Do you know the song “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind,” by The Lovin’ Spoonful? It starts off with:
Did you ever have to make up your mind?Pick up on one, and leave the other behindIt’s not often easy, and not often kindDid you every have to make up your mind?
I can remember this because I used to sing it to my sister. You see, it got on her nerves and being a kid, this, of course, made it hysterical to me. But, the song came to mind today when I was reading a post on problematic protagonists. The list provided here was excellent, but I would add one more to the catalog: “Unable to Make a Decision.”
Have you ever read a book and felt like things just keep happening to the main character? It’s not that the protagonist is making them happen. Nope, just along for the ride.
In times of action, this is the person who fights the good fight only when forced to. Strong beliefs are sometimes professed, but rarely do they lead to an actual choice. No, this character waits around until the surrounding circumstances whittle down the options, then participates with an sense of resignation.
When more than one alternative presents itself (employment opportunities, love triangles, gelato flavors, etc.) the protagonist is truly stymied, bouncing back and forth between options, never happy, always tortured by the difficulty of the choice. But the excuse is always that the options are just all so flip-flopping fantastic, never that this individual’s way of deciding is to passive-aggressively force someone else to, so that no responsibility ever need be taken. So our hero just waits around allowing things to work themselves out. I mean, they’re bound to run out of some of that gelato eventually, right? No effort needed.
These characters drive me straight on up the wall. They prompt me to throw books, which then leads to hours upon hours of me apologizing to the book, ‘cause it’s not its fault that these characters are acting like dinkuses.
I want a character who makes a choice. Who sees that something is coming down the road and preemptively says, “I’m not going to wait for that to get here, I’m going to [insert decision here].” Now, I don’t care if I agree with the choice. I could hate it. Maybe I think it’s the dumbest decision anyone has ever made heretofore on this planet. Who cares? The protagonist didn’t wait for an event to just happen to him. He took control of the action and I applaud that, regardless of how dumbass I may think the choice is. Because the character proved that he was not so scared of the fallout of the decision that he would avoid making it.
And that’s a character I can support. One who looks at a situation, takes control of his role in it, and is willing to deal with the consequences.
How about you? Any character types who make you want to run for the hills, screaming like a tiny baby monkey?