Let me preface this by saying I am not a fan of Survivor. I’ve never watched a full season (much less an episode) until this past winter when my aunt decided that Wednesday nights would be a good time for us to bond over her favorite show. Not wanting to disappoint her, we watched each episode in the living room (where my desk is conveniently located so I could “work” while the show aired). As my aunt picked her favorites and rooted against the villains, I played Candy Crush Saga. On the night of the finale, however, I couldn’t look away. The show epitomized the importance of passive verses active voice in writing! Let me recap for you:
Two survivors remain: Tony and Woo. Tony spent the game manipulating, lying, and backstabbing. Woo went along for the ride. Tony lost sleep, made himself sick, and never won a challenge, though he never stopped moving. Woo made friends, won when it mattered, and seemed to somewhat enjoy the experience.
When it was time to vote for the winner, castaway Spencer gave an impassioned speech about how Tony deserved to win because he played the game and Woo didn’t. Tony worked hard. Woo didn’t. More comparisons were made, but I kept thinking, “How can Tony be that much better? He and Woo are in the SAME PLACE!”
It wasn’t that Tony played the game better, he played the game that people wanted to see. So many people in American burn their candles at both ends that they don’t want to see the player who doesn’t exert enough effort win. Woo waited and watched. He let others do the hard lifting. He made it to the finale without compromising his beliefs and ideals, but no one wanted to see it. No one voted for the guy who was smart enough to let others do the work. They decided it was better to ignore values and principles. They voted for the man who insulted and betrayed them because he played an active game.
It wasn’t that Woo didn’t play. He chose to play a passive game. It didn’t matter that he was in the exact same spot as Tony. He survived as long as Tony, but it didn’t matter. The active player won. The active player, who used and abused everyone and anyone to get to the finale, won. People hated him, but they voted for him.
Are your characters active or passive? Do you show them doing things, or tell the reader what’s happening? The sweetest, kindest, gentlest hero won’t hold the readers interest if he’s passive. The most deceitful, untrustworthy, and self-centered man, however, will keep the pages turning if things are active.