Story Stuff: A Is For Agency

Welcome to the first Blogging from A to Z challenge post! We start our series with the reason most stories exist – character agency.


Great, now my characters need an agent too. Not so, aspiring writer (and for the record, you may not need one either, but we’ll save that for a different post).

Simply put, character agency is how your character earns his keep in the story. Characters need motivations and goals – mash those together and you have agency. When you see the word “must” in a blurb – as in, Now, he must stop the wildebeest from stealing his mother’s earrings – odds are the character has strong agency. The character does things that directly affect, if not cause, the plot.

Chuck Wendig says this in his post on this topic:

Character agency is, to me, a demonstration of the character’s ability to make decisions and affect the story. This character has motivations all her own. She is active more than she is reactive.

As I begin brainstorming a story, I am often guilty of letting the plot happen to or around my characters instead of by them, and I have to consciously make sure they are getting their hands dirty. I ask myself this question: If I pull my character out of the story, does that destroy the plot? If the answer is no, I know they need more agency.



Katniss had to fight in the Hunger Games. Harry had to train to be a wizard. Minny did that thing with the pie. If the characters hadn’t done these things, the stories (if they could exist) would have been much different.

How do characters in your favorite stories show agency? In what ways do the characters you’re writing show it? 

27 thoughts on “Story Stuff: A Is For Agency

  1. No doubt character should provide the needed service to a reader to keep him engaged. That service is created only if character acted proactive instead of reactive. Your thoughts on choosing A for agency is quite creative 🙂

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  2. Agency creates a back story that the reader can relate to. James Walters is a sales manager in my latest novel. He is also scientifically minded. Hyper-sensitive after his girl friend walks out he encounters Adriana, who is from the Galactic Command Force. His reaction can be understood. Scared, yet appreciative of the risks to the earth from comets headed for earth.

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  4. I guess I go, “I need somebody to do this, and somebody to that…” then I create characters to do those things.

    For example, in The Navigators, I wanted them to test the time machine and to have it make mistakes a few times. If I only had my three main characters, the main characters would be the ones who got injured (and basically sidelined for the rest of the story) so I had to bring in Roger and Riff.

    From there, they couldn’t just be the new guy on Star Trek who went down with the landing party to planet Zorg and got zapped by the Zorgians.

    So Roger had to become Melissa’s ex-boyfriend who was on again off again, and a bit of an antagonist to Barry, while Riff was put in the position of actually finding the time machine.

    If I didn’t need a few tests to go bad – as in, really upping the stakes for our characters and making readers worry what the hell was going to happen next – they would not have been in the story at all.

    But if I was going to include them, I had to give them a bigger stake in the story as well.

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  6. As a writer, it is a challenge managing character agency and keeping to plot, which swells when working through a series. Fortunately for us, sometimes the character(s) leads the way. Fun post. Great examples.

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  7. We were kind of talking about this in class yesterday, how there are only so many plots, what makes them different is setting and then characters. And then I had them change up the characters. What happens if Luke Skywalker is not a young innocent being guided by a wise Obi Wan. What if he is a helpless female with her best friend side kick. Are we even leaving Tantooine?

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