Treating the contagonist favorably
by John Jenks
(Salt Lake City)
Question So I've got two questions, both revolving around the same character. I have a character I'm developing who is assuming the role of both the impact character and the contagonist in a particular story I'm developing. I'm happy with the character development generally, and her effect on the main character is going to work well (I hope), but I'm worried about two things:
1. I want the character to be fairly obvious in her role as the contagonist - she doesn't want the main character to pursue an investigation into past history, but instead to just run away with her. When the main character ignores her somewhat overt and clumsy advances, she'll become gradually more and more petulant. (assume the character is a young teen runaway)
So what kind of examples exist where the temptress is viewed favorably and sympathetically - even while the reader knows that the "hero" needs to spurn her advances?
2. For reasons inherent to the main plot, this same character is going to be killed off somewhere near the end of "Act 3" - somewhat prior to the natural book climax. In her role as the impact character, she'll no longer be present (in any form) past this point. I assume the effects of the impact character can be persistent even without subtle reminders prompting the reader, such as Obi-wan's voice overs in Star Wars: A New Hope, when Luke goes to blow up the first Death Star? Or are these type of reminders important for the reader?Answer:
Temptresses (or Contagonists) don't have to be viewed as unfavourably. They often are because the story goal is looked upon as a good thing, so the effort to delay or interfere with that goal feels like an obstacle
that must be overcome.
Obviously, if the protagonist is pursuing an unworthy goal, the Contagonist's advice to delay or to put short-term pleasure ahead of the long-term goal might be a good thing. If the hero fails to achieve the goal, and that turns out to be a good thing, the result is a tragi-comedy or personal triumph story.
However, let's say the goal is worthy. The Temptress's motivations can still be honourable or well-meaning. She just may not see the big picture, so from her point of view the goal is not worthwhile. Perhaps she thinks it would save the protagonist a lot of danger and stress if he gave up his pursuit.
It's rather like the many, many stories where the main character has well-meaning parents who try to dissuade him from his dream which, to them, appears impractical.
Regarding your second question, by Act 4 the main character has made his crucial decision (whether to remain steadfast or switch to the impact character's approach). However, the IC throughline needs its final resolution. We know the character has died, but often it takes a final look at the character to give the story a sense of emotional completeness.
It is not uncommon to see the main character, after the story's outcome has been achieved, attend the funeral or grave of the impact character and reflect on the meaning of that character's life. Other variations include looking over the IC's possessions, reviewing his/her achievements, or talking to the IC's closest friends or relatives. For example, in The Great Gatsby
there is the event near the end in which Gatsby's father shows up for his funeral. This gives Tom a chance to learn about the upbringing Gatsby must have had and reflect on Gatsby's accomplishments.