Changing roles for a subplot

by Mel

Question: Would it make a character seem shifty if in the overall plot they were the emotion player, but in a subplot they were the voice of reason?

And that question applies to all the archetypes can a player be different player, more specifically the opposing player from their overall part in a subplot? Guardian becomes Contagonist, Protagonist becomes antagonist and so on.

Answer: A person's identity often depends on the situation. We all play different roles in different contexts. Someone who is an authoritarian boss at work might be an egalitarian at home with his family, or the underdog in his circle of friends.

(There's an interesting study you might google in which researchers changed the rules of the Monopoly game. In their version, there are different rules for different players. These rules are designed to simulate the difference between having a wealthy upbringing versus a poor one. The study showed that, no matter what someone's normal personality is, their behavior will unconsciously change during the game to reflect whether they are in the "rich player" or "poor player" role.)

Sometimes it can be interesting to bring out a different aspect of a character's personality by putting him in a different context where he must play a different role. You don't want to change his personality, just show how that same person behaves under a different set of pressures and
expectations. Show a side of him that he cannot perhaps reveal in the usual context.

You will often see this done on TV series. One episode might abandon the usual main character and instead focus on a minor character, creating a plot that revolves around them in order to explore their personality.

To take an obscure example, in the old TV Western series Gunsmoke, the Marshall has a deputy named Festus who is a Sidekick/Emotion character who often argues with the Doctor (a Reason character). The audience is amused at Festus's attempts to get people to buy him drinks and his uneducated way of speaking.

However, in one episode, Festus's relatives show up asking for his help on a quest. It turns out that within his family Festus is the smartest, most capable person. So for that one story, Festus takes on a Reason/Protagonist role--a role he can never play when the Marshall and the Doctor are around.

Similarly, the series Star Trek: the Next Generation has a few episodes in which minor characters like the Doctor or the ship's Psychotherapist take command of the ship or become an undercover agent, so we can see them in a different milieu.

So yes, in a subplot a character may play a different archetypal role than he/she does in the main plot, especially if he is dealing with a different group of other characters.

Comments for Changing roles for a subplot

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Oct 13, 2014
by: Mel

That's great! Thanks for answering so quickly, now I just have to get to work applying that to my WIP-so many new ideas....

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