Savvy Authors Blog: What is Character Agency?

As time goes on and the genre of novels matures and evolves, so too does reader expectation. For example, if you look at J. R. R. Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, you will probably note that the action sequences and battles scenes are often paragraphs or pages long. In books such as SIX OF CROWS, we get pages and pages of epic confrontations between characters. Why? That’s what the modern-day reader enjoys: living the details of action scenes.

But that isn’t the only thing modern-day readers want. They also want to see characters with agency.

For years, I heard the phrase “character agency” spoken by industry professionals on Twitter, and it took me a while to get it.

In short, character agency is when a character (usually a protagonist) is more proactive than reactive to situations in a story.

According to Terrible Minds’ article, Just What The Humping Heck Is “Character Agency,” Anyway?:

“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. She pushes on the plot more than the plot pushes on her. Even better, the plot exists as a direct result of the character’s actions. . . . Characters with agency do things and say things that create narrative. Plot is spun out of the words and actions of these characters. And their words and actions continue to push on the plot created by other characters, because no character has agency in a vacuum.”