The Non-Passive Be-er

One aspect of Dramatica that I frequently find myself skirting around is the “do-er” versus “be-er” distinction. I’ve read the theory and even understand the caution that just because a character is a “be-er” doesn’t mean they’re passive. However I’m still not sure I have a handle on it in practical terms–specifically from the standpoint writing action-driven (in the generic sense, not the Dramatica sense) novels.

So I’m wondering if the following scenario might provide a simple (albeit bombastic) entry-point:

Maria is a be-er. She tries to deal with the world by adjusting herself to the situation around her in order to balance conditions. If someone is aggressive, she tries to calm herself–to show them she’s no threat. If money gets too tight, she tries to be content with less rather than try to get more.

One day Maria’s entire family is gunned down by evil drug lords (I know it’s ridiculous–I swear it’s just for the example.) 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.

Again, I know the example is preposterous (though likely the subject of any number of movies) but my question is whether in this context Maria is genuinely a “be-er” in that she’s adjusting herself to the circumstances around her, or if all I’ve done is use semantics to get around the fact that she’s a “do-er”.

Hope this makes sense. Would love any Dramatica theory-driven thoughts on this.

An important thing to remember is that Do-er and Be-er indicate the MC’s preferential approach. Do-ers can ‘be’ and Be-ers can ‘do’ – just not as their go-to, first response tactic.

Examples from the software:

"A martial artist might choose to avoid conflict first as a Be-er character, yet be quite capable of beating the tar out of an opponent if avoiding conflict proved impossible.

Similarly, a school teacher might stress exercises and homework as a Do-er character, yet open her heart to a student who needs moral support.

When creating your Main Character, you may want someone who acts first and asks questions later, or you may prefer someone who avoids conflict if possible, then lays waste the opponent if they won’t compromise.

A Do-er deals in competition, a Be-er in collaboration."

With this in mind, Maria is a Be-er – it’s just that she’s been thrust into an overall story at odds with her approach, and so eventually she has to start Do-ing to solve problems.

Remember too that Approach has more to do with her personal issues than anything else. Your example sounds more like Overall Story then really something personally internal. These are issues that usually don’t involve the cast at large and are more centered on the character herself.

A simple example is hard to tell for sure because you do t have the context of all the other Throughlines. Remember that a Main Characters Approach means nothing without an Overall Story Throughline, an Influence Character and so on. They all have to work together for it to mean anything at all.

I get what you’re saying but I’m still struggling to understand what an action-oriented be-er might look like? If being a be-er is different that preferring to approach things passively, then what might a “be-er action hero” look like? How would we recognize them as being different from a “do-er action hero”?

If the action hero had father issues. She’d prefer to cope by telling herself she wasn’t worthy of his love. In the mean time she’s solving the case. Meanwhile the fallout of suppressing those feelings would come out during the investigation.

A do-er would try to fill the hole in her heart by searching for a father proxy. Or going to counseling or confronting her father.

A be-er would drink or pop pills or work her ass off to be better than men in her profession.

Yoda. He’s a prime example of someone who adapted himself to his environment.

“Wars not make one great.”

“Adventure. Excitement. A Jedi craves not these things.”

“A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.”

Nevertheless, Yoda is a Jedi and while he is a be-er by nature, he can use the Force in action when provoked.

A do-er action hero might be more reckless in their approach, taking action over contemplation. Hulk smash.

The “action hero” bit is their function in the Overall Story (usually Protagonist). The “be-er” bit is their personal issue. While it might impact the Overall it by definition isn’t. The be-er bit doesn’t play into it.

Except that Yoda virtually never takes action (other than in one of the rather terrible prequels.) So we can imply through exposition that he could take action, that’s not borne out in the stories themselves.

The thing is, that would make for a kind of ridiculous character: one who is functionally passive in their own throughline and yet suddenly starts leaping into action in the OS. I go back to my original question: what does an actual character look like who is a be-er and yet functions as an action hero in the story without suddenly becoming a do-er?

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I think you’re misappropriating what @Jhull said in regards to the action hero thing. If you look at Edge of Tomorrow, you have a perfect example. Tom Cruise as MC is the PR guy that wants to stay out of danger, he avoids it. He’s thrown into the OS situation, he tries over and over to get out of it – but he can’t. He has to do. He’s still a Be-er, he’d rather not be having to go through it all. But in the OS, he has no other option but to take action. A somewhat similar thing happens in The Bourne Identity.

And Collateral, which is an even better example. MC Jamie Foxx just wants to be the cab driver, he has dreams he wants to achieve. Crazy Tom Cruise comes in, kills a guy, and forces Foxx to drive him around while he kills others (OS). Eventually, Foxx has to do something to stop it because continuing as a Be-er won’t work in the Overall Story.

If I’ve made any errors, let me know, guys.

In those two examples, Edge of Tomorrow and Collateral, the defining characteristic as regards doing seems to be reluctance. Is that perhaps where the answer lies? That be-er characters are, at a basic level, passive and so are forced to change towards taking action (I mean this separate from problem/solution)? In other words, a be-er action hero would be one defined by their reluctance to take action but who is forced to do so by external circumstances?

I don’t know about that. It depends entirely on the storyform.

A Be-er MC in an Action-driven story (as Edge of Tomorrow and Collateral are) will be reluctant and fish-out of water, as a Do-er in a Decision driven would be.

But a Be-er in a Decision story isn’t reluctant at all, they’re the ones pushing to take action in their own way – it just so happens their method of solving problems WILL work in the OS.

I don’t know that ALL Be-ers are reluctant to take action, they just prefer to use what they have and adapt from moment to moment (a la Bourne), rather than change the world around them through action (a la Bond).

Yoda isn’t necessarily a good example because he’s not a main character, but for the sake of conversation (you asked what one might look like) and exemplifying the differences in character, he’s about as be-er as they come.

Another example is William Munny in Unforgiven. You could argue it’s a western and not an action film, but you’d be missing the point.

Go to the Dramatica website, select analysis and filter results for “be-er” and see which are action movies. There are a number of them there and you should be able to see some commonalities with the main characters between them to get a general sense.

If you look in the Dramatica Dictionary for willing and unwilling you’ll see that you are on to something with reluctance.

I want to clarify your question though. There are two ways to see an active be-er. One is character who is a be-er in their own subjective thread, but active in the OS. The other is someone (Hamlet is typically cited) that is a be-er but seems to be doing things – like going to Ofelia with his stocking down-gyved.

Which are you asking about? Or are you asking about both?

I guess I’m wrestling with the defining characteristic of a be-er that separates them from simply someone with a problem or symptom that inhibits them taking action.

The way I got onto this line of thought came from doing yoga (God…I hate yoga) and noticing that a common refrain is “don’t try…don’t force it…just be…” along with lots of exhortations about breathing through everything. It struck me that the underlying message was to not try to change life but rather to accept it and find balance within it–terms and ideas that strongly reminded me of Dramatica’s references to the be-er approach. However I couldn’t quite reconcile this with the kinds of main characters we see in genre stories. From Westerns to Mysteries to Sci-Fi, the OS tends to require someone to change the external circumstances.

I’d imagine a yogi dealing with a murder mystery by saying, “finding the killer won’t bring back the dead, only finding acceptance will lessen the wound.” I could see the yogi reluctantly going after the killer (thus being a do-er) because there was no other way of dealing with the inequity if that killer might go after other people. I just can’t think of a way the yogi (or other be-er character) really goes after a murderer while still retaining their be-er nature.

I’ve checked out the analyses on many times, but, alas, there aren’t tons of films with comprehensive analyses that are both action films and have be-er main characters.

That said, I suppose if the central characteristic of the be-er is to adapt to their situation and thus change themselves rather than the environment, then that certainly works for Unforgiven and films like Shawshank Redemption where the main character, even as he pursues a long-game to escape, functions by accepting the external reality and adapting to it, rather than a character that might spend the whole movie trying various escapes and constantly rejecting the ‘natural order’ of that environment.

Yeah, that’s something you should get unstuck.

A yogi that goes after a killer reluctantly and kills him could still not solve their inequity, btw. If they don’t want to kill, and do kill, but find no peace in it for instance.

From the Theory Book:

A Do-er would build a business by the sweat of his brow.

A Be-er would build a business by attention to the needs of his clients.

Obviously both Approaches are important, but Main Characters, just like the real people they represent, will have a preference.

A martial artist might choose to avoid conflict first as a Be-er character, yet be capable of beating the tar out of an opponent if avoiding conflict proved impossible.

Similarly, a schoolteacher might stress exercises and homework as a Do-er character, yet open his heart to a student who needs moral support.

When creating your Main Character, you may want someone who acts first and asks questions later, or you may prefer someone who avoids physical conflict if possible, then lays waste the opponent if they won’t compromise.

A Do-er deals in competition, a Be-er in collaboration.

This explanation helps me the most. When I think of a Be-er, I think of someone who would try to plan/think ahead, deliberate over his decisions, put himself in other people’s shoes, pretend to be someone else, use his charm, rhetoric or reasoning (appeal to emotion, appeal to reason, appeal to…) over other methods. An Action story might not give him enough time or space to do those things, but he would still try to do them. A Be-er (to me) is more likely to try to convince/coerce/persuade than harm/kill. Internal/Mental rather than External/Physical.

And it seems to me, that when we talk about changing the environment (Do-er) vs. changing ourselves (Be-er), the second option doesn’t necessarily mean that we accept how things are. This reminds me of the Dramatica Comic where the Be-er example changes the environment simply by “being” an example. It’s more of a direct (Do-er) vs. indirect (Be-er) change of the environment.

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I was thinking this through today and came up with the idea of someone like Tiger Woods in a golf tournament. He needs to win the tournament in the OS, but struggles with perfectionism in the MC thread. So he’s not reluctant at all, but still struggles internally.

Perhaps, but having almost all main characters have some form of internal conflict. Even if their throughline is located in Activities or Situation, they’ll still have some internal struggle. That said, the fact that selecting be-er in Dramatica automatically forces the MC throughline into either Fixed Attitude or Manipulation does seem to infer an internal struggle taking precedence over an external one.

I think the closest I’m coming to reconciling the notions around be-er characters is to think of being inclined to first try adapting versus changing the environment or situation.