It’s the bane of many writers. We tell rather than show. Editors hate it, of course, and will use its mere presence, even in brief, as their automatic out. This week, I’m working to revise a battle scene in my most recent novel. It’s an eleven-page series that my agent thinks is too passive. I tell what happens to the kids. I don’t show them doing much of anything. If I have any excuse at all, it’s that I cringed at putting these characters in danger. I did not want to dwell on it too much. I wanted to merely observe from a distance, with my hands over my face and only one eye peeking out. Well, you can’t write that way.
I’ve been thinking about passivity in another way too. I have recently waged a battle that some would say I lost. (I simply walked away.) The fact was, I didn’t want to be fighting in the first place. I mistakenly believed that fighting on the right, ethical, true side of things would bring me an automatic win. But it turns out that the side of bad, unethical, and lies, uses all their underhanded methods to achieve their aims, and this is especially true when those who are watching the whole thing take place, are passive. Passivity is lazy. You want something to happen, but you want someone else to take care of it. It’s apathetic. You see, but don’t think you can do anything about it. It’s wrong. It helps the bad guys win.
Yesterday everyone was changing their profile pictures to red to support marriage equality on Facebook. Me too. I did it. But what does that really mean? Does that make us less passive about equality because it took two clicks to change a picture? Not really. I’m watching this one on the sidelines. I changed my picture, but did nothing else. If I really want this to change, I’m going to have to get off my ass.
The thing about being passive, in life and in literature is this: you get what you work for.
If I write a passive scene because I’m too afraid or lazy to get down and dirty, the reader won’t either.
If I am passive about a cause and right does not prevail, it’s my own fault for not doing something about it. There are people who are out there, doing things, protesting. But they need support. Based on what I just experienced, I know. There is a lot of pressure and strain in fighting, but it’s so much more difficult when you’re fighting alone for people who are sitting around waiting for you to get it done already. It’s enough to make a person stop and ask “why am I doing this?” And then with no champions leading the charge, what happens next is this: the bad guys win. And it’s your own damn fault.