Two Impact Characters?

by Jehrum
(Salt Lake City)

Question: After looking at my overall story outline, I discovered that my main impact character plays that role for most of the novel, but is absent from the first chapter and stops playing the impact character role just before the climax. To accommodate that, a character introduced in the first chapter sort of came to life and developed to have similar goals to those of the main character's, but he uses completely different methods to accomplish these goals. This makes him an ally to the main character in the first chapter, but because his methods and beliefs are so different from those of the main character, they end up clashing just before the climax. This makes him a good candidate for the impact character role, but I already have an impact character who works with the main character for most of the novel and is her polar opposite personality wise. They each present their own points of view to the main causing her to question how she should approach her job and life in general, but represent different ideas that neither compliment or clash each other and are almost never present at the same time in the story. Is it alright to approach the story this way, or should I just stick with one impact character?

Answer: Understand that one caveat here is that I haven't read your story, so I just have to infer from what you're telling me (which is necessarily incomplete).

The key to the impact character is the choice the main character ultimately makes: will she change, and adopt the impact character's approach, or will she grow in her conviction to remain steadfast?

So the first question is: what choice does the main character make? Is her crucial decision to adopt the approach of the first impact character (the one from chapter one) or the second?

From what I gather, your first impact character is present at the beginning (act one in a four-act structure) and near the climax (act three), which suggests that this character provides the example near the climax that has the greatest influence on the main character.

However, I gather
the first impact character is missing from act two. Does this mean the main character's inner conflict is missing here (which would be a plot hole)? This would run the risk of deflating the tension regarding this conflict. Usually act two is where the pressure on the main character to change grows. On the other hand, if the second IC repressents the real innuer conflict (the one that must be decided at the climax) then having him just in act two could leave holes in this throughline.

It would be cleaner to have just one impact character. However there are other possibilities...

1. Hand-off the role of impact character to the second candidate in act two. But in this case, the second IC would represent the same approach as the first.

2. Sometimes you can have a main character who doesn't have a very strong conviction, so you can give her two impact characters with opposite approaches all through the story. She must then decide at the climax whose approach to adopt.

3. Sometimes a main character can try out an approach and waver on it before making a firm decision at the climax. For instance, maybe she adopts the first impact character's approach in act one. Then, in act two she is pressured to go in a different direction, perhaps by this second character, but then in act three she realizes the first IC was right all along and chooses to go back to his approach.

4. Sometimes you can have a sub-plot with a second impact character to illustrate why the main character resists the advice of the main impact character. However, in this case you still want the main impact character's arc to be complete. That is, he should appear in all four acts and his influence should be expressed as...

1. setup (establishing influence)
2. growing influence
3. maximum influence
4. impact character's resolution at end of story

Bottom line, I think you have to decide what the crucial inner conflict is for your main character and make sure that is fully developed. If that means reducing the role of another character, so be it.

Comments for Two Impact Characters?

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Dec 17, 2013
Option One
by: Jehrum

I think using option one would fit better into my story than the others. After re-evaluating this new impact character in chapter one, I realized I can make his conflict similar to that of the second impact character and have him appear infrequently through out the novel instead of just in act one and act three just before the climax. Both impact characters will present a similar conflict to the main character, but the first IC will present it in a more extreme way, causing her to adopt the second IC's less extreme version of the new approach.
Thanks for the timely response by the way. I think I would have had a lot of plot holes otherwise and might have had to do a lot more re-writing.

Jun 17, 2017
I have a similar question
by: Lessa

I found this post to be very insightful and helpful. In my story, the MC has an item that is with her very nearly all the time and it is used to influence if not outright control her thinking. There is also a character who I have termed the IC who is with her a lot of the time and is constantly trying to get the MC to change her point of view and look at things differently because he has a bad feeling about what is coming if she doesn't. The item has places where its influence is reduced but never completely negated. There are times when she and the IC are not together, never prolonged, just rational ones like him going to have dinner with his family or her attending a meeting. From this very loose description dies it sound like this could be a situation that will hold up?

Jun 18, 2017
To Lessa
by: Glen

I seem no problem with your idea. The main and impact characters don't have to be together all the time. As I say above, you might start with the crucial decision/action/insight the main character will make and whether that represents a leap of faith or a doubling down on the tried and true. That will tell you who your IC should be.

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