The role of the impact character

by claudiacv

Question: I´ve been reading about the role of the IC and I think Dramatica states that it should not be the antagonist (am I right?)but rather a mentor or friend--someone who can push the MC into doing what he has to do or being who he was meant to be. Is this correct? But what if the antagonist serves this purpose?

My second question would be--does the IC have to physically present throughout the story or can it be a memory of someone, for example the memory of the father figure that lives inside the MC?

Answer: Actually, the impact character can be the antagonist, but that may not be the best choice for your story.

In the traditional, comic-book, pulp fiction type of hero story, the hero was both the main character and the protagonist while the villain was both the antagonist and the impact character.

In that type of story, the hero defines himself as different from the villain in a fundamental (and virtuous way). The villain may try to convince the hero to become like him, but fails. When the hero wins the conflict, the thematic message is that virtue wins over evil.

The problem with having the antagonist be the impact character is that it makes it hard for the main character to change - because changing would mean becoming like the villain. It would be like George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life accepting the job offer from old man Potter - which would imply becoming like him. Or like Batman giving up his sense of justice and becoming no different than the Joker.

The reason these stories feel so predictable is that they are. Sophisticated readers know the hero will remain steadfast, because it would be unthinkable for him not to (except perhaps in tragedy). The writer can try to make the decision seem difficult, but the sophisticated readers usually see through that.

However, if you separate the roles of the impact character and the antagonist, the main character does not have to remain steadfast. The impact character can be an example of the either the wrong way or the right way to solve the story problem. The right decision at the climax becomes less predictable. Should the main character change or not? Is the main character's usual approach the right way to solve the problem, or is the impact character's way right? Neither the main character nor the reader knows for sure until after the crisis has been resolved. The main character does not have to remain steadfast but can change at the crisis, adopt the impact character's approach, and have that be the right decision.

Of course, there are still many stories written in which the villain is the impact character and the main character stays steadfast. Series, for example, often work this way, because if the main character changed he would be a different person in the next book and might not appeal to the same type of reader.

As for your second question...

No, the impact character does not have to be physically present for his influence to be felt. His/her influence can come through memories, other character's recollections, diaries, monuments, videos, classroom lessons, religious teachings, etc. For instance, you could have a story where the main character's idol is Captain Picard from Star Trek. Every time the main character had a tough choice, he might think about what Picard would have done. Or he might flip through a book of Picard quotations, get a visit from an imaginary spirit of Picard, watch an episode of Star Trek on DVD, talk to a Picard fan, etc.

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