Sunday, April 1, 2018

A to Z - All about Writing: Agency

Welcome to the Blogging A to Z Challenge, where, this month, I'll be focusing on all things writing. This may be a random jumping around of topics within my theme, but hopefully something somewhere will be useful to someone. (V is for vague - see that last sentence.) Check out all the participants here and lets get on with today's letter.

A is for Agency

What the heck is agency, you ask?  That's when your character makes things happen instead of things happening to them. A character having agency, means they are taking an active roll in attempting to influence their fate.

For example, I once did a beta read of a fun fantasy story about a princess. My main issue with the character, who was a spunky girl full of charm and all, was that everyone else in the story was active in moving along the plot for her. All she did was ask people to do things and they did, because she was the princess. There was a plot, there was a charming main character and an interesting host of other characters, but because the princess didn't actually do anything. This resulted in low to no tension and distanced the dear princess from the stakes. 

When the rewrite came through and the problem was fixed by the princess having to accomplish  tasks in order to get assistance from the other characters. She had to do something. She had to be active in her plot. This raised the tension level and created stakes that impacted her. 

In order to create a compelling story, your character should have agency. They should be a part of the action, of doing things to get the story from part A to part B and so on throughout the plot. The plot should be influenced by the characters motivations and actions.

There is also the matter of things not having agency. Such as when a character's feet take them to another room. In reality, it is the person going into the other room. One way to look at it is that the character's feet are somehow in control of the body, and that's just weird. Another way is that the author is trying to show that the character is distracted and maybe on autopilot. When you encounter these random acts of agency in writing, you have to consider what you're trying to get across.

Is the fact that your character's hand finds the knife at their side and draws it because its a habitual motion in that they don't give it any thought, or that the hand has a life of it's own and is disembodied from the character.

Personally, I'm fond of handing agency to an occasional body part or thing as long as its to illustrate something important to the character. It's the times when it's not intentional that active hands and feet get creepy. 

Would you like a free e-book? This April, I'm giving away free copies of my new anthology, Destiny Pills & Space Wizards. Claim your copy here.
Prefer paperback? The print book goes live on April 20. Reviews are always appreciated.


  1. it makes sense that the main character has to do the action instead of making other people do them. I don't think I have heard the term 'agency' for this kind of usage. guess you learn new things every day.

    have a lovely day.

    1. It does make sense, but it's something I've seen a lot in the work of beginning writers. Their story happens to the character instead of the other way around. Thanks for dropping by.

  2. Great post! I'm actually telling my kids about agency all the time. Begging them actually to take responsibility for their own choices and actions. You need to own your agency.

  3. Hi Jean - I have never thought about Agency this way - but it makes perfect sense ... what a great start ... and as Charity mentions ... we need our own agency - cheers Hilary

  4. Definitely agree! Unless your character's inaction drives the plot (Hamlet is the best example of that) they've got to get to work!

    Great letter choice for A to Z!

    A Bit to Read

  5. Good first post, look forward to more informative posts over the month.

  6. Love this Jean! We all need our own Agency and so do main characters.


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