How do I make plot device companion character feel alive?

by Logan
(Ottawa, Ontario)

Question: okay ... so ... I am changing the plot of my novel to integrate a new plot.

As a part of this, I'm realizing that I need a sort of friend/companion character for my protagonist to sort of move along with him through the main plot, provide contrast and outside perspective, and so on.

The issue is, it's not an "organic" character ... I don't have a natural relationship in mind with a great dynamic and a real living story etc etc ... I just need a character to fulfill a bunch of plot requirements to keep the story moving in the right away and give the protagonist someone to talk to and ask questions.

But that's ... awful ... how do I come up with, and then get a feel for, and then successfully write an interesting character who has to play a major role in the plot, become someone the protagonist can get attached to, but who I have no feeling for, not attachment to myself, and can't even really imagine who they are other than the plot beats they need to hit?!?

lol ... it's a weird spot :P

Any help would be much appreciated of course.

Answer: To some extent, you've answered your own question. It's very hard to make yourself write a character you don't have feeling for.

So you have to make this character someone you care about. You have to make them interesting, give them plausible motivations you can empathize with. You have to figure out who they are. You can't just have the character do things because the plot requires it. You have to figure out why they do everything, and perhaps the truth of the character changes the plot.

But beyond that... it sounds like you want this character to be the impact character, which means their relationship with the main character and how it creates and affects the main character's inner conflict should be crucial to the story and its emotional impact on the reader.

Your impact character should be like Peeta is to Katniss Everdeen,
or Obi wan Kenobi is to Luke Skywalker.

Basically, the impact character provides the main character with an example of a different philosophy or approach to dealing with problems. By doing so, the impact character forces the main character to doubt themselves, to reconsider whether their approach is really the one to solve the story problem. The main character's personal crisis will be the moment when they must choose whether to doubledown on their own approach, or switch to the impact character's approach -- like how Katniss starts being true to herself (like Peeta), rather than trying to survive by hiding her feelings, or how Luke starts having confidence in himself (like Obi wan). In the end, you want to show whether the main character is better or worse off because of the choice they made.

So you need to decide what approach your main character must take to succeed. Does he need to stay steadfast or change?

You're going to establish your main character's initial approach. But then, you're going to introduce your impact character, someone with a different approach. External forces will challenge your main character, while the impact character's example (how this person handles things) is going to pressure him to change his approach.

Ideally, the impact character will have their own arc/story that influences the main character.

At the same time, their relationship will have its own arc. (How do they meet, how does the relationship deepen, are they separated, and how do they reconnect in the end?) Often the main and impact characters share a perspective that sets them apart -- like how only Peeta and Katniss understand what it's like to be star-crossed lovers from District 12, or how only Luke and Obi wan share the Jedi values.

You have to figure out what perspective or experience your main and impact characters share. What do they have in common that makes them likely to form this relationship?

You'll know you have this right when you have fallen in love with the impact character as much as the main character.

Best of luck.

Comments for How do I make plot device companion character feel alive?

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very helpful
by: Anonymous

this is great!
Thank you
very good little tips about the contrast and goals and so on ... sets me off in the right direction!!!

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