Making your character proactive

About a year ago I was querying my novel Until Death. Although I sent out a very limited number of queries, I was seeing some good success with a couple requests for fulls. Those eventually turned into rejections, but with some incredibly helpful advice. There’s one piece of advice in particular that I’d like to talk about today.

Even with Liva’s plucky personality, I didn’t quite understand all of her motivations and at times I think she reacts to situations rather than having agency of her own. I’d like to see her become a more proactive character throughout and I want to see her desire more than just her love interests.

Proactivity. It was an issue I hadn’t even considered, but as I began thinking about it, I realized that Livia (my main character) just sort of got swept up into a conflict and kinda stumbled through the story from there.


Basically, my main character was Sadness and my plot was Joy.

The revisions that resulted from this advice were not easy. For a few days I was so overwhelmed (by this but also by the rest of the advice in the email and also advice from another rejection I’d received two days prior) that I couldn’t even think about it. Once the initial shock wore off, I sat down and spent a long time pondering Livia’s motivations as well as the motivations of everyone around her.

A new subplot emerged. Which might have been disastrous for some people, but was kind of a boon for me given that my word count was barely high enough for YA speculative fiction. On the other hand, the new subplot meant a lot of new words as well as a lot of changes to old words due to ripple effect. It was exhausting and took a long time.

But has it ever been worth it. Giving Livia her own agenda certainly made her a much more layered and interesting character. It also made the whole plot more intricate, though. Suddenly I had more strings to pull, more emotions to evoke, and more opportunity for characters to clash with each other.

Revisions: painful, but worth it.

And I’ve learned my lesson. Now I pay more attention to my characters’ motivations and agency during the drafting process. It saves time and energy later on.

What do you do to make your character proactive.