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SimplyScripts Screenwriting Discussion Board    Screenwriting Discussion    Screenwriting Class  ›  Examples of passive characters in Film & TV Moderators: George Willson
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Posted: April 21st, 2024, 7:43am Report to Moderator

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It is often said that a good character musn't ever be passive, they must want always want something, and it must be clear, etc. However, what are some examples of passive characters you can think of?

I'm only asking because my protaganist always tend to be the passive type, much like myself... sometimes.

Maybe I'm missing something in the active vs passive debate. (I attended a class on storytelling a while back, and I was informed that passive characters are a big NO NO). Although, maybe my definitions are wrong?

If a character begins the story as passive, and through external circumstance, is forced into action (much like the films listed below), is he still passive?

Off the top of my head I can think of two great characters. Harold Crick x  Stranger than Fiction (2006), & Chance/Chauncey Gardner x Being there (1979), and perhaps Truman Burbank x The Truman Show (199.

Now that I think about it,  a lot of characters are passive and are driven into action by external circumstances, i.e - most superhero origin stories, etc.
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Posted: April 21st, 2024, 6:47pm Report to Moderator

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Chauncey in Being There, Rosemary in Rosemary's Baby, Will - Good Will Hunting, Joel in Eternal Sunshine, Jeff in Rear Window (though that's only cause he's immobile. Sally - When Harry met Sally, Cole in The Sixth Sense, Harold Crick - Stranger than Fiction. Ooh, and a favourite of mine - Leona in Sorry, Wrong Number.

They're all reactive characters.

A lot of characters start as victims of circumstance which is perfectly fine and they serve to drive the plot and those around them who end up taking the more active role. Or the circumstances force the passive character to become an active protagonist. So, yes. They start as passive but evolve. Their flaw is their passivity and then they're forced to step up.

It's a good question and topic to mull over.

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Posted: April 21st, 2024, 6:56pm Report to Moderator

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Thanks for the insight, and reply
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Posted: April 23rd, 2024, 12:02pm Report to Moderator
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My favourite tales often involve ordinary folks... in extraordinary situations.

"Some Day I'll Be Saturday Night..."
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Posted: April 23rd, 2024, 1:45pm Report to Moderator
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Passive to me kind of translates to: things just happen to them. That's the big no, no. (It's the classic: "but" or "therefore", never "then". Which is a great way to analyze writing sequences.)

You can have an action hero, very "active" on screen, but still be a passive character. And you can have a character "passive" on screen and still be active.

Active, in the screenwriting sense is really: something happens that changes the character's equation, and the character reacts in a way that changes the situation's equation. The reaction can be retreat. But, it's still an active reaction in the screenwriting sense.

Point can have passive characters. Just don't treat them passively. Passive characters are great fun because they react in fun ways when you try to press them into action.

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