Some time ago I was writing a story that I was excited about. It is a fairly Gothic novel – modern Gothic, of course – about a house inhabited by ghosts. It was one of those stories that come to you suddenly and explode inside you, the kind that stick to every fiber of your being. Immediately, when I got home, I had to start ghost writing it … At that time I did not use schemes or rundowns, I got home, sat in front of the computer and began to type directly. As I like; bareback.
Well, the problem is that there came a point where I got stuck, or rather, other ideas came pouring in and as this one seemed to be stagnating, I put it aside; I’ll be back tomorrow, I thought. But I did not. I got stuck and the easy way out was to get out on legs.
For a while it hurt a lot, I had the file on my computer desk and every time I saw it I felt a pang of pain … It was such a good story … and it is there … slowly dying. Over time, I put the file aside, hid it under a layer of folders and as often happens in these cases I forgot about it. He was buried and slept a sweet dream.
So, a long time later, I read something about impact characters and how they can help you save a dead or forgotten story. Although I hadn’t touched that story for months, I didn’t even think about it anymore, as soon as I read about the impact character, the novel came back to my head screaming.
It was like a punch to the forehead. Suddenly, not only could I move forward in the story, I also had an incredible character that fit what I needed and that allowed me to leap forward in the story.
Once again good triumphed.
Why do I want more characters in my novel?
When we stop to think about the characters we need in the novel, as a general rule, we always describe the most basic. The holy trinity formed by: protagonist, antagonist and maybe a mentor, a partner or a love. The character made an impact, surely it will not even cross your mind while planning your novel.
You may not even know what the hell an impact character is.
The point is that you should know what this type of character is and what function it has, because without it, your character’s story arc is lame… It is missing something.
What is an impact character?
The impact character is the one that, in some way, unlocks the story arc of your other characters. It is the character that directly impacts your protagonist, it is the one who promotes change, the catalyst that forces him to seek change and advance in his story arc.
It is the character that promotes that change and sets your protagonist in motion to travel the path of your story.
In a personal story, the impact character is the character himself, because he is the one who fosters a general change around him, through the actions he takes during the narrative. It is he himself who initiates the change and spreads it throughout his world.
However, the most normal thing is that it is another character. The simplest examples are usually the mentors. In The Hobbit, it is Gandalf who forces Bilbo out of the comfort of his hobbit hole to face a world he does not know and fear. It is Gandalf in the first instance who forces Bilbo to confront trolls, giant spiders and dragons. We find the same example in Star Wars Episode IV, when Obi Wan puts Sky-walker on the trail of his father’s legacy and tells him about the Jedi.
In essence, the impact character is one who fosters changes in the story and the protagonists.
Who is this mysterious character?
The hit character can be a friend or an enemy. Now I will go into that, for now it is enough for you to know that his role in the story is not what makes him a central character.
Ok, so what is it?
Let’s see, I know this is somewhat complicated, but if the antagonist represents the external conflict, the impact character represents the internal conflict.
Just as the antagonist must cause a new conflict. In the same way that the antagonist has to pose a problem to the protagonist – the master should give me back my ring, precious … -. But, unlike the antagonist, their conflicts do not have to represent opposing goals. It may be just two different points of view of the world: home security, the need for adventure…
The protagonist lives in lies, but the character knows the truth – what a dog!
The protagonist will live peacefully in his world of lies, but the shocking character will wake him up and show him the truth that he has always known. The protagonist may be reluctant to see reality in principle, but over time, he will understand that there is no other way out than that. That mysterious character will not stop insisting until our protagonist gets going at once.
The ghosts of Christmas never stop haunting poor Scrooge until he gives up and accepts Christmas and its consequences.
This character may be actively trying to change the protagonist or not, but he will always be when something important happens that allows the change in our protagonist . He will be there at the crucial moments to make him see his mistakes – yes, the typical annoying friend who says to you: “I already told you.”
He has the answers that our protagonist is looking for —and he has them from the beginning, even before the poor man knows that he needs answers—, those answers will be the base on which the protagonist will build his triumph over the antagonist . The only way to overcome external conflict will be to understand internal conflict.
My impact character in that novel was a medium. Yes, it is a very useful resource, in fact in Poltergeist there is an impact character like that. It is Zelda Rubinstein, the medium, who shows the Freeling family the truth about the terrible reality behind the strange events that take place in their home.
In my case a medium was exactly what I needed to unblock the start of the second half of my novel. The idea hit me like a meteorite and it was a real relief.
And who is this guy?
The impact character can have any shape. They can be the mentors like Gandalf or Obi Wan. These types of characters are usually paternal type figures that show the reality of the world. They also tend to die during the development of events. In some cases, with an unexpected mega twist, they can reveal themselves as the true antagonist – chan, chanchan!
You have to be very clear that, although the impact character understands the reality of the world, he does not have to know everything. You don’t have to know the whole “truth.” It may be a character who has done more research or reached a higher level of knowledge in that same area.
To show a button: some impact characters
As in everything, an image is worth a thousand words, that’s why I leave you here some examples of well-known impact characters. To give you an idea.
- The antagonist: Long John Silver, the pirate from Treasure Island. Darth Vader, in Star Wars, Gollum, in the Lord of the Rings.
- The “cont agonist”: is a term coined by Melanie Anne Phillips and Chris Huntley for the list of archetypes in their book Dramatic. The contagions is a character completely opposite to the mentor, a guy who tries to make the protagonist take the dark side, he is not an antagonist, because he does not wish the protagonist any harm. He just wants her to get carried away by her evil side. A great example is Jack Favell, the gigolo in Rebecca, or Tom Dophinon, the character played by John Wayne in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
- The Mentor, Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings or Morpheo in the Matrix.
- The companion, Robin as Batman’s companion is one of the great companions… Although also Ass is a great example, even Bubu, the heavy bear that accompanies Yogi.
- Love, for example Rochester in Jane Eyreor Rhett in Gone with the Wind.
- You can be present throughout history as Raymond Babbitt in Rayman.
- Or it may be present for a brief time, but have a huge echo on our protagonist as Obi Wan Kenobi.
- It may not be a single character, it may be several characters, for example, the patrons of Cheers’ bar.
The impact character is the axis on which your character changes will rotate throughout his story arc. No person in the world changes just because, neither do the characters. We all need a push. Something that leads them astray or astray — this is also an option, never forget it; For Kylo Ren, for example, Vader is an impact character, he is a contagions.
The characters, like you, live very comfortable in their lie. They are not going to step out of their comfort zone without a reason. No one will move and not believe the “truth” without something to push them.
I hope that, from now on, when you start to propose your next novel you have the impact character very present and that you give him the importance he deserves. What do you say? Have you used any impact characters in your novels? Do you think they can be useful to unblock a story that is complicated?