Multiple Impact Characters in the same story

by Michael9333
(Las Vegas, NV, USA)

Question: Can there be multiple impact characters in the same story?

For example, can there be an impact character who appears later in the story while some other impact characters appear and then leave the story or maybe reenter later?

Must there be only one impact character, at a time, actively engaging the protagonist?

Can there be one or more impact characters who are being developed in the story while the main/protagonist is unaware of them?

Answer: By definition, the impact character is the one who argues for or exemplifies the other side of the critical choice the main character makes at the climax. Other characters may offer different perspectives, but the impact character is the key influence that creates the main character's core dilemma that determines the outcome of the story.

That said, there are stories in which an impact character will drop out of the story and his/her influence will continue to be expressed by another. One word for this is a hand-off. For instance, Obi wan Kenobi's role as impact character to Luke Skywalker is passed on to Yoda in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Sometimes, if an impact character dies, his influence is carried on through his surviving relative, a diary, a memory, his mentor, etc.

Occasionally, you will have a character who has no fixed approach, who comes across as rather naive. Such characters have little reason not to simply follow the impact character's advice. To create inner conflict in such stories, writers will sometimes create two impact characters with opposite approaches, so that the main character must choose which of them to follow.

For instance, in the film The Matrix Reloaded, Neo's essential dilemma is whether to try to save the woman he loves or let her die and save the entire world, including the machines. He encounters two impact characters: the Oracle, who argues for saving the world, and the Merovingian, who argues for self-interest. Self-interest turns out to be the right choice, but the writer deliberately makes it a tough choice by making the Oracle far more likeable than the Merovingian.

Comments for Multiple Impact Characters in the same story

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Jul 30, 2013
Follow up question 1
by: Michael9333

Thank you very very much. This was extremely helpful for me.

i didn't understand when you said at the end, "Self-interest turns out to be the right choice..." Why?

Jul 30, 2013
by: Glen

I meant that, at the climax of the film, Neo chooses to save Trinity rather than do what the Architect says will save the world (let Trinity die but be given the tools to restart Zion after it's destroyed). But his choice is the right choice in that it eventually (in the next film) leads to a new peace agreement between humans and machines in which all people have the freedom to choose between the matrix and the real world.

It's a non-traditional message, since self-interest is usually the mark of a villain, but this was the 1990s when similar messages abounded (e.g. "greed is good").

Jul 30, 2013
Thank you
by: Michael9333

Thank you, Glenn.

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