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Writing The Be-er Action Hero

Though they prefer to solve problems internally, the Be-er Main Character is still an active character.

In a post entitled The Non-Passive Be-er on the Discuss Dramatica site, a writer wonders how a Main Character with an Approach of Be-er would function in an action story. To help in the discussion, he offers an example:

One day Maria's entire family is gunned down by evil drug lords. She tries to grieve, to get help, to assist the police. When she realizes that the police have no intention of genuinely pursuing the crime, she realizes she has to 'become' (i.e. "be-er") a detective herself. When she finds evidence pointing to a corrupt police chief as the actual culprit and that the cops won't help her, she decides she has to 'become' a vigilante.

On the surface this seems to function properly. Main Characters have a preference towards solving their personal problems: either externally as Do-ers, or internally as Be-ers. In Dramatica this preference is known as the Main Character Approach. Note the emphasis on personal problems--this is the heart of the confusion most encounter when writing this kind of character into an action story.

The writer's example above focuses more on the Overall Story Throughline, rather than the Main Character's personal Throughline. Dramatica makes a distinction between both: the Overall Story Throughline looks at the problems everyone in the story is dealing with; in this case, evil drug lords gunning down families. The Main Character Throughline focuses on intimate personal issues that only the Main Character experiences. Often these issues develop within the character's backstory and are likely the kind of thing that would accompany the Main Character into any story.

The Action Hero

This preference for external or internal action will flavor the Main Character's interaction with the Overall Story. A character who prefers to solve problems internally might find themselves a bit ill-prepared for a story that requires external action to be taken. Likewise a character bent on taking external action to resolve personal issues will struggle with stories that call for tough decisions to be made. This dissonance between the two Throughlines comes about as a result of the combination of the Main Character's Approach (Do-er or Be-er) and the Story Driver (Action or Decision). Dramatica labels this story point Tendency as it determines "the degree to which the Main Characer feels compelled to accept the quest."

One can write an "action hero" into any story, regardless of Tendency. The "action hero" label describes the character's function in the Overall Story Throughline--usually as the Protagonist.[1] While the "Be-er" Approach might impact this function in the Overall Story, by definition it doesn't. The Approach is all about the character's personal baggage.

Chris Huntley, co-creator of the Dramatica theory of story, explains:

Within the SPECIFIC CONTEXT of the story's inequity as seen from the MC's perspective, however, there exists a PREFERENCE to try to resolve inequities FIRST by applying effort internally (be-er) or externally (do-er). If that approach does not resolve the inequity, the MC may (reluctantly or insecurely) attempt to resolve the inequity using the alternative approach. This MC APPROACH is independent of the overall story functions assigned to the player that is also the MC.

Taking action as a vigilante? That is the action of a Protagonist. Becoming a vigilante? That depends on the Main Character's personal issues and whether or not they have a long-standing personal issue of struggling with changing their essential nature. Often this is not the case and is representative of the tendency of writers to blend the Throughlines together before determining their differences.

An Inclusive Approach to Story Points

As the one of the minds responsible for the theory, Huntley offers this unique perspective:

I think part of the problem here comes from thinking of one thing to the exclusion of others. That never works well in Dramatica.

We all exist within the internal and external worlds. A be-er is not devoid or unaware of the external world. A do-er is not devoid or unaware of the internal world.

I prefer assertive and passive over active and passive when describing approaches. Think of it as the amount of energy applied. An assertive BE-ER uses a high level of energy. A passive BE-ER uses a low level of energy. An assertive DO-ER uses a high level of energy and a passive DO-ER uses a low level of energy. This "energy level" appears to impact the MC's effort, though not necessarily the effectiveness (which is context specific).

To most writers of action-driven fare, the Be-er Main Character appears to be passive. These writers assume that if action is required then a character who would rather change themselves can only be shown as a passive entity. As Chris explains, focusing on the assertiveness, or lack of assertiveness, of the Main Character is a more effective approach. Both Do-ers and Be-ers are active characters--their only difference lies in where they apply that energy.


  1. In Dramatica, the Main Character does not always have to be the Protagonist. ↩︎