Life Doesn’t Just Happen to Us

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Aug 04 2011

When writing your book and later your query, it’s important to remember that a successful book, and therefore a successful query, isn’t just about life happening to the character. To make a book, and query, work, you need to have your character be an active participant in life.

Therefore, if you’re telling me that your character’s house burned down, her husband left her, her best friend died, and then her dog ran away, I’m frankly feeling your book is a little ho-hum. Clearly your book is happening around your character, to your character, but your character isn’t doing anything. Maybe if her husband left her and then she shot him I might be more interested.


18 responses to “Life Doesn’t Just Happen to Us”

  1. Avatar Janet Reid says:

    How about her dog is on the lam, cause he shot the husband who was philandering with the neighbor? Also, there are vampires.

    wv: osistr (which is exactly what I can hear somone say to this comment "oh, sister!")

  2. Avatar Joyce says:

    Janet, you forgot the zombies.

  3. Avatar jfaust says:

    and the fact that the husband now comes back as a ghost to help her find the dog

  4. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I see your point. But Barbara Kingsolver's character in The Lacuna was pretty passive and I thought that was a lovely novel. But she is a fantastic writer.

  5. Avatar Rosemary says:

    But the dog has morphed into a werewolf. (The bullet was silver.)

  6. Avatar ryan field says:

    A great example of this could be Fannie Flagg's novel, I Still Dream About You. All through the beginning of the book life happens to the mc, and then she starts taking steps and making her own things happen.

  7. Avatar Nicole says:

    LOL – that last line!

    One of the many reasons I love this blog. XD

  8. Bad enough if main character is passive. Even worse if he/she whines about all the abuse being suffered.

  9. The description you just made sounds like the story of my life. Richard from Amish Stories

  10. Nothing like a Jessica and Janet tag team scenario to start the weekend! 😉

  11. Awesome! Was just thinking about this concept, character-driven vs. plot-driven. Plot-driven always feels contrived to me. I like to see a character make a huge mistake that affects everything and then struggle to work around what can't be changed. Maybe her husband left because she got caught cheating, and now the guy she cheated with is with another woman, and she has to decide if she's fit for marriage after all while dealing with her dog's unsightly leg-humping habit.

  12. Avatar Angie says:

    Thanks for the great advice.

  13. ROFL – shoot that man!

  14. Avatar Jeannie says:

    No, no, no, the husband and the dog ran away together to escape the zombie-vampire secret society that murdered the neighbor who was about to reveal all their plans to News of the World. Oh, and our heroine is secretly a vampire, but she doesn't know it yet.

    Ah, sorry, couldn't resist. 😀

  15. Avatar Laura W. says:

    Hamlet being the exception, of course. 😛

  16. Avatar Anna Banks says:

    A famous writer (Gosh I wish I could remember who!!!) said, "I make my characters DO as much as possible."

    I always try to follow this example.

    Happy Friday to all!

  17. Ha! I loved this one…but you did make me question the happenings in A Marked Past. A lot happens in it but I do think the main character is actively involved and makes her own life changing decisions. (no guns though, sorry) 🙂

  18. Avatar furrykef says:

    I dunno. I think the main character in the first three books of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a character who largely has things happen to him instead of taking any initiative of his own. It's only in the fourth book that he has some initiative, and in the fifth he becomes passive again. All five are great books.

    Of course, the things that happen to Arthur are ridiculously extraordinary, and being a fish out of water is the entire point of his character, so perhaps he's an atypical example.