Much has been written about the protagonist, but few talk about
what’s called the “influence character.” This is a character whose power
comes from his or her influence/impact on the protagonist. This is
often who the protagonist is in an important relationship with, in the B
story, or perhaps, a lead role in the B story. It might be a love
interest, mentor, friend, sibling, rival, ally, parent,
classmate–almost anything. It’s someone who has power based on impact. And typically the influence character and protagonist are linked together, usually by a similar goal.
Here are some examples.
In Moana, Moana is the protagonist, and Maui is the influence character.
In The Hunger Games, Katniss is the protagonist, and Peeta is the influence character.
In The Greatest Showman, P. T. Barnum is the protagonist, and Charity is the influence character.
In Hamilton, Hamilton is the protagonist, and Eliza is the influence character.
In Songbirds and Snakes, Coriolanus is the protagonist, and Sejanus is the influence character.
In Legally Blonde, Elle is the protagonist, and Paulette is the influence character.
This doesn’t mean the protagonist isn’t influenced by other characters, of course, but these are the (or rather, “primary”) influence characters–their relationship with
the protagonist influences the outcome of the story in significant ways,
and for at least part of the story (if not the whole thing), these two
people are bound together on a similar course or by a similar end goal.
This creates a “we” perspective within the audience. We are trying to do X. We are stuck in the same situation. We need to work together. We need each other.
this relationship is about more than … well … just being in a
relationship. The protagonist and influence character mirror and foil
each other in key ways. Often by the time a writer finishes a
professional-level story, he or she will have done this, even if he or
she isn’t aware of it.
Let’s talk about the key components of this relationship (concepts courtesy of Dramatica).
Change vs. Steadfast
A character who “changes” (arcs drastically) will grow
significantly–often doing a 180–by the end of the story. Most of us
are familiar with this concept.
A character who holds “steadfast” will stay more or less the same–he or she may grow by degree, but not by a drastic 180.
character often starts with a flaw, misbelief, or inaccurate worldview
that he or she must overcome in order to succeed in the story.
“steadfast” character will start with a strength or an accurate
worldview that will then be tested through the story. The rising action
and tension comes from the cost of the steadfast character trying
to hold true to that. The steadfast character will likely still
experience doubts, temptations, pain, and suffering–as the world,
environment, and other characters challenge that view.
of the story of the Little Red Hen. The Little Red Hen understands that
you must work for desired results. Others challenge this worldview,
which means she has to ultimately work all alone. It still costs her effort and resolve to make the bread, which ultimately proves her worldview is correct while the others’ are wrong.
For the steadfast character, he or she is proven true through the experiences of the story. The experiences must happen, in order to turn his or her faith/belief into
knowledge/wisdom. It’s one thing to believe something. It’s another
thing to have it tested and proven true.
In this sense, the steadfast character still grows, but it’s by degree.
The steadfast character will often change others and the environment when he or she succeeds, more than herself (generally speaking). (In
the future I want to do a post specifically about steadfast characters,
but for now, this will suffice.)
If the protagonist is a character who “changes,” the influence character will be a character who is “steadfast.”
Katniss changes–her worldviews change through the story.
Peeta is steadfast–One
of Peeta’s main goals is that the Games won’t change who he is, even if
he dies. He wants to be steadfast. His feelings toward Katniss (shared
in an interview), the fact he’s from the same district, that at some
point both Peeta and Katniss can be victors–all impact and influence
Katniss’s plotline. While he might seem to waver, ultimately, he stays
true to his beliefs.
P.T. Barnum changes–he comes to realize he only needs to be accepted by his loved ones, not win over the world.
Charity is steadfast–she
knows what matters from the beginning, and her relationship with Barnum
helps him eventually come to his senses. Despite what Barnum costs her, she holds on to what she believes is true.
Few leave the corporate world with their lives — fewer still with their souls intact. You’ve been there — you’ve bent the rules, exploited secrets and weaponized information. There’s no such thing as a fair game, only winners and losers.
One of the marvelous things about that marvelous thing the novel is its many-voicedness, its polyphony. All kinds of people get to think, feel, and talk in a novel, and that great psychological variety is a part of the vitality and beauty of the form. It might seem that the writer needs a gift of mimicry, like an impersonator, to achieve this variety of voices. But it isn’t that. It’s more like what a serious actor does, sinking self in character-self. It’s a willingness to be the characters, letting what they think and say rise from inside them. It’s a willingness to share control with one’s creation.
You should not look at what the person used to do, rather you should look at what kind of person they are today. The one who gets bogged down about people’s pasts, is just like Iblis (Satan) who said to Allaah, ‘You created me from fire and you created him from clay.’
Shaykhul-Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah, al-Minhaaj Vol.2, p.430.