For some reason, my Girls in the Basement have been circling around Passive Aggression lately. We’ve been gently prodding the idea with a stick, and so far the tiger hasn’t come bursting out of its cage, but a quote from Lifehacker definitely made *something* in the Basement sit up and notice.
When you finally make the commitment to attack your side hustle for real, you will suddenly find yourself deeply compelled to attend to all sorts of random things instead of your side hustle. This is the result of several factors: fear at failing if you begin, passive-aggressive resentment of all the work ahead of you, procrastinating because you’re not sure where to start. – Brazen Careerist.
“Passive-aggressive resentment of all the work ahead of you.” Well, that explains some of my procrastination habits. But the quote also got me to thinking about the uses of passive-aggressive conflict in story. Well, I had been thinking about it – some of you may remember that I mentioned in comments this week that I’d like to analyze “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” a classic example of a passive-aggressive lifestyle.
And analyze it, we shall, next week when I’ve had a chance to take a good, hard look at the story. But first, this week, I’d like to take a closer look at the definition of passive-aggressive itself.
Wikipedia defines it here, and they reference Theodore Millon, who gives it four different flavors. Essentially, PA behavior seems to be anger that can’t be expressed assertively or aggressively, so it comes out sideways through catty remarks, sabotaging behaviors, or just being an obstacle to progress.
Is passive-aggressive behavior good for a hero or heroine (which is slightly different from a protagonist)? My gut feeling is no, not for romance, fantasy or science fiction. Maybe mystery heroes and heroines can get away with it. The literary genre seems to be loaded up with it up to the eyeballs. But people who read romance, science fiction and fantasy are looking for quests, and a better world. They seem to want someone who is assertive and takes steps to control his or her destiny. An arc where the heroine goes from being PA to healthily assertive might be OK, but we don’t want to see the heroine win her goals through being deceitful. We don’t want the hero to win because someone else did the hard work for him.
Or am I wrong? I would love to see the devil’s advocates come out and play in the comments. Have you got passive-aggressive characters in your own writing? Do you have a favorite passive-aggressive character in someone else’s writing?
And, stay tuned for next week when we dissect “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”