is only about 70 years. I’m already 18. Even assuming I make it to 80, almost a quarter of my life is over. How about yours?

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