on Writers in the Storm blog:
Get your protagonist up off the couch and into the story.
When I was six, I wrote a series called Dog City that followed the adventures of a team of dog archaeologists as they searched for a lost city of, you guessed it, dogs. It was all of four books, bound in aged cardboard from the backs of legal pads, and custom illustrated.
Laugh all you want, but that series had a more proactive protagonist than the “real novel” I wrote twenty years later.
Those industrious little puppers had goals—to find that lost city and fetch a rare magical item that would save the world from evil dinosaurs (it really should have been mailmen, right?). My “real novel” had a protagonist who was being manipulated by gods for a variety of reasons, and there was a prophecy she didn’t want to be a part of, and some romance, and an evil sorcerer, and a curse…you get the picture.
Even written in crayon, the dog story was better because it had a protagonist actively trying to achieve a goal and resolve a problem, and not just a protagonist who only acted when something else forced her to. My six-year-old self knew what the story was about and who was driving that story. My older self did not.
That’s the difference between a proactive and a reactive character, and why some novels flatline even though the scenes are filled with exciting problems.