Are You a Passive or Active Audience Member?

You’ll have to thank my brother for my blog post today, because he pointed out to me that there are two different ways to watch a movie or t.v. show (or, I’ll add, read a book)–actively or passively. And honestly, I think a lot of people are passive.

Since movies, t.v. shows, books, and games tend to be something people wind down to or a means to cope with stress, we sit back and relax and simply let those mediums entertain us. We’re being spoon-fed a story. We’re letting the story take us on it’s little ride. We might miss some minor details of the plot, setting, or characterization, but we get most of the story. Being a passive audience takes no effort.


A passive audience member isn’t necessarily bad, but an active one is better, particularly for writers. Active audience members are constantly consciously putting themselves in the story. They are participating in it, actively looking for the fine details, that little snippet of dialogue that implies why a character is a certain way, exactly why that fighting maneuver worked or didn’t. They will come up with questions and actively listen or watch or read for the answers. They will make fine-tuned predictions and have little questions about the characters’ world. They will find the minuscule plot holes, not just the blaring ones. They will pick up on the gestures a character makes and what they mean.

Active audiences aren’t being spoon-fed entertainment, they are participating in the story, creating their own meaning of it. The active audience doesn’t zone out even at the “boring parts” or the “slow parts,” because they are making an effort to participate in the story even then.

Months ago I did a post all about action scenes, and I said one of my problems was that when action scenes started in stories, I tended to zone out more or less. I went passive. I had to retrain myself (and it’s still a conscious effort) to be active in action scenes, forcing myself to follow the details, the movements, and to participate by thinking about what happened or what could happen.

Another person might only be active during action scenes, because that’s their bent, that’s why they went to the movie or bought that book, and they might be passive during the dialogue scenes or the internal conflict scenes, or the thematic discussion–what is to them, the “boring” scenes. Like I had to become active during action scenes, this person needs to relearn to become active in those scenes.


Becoming an active audience takes effort and practice. When I make the decision to be an active audience member, I don’t get to sit back and relax. It takes more brain power and concentration.

But the benefits are endless, and probably obvious, but I’ll mention them anyway.

When you are an active audience member, you get more out of the story. The story has more depth and meaning, and you have a deeper appreciation of it, whether or not you’re a writer.

If you’re a writer–ALL THESE THINGS YOU PICK UP ON HELP YOU BECOME A BETTER ONE. You can pick up on the most subtle cliches and think of ways to put a little twist on them to make them fresh. You’ll get better at strengthening your weaknesses because you’ll be making an effort to actively observe and learn. You gain a deeper appreciation for and understanding of the power of details and implication.

I think a lot of us might be active in places and passive in others.

Sure, once in a while, we’re so exhausted, we just want to put in a show and watch it passively, but for the most part, we should strive to be active audiences. I know that I, personally, could use some improvement.

September C. Fawkes

About September C. Fawkes

Sometimes September C. Fawkes scares people with her enthusiasm for writing and reading. People may say she needs to get a social life. It'd be easier if her fictional one wasn't so interesting.

September C. Fawkes graduated with an English degree with honors from Dixie State University, where she was the managing editor of The Southern Quill literary journal and had the pleasure of writing her thesis on Harry Potter. She was also able to complete an internship in which she wrote promotional pieces for events held in Southern Utah, like the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo, and she participated in a creative open mic night, met some lovely people in a writers’ group, and worked as a tutor at the Writing Center. Her college experience, although demanding, was rewarding.She liked it enough to consider getting her M.F.A., and she got accepted into a couple of programs, but decided to pass on it.

Since then, she has had the opportunity to work as an assistant for the New York Times bestselling author David Farland, while on rare occasions critiquing novels or proofreading promotional pieces on the side. Mostly she hides out in her room and writes.