13.2: Writing Active Characters

Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Amal, and Maurice

This week we welcome Amal El-Mohtar and Maurice Broaddus to the Writing Excuses cast for a discussion of active characters. We cover characters who move stories forward, who make decisions that influence plot-critical events, and whose actions draw the reader into the book.

Liner Notes: you’ll be hearing from Amal and Maurice during the second week of each month of 2018. And if Maurice sounds familiar, he joined us at GenCon for episode 7.40 back in 2012.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Andrew Twiss, and mastered by Alex Jackson, and despite the fact that both  Andrew and Alex are very active characters we never give them any dialog.



Find a 1st-person poem, and write it in the 3rd person POV. Perhaps even rewrite it as a scene, or a story.

Seasons of Glass and Iron” by Amal El-Mohtar (from the anthology Starlit Wood, and appearing here courtesy of Uncanny Magazine)

7 thoughts on “13.2: Writing Active Characters”

  1. Very excited to hear more from Maurice. I just recently listened to that episode a couple of weeks back (I’ve been going through the archives in an odd order) and was hugely impressed.

  2. Hmm… so what about the slightly related case of main characters who have active desires and motivations and all that, but no actual impact on the story?

    I think the classic case is Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Watch closely and you’ll see that the only thing that ends up any different in the end due to his involvement is that he ends up saving the girl. The entire rest of the series of events would have been pretty much the same if he had never gotten involved. Why, then, is his story so compelling and fun?

    1. That is often the difference between a Main Character and a Protagonist. The Protagonist is the one moving the story forward and the Main Character is the one through whose eyes the story is told. Indy is also a Hero because he does all sorts of cool heroic things.

      Last week’s episode covered this in depth.

    2. This theory about Indy appears all over the place now, in film reviews, writing discussions, etc. I don’t buy it. There’s nothing to say that the Germans ever would have found the Ark if not for Indy. I’m not saying that the Ark isn’t just a massive MacGuffin, which it is, but there is an argument that, without Indy, the allies would never have secured the Ark. Also, without sitting and watching the movie for the 98th time (or whatever), I expect he saved lives in addition to Marion’s. I think there’s a viable position that states Indy’s mission succeeded because of him.

  3. And here they come! From the Chicago team, Brandon, Mary, Amal El-Mohtar, and Maurice Broaddus, we hear a lot of advice about making your characters active! Get them off the pot and into the fire? Well, go and do things, but don’t forget to plan and try to do those plans (even if Yoda did say, “There is no try, only do!”). Internal choices, decisions, and external action, make a character active and wise? But what about reluctant characters? Glad you asked! And keep your plot threads tangled, too! Read all about it, in the archives, and over here:


    And remember, a mighty edifice of motivation often starts with a single pebble for a keystone…

  4. This was a really terrific episode. Thank you guys. Loving the new Chicago team. I don’t know how you do it, but WE seems to go from strength to strength, even after 12 years!! (Well, seasons anyway).

    I’m dashing off to tweak my chr motivations. My present project is at Edit 2, Chapter 5, so it’s a great place for me to do this. Now, I’m planning on having the two m/c’s engage in a massive argument that lasts the whole chapter, with events taking place around them and to them, but with the argument still running through it all. Tricky, but I think I can pull it off.

    Thanks for the inspiration, guys.

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