So I’ve been thinking a lot recently about character agency. (Maybe it’s because Chuck Wendig started it.) Then one of my writing communities took up the topic. Perhaps it is because I have been rewriting the first chapter of one of my stories.
First chapters are hard and easy all at the same time. The first chapter contains that original kernel of an idea. Its the one that gets me started writing a story. I get so excited building my scenery and character that I often let the story lag.
Character agency is all about letting your character’s motivations and goals drive the story. It sounds great in theory. (I’m not sure I’m 100% behind it because as much as people pitch character centered plots, I still think external plot is necessary as much as character realism.) But putting agency into action is harder.
So I got this character. He starts out as a daddy’s boy who’d rather spend all day researching than finding a girlfriend or training for the military. Then his brothers kill his father and try to kill him and he runs away.
When I wrote it, it sounded fine in my head. But its boring. My character lacks anything close to agency.
So I am reworking the scene. My character’s motivations and goals need to drive the story. So how about this: There is a party happening. My character doesn’t want to go to it. His brother says his father has demanded he goes. My character has been trying to convince his dad to send him to the university instead of forcing him into the military. He is afraid to upset his father and lose ground in his university argument, so he goes to the party. His father uses the opportunity to introduce him into military circles. His brothers still kill the father and try to kill my character, but now when he runs, he runs with a plan, to get to the university. This also gives my character reasons to stick around in the next town when things get rough again.
It feels better, but I’m still learning about character agency and putting it into play early, but it feels better. We’ll see.