How to Harness the Dark Side of Your Impact Character

How To Harness The Dark Side of Your Impact CharacterIf you’re wanting to write an awesome character arc for your protagonist, the “impact character” is going to be a central catalyst in making that happen.

The impact character isn’t someone you hear discussed often (the term originates with the Dramatica storyform). However, this supporting character can single-handedly make or break your protagonist’s change arc.

Usually, the impact character is someone who understands and embraces the positive Truth that your protagonist will have to spend the entire story learning. But as I realized during a recent viewing of one of my favorite movies–P.J. Hogan’s 2003 adaptation of Peter Pan–sometimes the impact character can affect the story just as powerfully if he’s the one embracing the Lie.

I’ll get to that in a sec, but first, a quick refresher on the basics of the impact character…

How the Impact Character Creates Your Protagonist’s Arc

I’ve written about the impact character here, but for the purposes of today’s post, here are the basics of the impact character’s role in your protagonist’s character arc:

Every change arc is founded upon the protagonist’s inner conflict between a Lie He Believes, which is preventing him from embracing an empowering Truth and gaining the Thing He Needs. On his journey to discovering and believing in that Truth, the protagonist will often be impacted by a character(s) who already understands the Truth. The protagonist will learn about the Truth from this character. He will see the Truth at work in this supporting character’s life, and it will teach him how to begin changing himself.

  • Often, the impact character is a mentor, who outright teaches the protagonist about the Truth (such as Obi-Wan Kenobi).

Rain Man Dustin Hoffman Tom Cruise

  • Other times, the impact character will lead only be example (such as does the little girl Boo in Monsters, Inc., who shows Sully and Mike the Truth that children are not to be feared).

Book is the impact character in Monster's Inc.

  • Sometimes the impact character can even be a total loser in all areas other than his embrace of the story’s primary Truth (such as Tyler Durden in Fight Club).

Tyler Durden is the impact character in Fight Club.

(Another interesting thing to point out is that in a flat arc–in which the protagonist doesn’t change, but instead changes the world around him–the protagonist himself functions as the impact character).

In short, according to this view of the impact character, this is a character whose central purpose is to represent the Truth.

Except, it turns out, when it isn’t.

How a Lie-Believing Impact Character Can Still Lead Your Protagonist to the Truth

Peter Pan–especially as portrayed in P.J. Hogan’s beautiful adaptation–is decidedly a story of two characters: Peter Pan and Wendy Darling. Wendy is the main character, but Peter is the protagonist. Wendy follows a positive change arc; Peter follows a flat arc. Wendy learns to embrace the Truth that “all children must grow up.” You’d think Peter, as the obvious impact character, would be the one teaching her that Truth.

In point of fact, he does teach her that Truth. But, unlike most impact characters, he doesn’t teach her via his own devotion and understanding of the Truth. Rather, he teaches her via his bad example–his devotion to the Lie that “you can’t catch me and make me a man.”

When he tells Wendy, “I want always to be a boy and to have fun,” she sees through the beguiling deception of his Lie and tells him: “You say so, but I think it is your biggest pretend.”

It is not his Truth that impacts and changes her. Indeed, her parents and aunt, who are already in possession of that Truth, tried to positively impact her at the beginning of the story. Instead, it required the example of Peter’s Lie to finally inspire Wendy that “there is so much more” to life than just childhood.

Is a Negative Impact Character Right for Your Story?

As you’re planning your protagonist’s character arc, consider which of your supporting characters is best positioned to open your protagonist’s eyes to the Lie. You may choose to use a classic mentor-type character, who obviously knows and is blessed by the Truth. Or you may choose to demonstrate to your protagonist the darkness of his current path by using a Lie-believing impact character to show him where his Lie will eventually lead.

Or… why not use both?

The most powerful explorations of theme are those that offer as many different viewpoints as possible. It’s wonderful when you can include personifications of the various fates your protagonist might end up embracing, depending on his story choices. Including a Lie-believing impact character is but one of many options open to you in creating a complex, powerful story.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! Who is the impact character in your story? Does he represent the Lie or the Truth? Tell me in the comments!

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K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. Awesome post! This brought to my attention that my character has a lot of characters shouting the lie at her, but she doesn’t have much of anyone but herself to reaffirm the truth to her. She has a negative character arch and moves from believing a twisted version of the truth to believing the lie, so this is necessary. But it would probably make more of an impact if other characters are reaffirming the truth to her, and I have a few characters in mind who could do that. Thanks!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yes, definitely! You optimally want to present as many different facets of the Lie and Truth as possible. Robert McKee talks about presenting the Positive of the theme’s Truth (say, for example, Respect), an aspect that is Contrary to that Truth (might be Rudeness), another aspect that is outright Contradictory (Disrespect), and the Negation of the Negation, which is an atmosphere in which the Truth doesn’t even exist (say, *Self*-Disrespect). If you can demonstrate on of those in your story, then you know you’re pretty well covering your story’s bases for exploring your theme.

      • I haven’t thought about it that way, but it makes complete sense when you think about it. Lucky for me Im repotting so I can look for ways to weave in different versions of the truth and the lie. Great advice. Thank you. 🙂

  2. Oww….this looks like an awesome post. Be back later. Gotta go wrestle with the lawn!

  3. This is neat because I just got to the point in my story where my character abandons his lie. I’d never heard of an impact character before, so this makes me think. In the story I’m writing now, I’m not entirely sure who the impact character is. Basically, my protagonist and villain both have a similar lie/problem/thingy. Really, they’re both not the best characters, but my goal is to make the reader like my protagonist despite his faults. Anyway, where I’m at, the villain actually realized his fault and excepted the truth before my protagonist. Shortly after this, my protagonist sees that he is really just as bad as the villain was and so he ends up casting off his lie too. What’s difficult about this is that it is actually the protagonist’s own actions that reveal to him his true state, but his realization is based off the character arc of the villain.

    … hopefully that makes sense.

    So I’m not really sure if the villain is the “good example” impact character, or the protagonist is the “bad example” impact character for himself, or both, or something else.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      The antagonist can totally be the impact character! The antagonist is central to the character’s arc and, in many ways, *is* a mirror of the protagonist. So what you’re describing works perfectly.

  4. Kate Flournoy says:

    Oh wow… this is an awesome new way to look at foil characters. I think I got what you’re saying… but let me make sure.
    The MC of my WIP struggles between the Lie and the Truth for most of the book. I have several impact characters that are wholeheartedly devoted to the Truth, and some in between… but there are only two who embrace the Lie.

    And here’s where I’m a bit uncertain— those two are my two villains. Do they still count as impact characters? It was their example, ultimately, that drove the MC to realize the Truth, but I’m wondering if that might not just be the normal function of a good villain and have nothing to do with impact characters.

    Advice?

    • Kate Flournoy says:

      Hm, ‘good villain’— that’s an oxymoron; I should have said ‘well done villain.’ 😛

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yes! As I just mentioned to Daeus above, the antagonist is almost always an impact character to one degree or another. Sometimes it’s in demonstrating the Lie; but it can also because the antagonist sees the Truth the protagonist does not (and sometimes uses it against him).

      • Kate Flournoy says:

        Okay, thank you! I might as well have not posted, because Daeus’s and my questions were identical, but we must have been posting at the same time. 😉

  5. Joe Long says:

    My MC is shy and anxious, and at age 19 has no real experience in relationships. The Lie is that he’ll never be able to find a good woman. There’s no clear antagonist, although the verbal abuse from his father is certainly a root of the anxieties, which make it easier to believe The Lie. Then he meets and falls for a younger girl who is similarly inexperienced, but they just click.

    He’s also friends with her brother, who’s between them in age, and quite a player. He’s the bad example, who has no problem hooking up with girls but just as casually moves to the next.

    The last lines of chapter one:
    “…I hate that. I want it to be with someone I really care about. You know, the two of us, together as one.”

    “That’s why you’re still a virgin, man.”

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      It’s great when the Lie character (antagonist or no) can sell the Lie in a convincing way. It deepens the moral argument and makes the claiming of the Truth all the more interesting in the end.

      • Joe Long says:

        In my case, the MC is thinking, “I can’t do it” while the Lie character is telling him, “Yes you can – but you have to sell your soul.” It’s tempting, but he can’t go there, which, for the moment, reinforces The Lie.

        Like a typical teenager, he has several friends and acquaintances, all with different personalities, experiences and advice to offer, which the MC has to sort out.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          It’s a really great thing to keep in mind: everything comes with a cost. Both the Truth and the Lie–the Thing the Character Needs and the Thing the Character Wants–come with a cost. Really, the whole character arc is all about the protagonist deciding which price he’s willing to pay for which reward.

  6. Hey folks!

    Great post here. I’m loving the impact character! Its been an eye opener when I first read about it. It’s cool how they can impact the protagonist or MC in various ways. By knowing, understanding the truth or by bad example. Pretty nifty. These guys are definitely the wild card in the character arc.

    The kids in the Peter pan movie are so cute it’s funny.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Although most stories will have one specific and obvious impact character, the truth is that just about any character within the story can act as an impact character at any given point. It’s useful to consider all the characters as potential catalysts, one way or another, in the protagonist’s arc.

  7. Brenna says:

    In my next novel, the protagonist and the impact character- the mentor- will have similar arcs, but the mentor makes the right choice and has a positive arc, while the protagonist, thinking wrongly that he is imitating his mentor, makes the wrong choice and has a disillusionment arc. This is because he mistakes the deep, internal truth his mentor has discovered for the shallow “truth” (which is not true) implied by the external actions the mentor takes. (I know I am speaking in very broad terms, but the story is still in the planning phase and I don’t have the plot fully nailed down yet.)

    This was a great, informative post. Thank you!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Sounds very interesting! In real life, Truth, as an infinite concept, is tricky for our little finite brains to wrap around. That makes it slippery, which means there are a gazillion and one reflections of it or pieces of it that we can claim, believing they’re True, when they’re not. So it’s interesting to explore different facets of and reactions to the same Truth.

      • On a completely different note, what truth does Obi-Wan teach Luke? I know he is the mentor, but am having trouble thinking of the truth he teaches- besides the “truth” that Darth Vader killed Luke’s father. 🙂

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          It’s more of a vague “the Force exists and you can use it, Luke” kind of a truth. 😉

          • Doesn’t Obi-Wan teach Luke to pick the light side instead of the dark side?

            Say, does anybody in that movie ever say “light side” ?

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            Ultimately, that’s true, although it’s never really a question for Luke in the first movie.

        • Garrett says:

          Hey Breanna. In (another) answer to your question, I believe the truth that Obi Wan teaches Luke is about trusting himself (or in the case of the Force, trusting that ‘small voice’ inside of him). I think this because the negation to Luke trusting is Luke constantly being in question of himself and his abilities. If you re-watch Star Wars, you’ll see this in Luke. This kid-like frustration at learning about the Force and the self-doubt that he initially inhabits. It’s not until that end scene where he trusts himself (and blows up the Death Star without the targeting system) that he finally overcomes that personal hurdle.

    • Your broad description makes me think of Warner Brothers cartoons.

      Someone imitates someone, and on the surface it looks right but the deeper meaning is not there

  8. Odd Guy says:

    How about an impact character who affects a character’s negative change arc?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      In that case, the roles are essentially flipped: you have “negative” impact characters (who believe the Lie), who encourage the protagonist in his downfall, and “positive” impact characters (who believe the Truth), who try to influence the protagonist for good, but ultimately fail, perhaps even unwittingly pushing the protagonist away from the Truth (as Wendy Darling’s parents and aunt initially do in Peter Pan‘s First Act).

  9. Hannah Gaudette says:

    I think, in my currently unpublished book, an impact character was born almost completely without my knowledge! In previous drafts, she wasn’t there, but the story would be terribly incomplete without her now. One thing that has worked well with the MC and impact character is, even with the impact character’s strong connection and devotion to the Truth, she goes through a dark, painful time in the book, and in turn, receives help from the MC. This ends up as a complex road that gradually leads the MC to the Truth.

    Really great advice in this article! Thanks for posting!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      A writer’s instincts triumph again! 😀 Yes, it’s really great to remember that even Truth-oriented impact characters still need to be flawed humans. They can doubt the Truth, they can falter, they can make bad choices, same as the protag. The more complex any character’s relationship is with the Lie/Truth, the more realistic and compelling the thematic premise is likely to be.

  10. Now I know what to call my other main character who plays opposite my protagonist! I was calling him the antagonist, but that wasn’t quite right. He’s definitely an impact character though. Thanks for this post!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      One important thing to remember about “antagonists” is that they’re not necessarily evil or even “opposed” to the protagonist. They’re just someone who, for whatever reason, is wittingly or unwittingly putting obstacles between the protagonist and his plot goal.

  11. Hmm. Impact character… singular? In the novel I’m working on now, I have a mentor-like character who leads the protagonist through messy world of Good vs Evil, but the antagonist, despite his mega-flaws, ultimately leads her to grace and fulfillment. At least that’s where I am now.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      There is usually one specific character who impacts the protagonist above all others, but *many* characters can fill the impact archetype throughout the story.

  12. I think that in my last novel, the impact character was the protagonist’s mother’s boyfriend who bonds with the protagonist by teaching him how to shoot. Thus giving the protagonist the means to escape his hell. In the one I’m working on now and let me know if I got this right. The impact character will be the one who gets all of the other characters let down by the justice system together to form their vigilante group.

  13. Great post! I think this is the closest I’ve found so far to describe one of my characters. I’m still working on articulating my MC’s Lie, but it’s something about how being the leader of her noble household means she always has to be right; so she turns down help when she needs it and blames herself for everything that goes wrong. Halfway through the book, when just about everything has gone horribly wrong and she’s put them all in horrible danger, a distant cousin shows up and… falls in love with her and proposes. As I read your post, I realized that he believes the MC’s lie. She’s tempted by him in part because he’s offering to be the leader, take the responsibility away from her, so it won’t all be her fault anymore. But in time she realizes that this won’t actually solve the problems she and her household faces, and that she needs to find her own way to lead, and to succeed in fighting this challenge — with the help of her friends.

    So that makes him a negative impact character, right?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yes! If the character is pushing the protag *toward* the Truth *with* the Lie, then he’s a negative impact character.

  14. This post is so helpful for my story and got me thinking in really good ways about my characters and their arcs! I’m in the pre-writing/outlining stage, and your article showed me lots of new things related to several characters and helped me come up with some significant ideas from that. Thank you so much for sharing this article! 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Ooh, my favorite stage! 😀 Great to hear the post stirred some brain juices.

  15. Kate Flournoy says:

    Okay, I’ve been mulling over this for a bit and I came up with another question— can a single character be both? Both negative and positive?

    I work best with examples, so here goes: I have a character who, for most of the book, is indisputably a positive impact character.
    The story is an allegory, and the theme is the necessity we all have to answer to an authority higher than ourselves and acknowledge that there can only be one truth and one right path. My MC (the one being impacted) is completely a wild loner— doesn’t answer to anybody; thinks he’s his own master and can do what he feels is right without interference from anybody higher.
    The other character in question is opposite for most of the book— willing to follow and submit to authority and mold his life to help the lives of others.
    BUT.
    There comes a point when he loses that— gets really angry and rebels against authority on no uncertain terms. It wasn’t an arc— he cooled down and realized his mistake and made it right, so his nature didn’t change, but it seems like he was both a positive and negative impact character.
    Because seeing him experience that (especially when this character was usually so willing to do what was asked of him and willing to follow) really made the MC think about why authority is important.

    So can a character be both?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I’d have to think about this to see if I could come up with any examples, but I’d have to say: yes, a character can be both. However, you’d want to be really careful with this, simply from the standpoint of the supporting character’s development. You don’t want him whiplashing back and forth between Truth and Lie. As diametrical opposites, a strong belief in either can only metamorphose into a belief in the other with proper development and motivation (which is why character arcs take a whole book to convey).

      • Joe Long says:

        Sometimes I deal with these kinds of issues by letting the characters act it out. I’m thinking that in many cases the MC and the impact character have a relationship, and often they can be close. A friend, relative, mentor, colleague etc.

        If the impact character changes, even temporarily, have the main character react to it, question it.

        I decided my love ’em and leave ’em IC would get a girlfriend. In the scene I’m currently writing, the MC is skeptical. “How many girls have you been with?” “So what makes you think that she is the one?” If I think the readers will have questions, then I will have the characters asking questions.

        • Kate Flournoy says:

          Thanks Mrs. Weiland and Mr. Long!

          Good words of caution there about whipping crazily back and forth— if it was an arc, that would definitely be applicable and definitely be something I’d done wrong.
          But it isn’t an arc— the character was having a bad… day? Month? Year?! 😛 and finally couldn’t take it anymore. It was a momentary lapse in judgment— flaring up like wildfire and just as quickly burning out. What makes him an impact character in that regard is that it shocked the MC into noticing just how important authority and accountability are. He never expected this character to ever have a problem with that— and when the character did, the MC realized how much he had counted on that character always being steady and faithful and considerate— how DRASTICALLY his world deteriorated when that one character lost it.
          Does that make sense?

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            If it works, it works. That’s the only thing that matters. As long as the context supports it, I’m sure you’re fine.

          • Kate Flournoy says:

            Okay. Then we’re good to go. 😀 Thank you so much.

          • Joe Long says:

            One of my favorite TV shows is Elementary. In case you haven’t seen it, it’s a modern take on Sherlock Holmes in New York City. He was an addict coming out of rehab and Watson was his sober companion. They became partners and relied on each other. He taught Watson how to be a detective while she taught him how to be a person.

            Holmes’ father is not a good man. Potentially a nasty villain. Watson knows this, but over the last few weeks she had been spying on the elder Holmes without Sherlock’s knowledge.

            He went ballistic when he found out in last week’s episode. In the course of the argument they laid out the points of how he felt betrayed and she acted recklessly, while she explained why she had felt justified to act the way she did. Now that they’ve had that exchange, there is still lingering unease and distrust, but they must both get on with dealing with it.

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            And it’s great how they both have complex and (at least) semi-justified reasons for totally opposing viewpoints.

  16. My character Billy is a protagonist and I think after reading your very interesting article that he might also be the impact character. By the end of the 4th book, he has changed some – matured, but it is the world around him that ultimately yields. He has known the truth all along; that family, friendship, loyalty, love and right (good) are what’s important and worth fighting for. He could easily become quite jaded, as he is mistreated and persecuted, and at times these things certainly turn his head, but it is his indomitable optimism and innocence which wins in the end.

    I’m curious if the villain could also be the impact character. If by his/her actions, the villain changes the protagonist – perhaps for bad, perhaps for good, does the villain become the impact character?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yes, the villain can totally be an impact character and, indeed, almost always is, to one extent or another. The conflict in a story is always going to be one of the, if not *the*, most catalytic moments in the protagonist’s life. He won’t walk away from it unchanged. Since the antagonist is the one driving this conflict, he’s necessarily the one driving much of the change as well.

  17. Excellent timing on this post! I was just thinking about how the mothers of both the protagonist and antagonist serve as foils to my MC, showing her different aspects of believing the Lie. Since her lie involves stubbornness and idealism, she wouldn’t believe anyone telling her the Truth anyway. Her other love interest shows her the Truth, but what impacts her most strongly is the two mothers showing her exactly where her Lie leads.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      We might even call this a “negative mentor” character (which very often fits the bill of the contagonist), when a character is urging the protagonist down completely the wrong path for “nurturing” reasons.

      • One of the mothers definitely fits this bill… but I hadn’t thought of her that way. Thank you! (She’s urging her toward the MC’s story goal, which is by necessity something she needs to fail.)

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Contagonists are fascinating characters. Trickster archetypes, often. They aren’t necessarily opposed to the story goal, which means they aren’t antagonists, but they’re ultimately a destructive force, pulling the protagonist away from the Truth.

  18. Jeanette says:

    This is thought-provoking. In my WIP, I believe the impact character is the antagonist and he represents the Lie. He’s actually struggling with his own issues as someone extremely hurt and unable to forgive. But he has targeted the MC out of revenge and is making him suffer. Hopefully, my understanding is in line with your points. Thanks for another great post.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      The reason the antagonist makes a good impact character is because, thematically, he has so much in common with the protag. By contrast, it’s the sidekick/relationship character (Michael Hauge calls him the “reflection”) who is the more standard impact character and who also represents the theme, but often in the ways he is different from the protag. More on that here for anyone who is interested: How Minor Characters Help You Discover Theme

  19. Lauren says:

    Thank you for this post! It has sparked a new level of concentration for me on how my character’s arcs interact with one another 🙂
    I do have a question though, just to make sure I’m thinking about this correctly.
    Despite actually wanting to really love people, and having a truly softhearted inner nature, my MC can’t/won’t let herself express compassion because she thinks if she opens up to people they will only hurt her (her lie). There are only two people she trusts enough to love and outwardly care about, and both are impact characters to some degree. At the 3rd plot point, the MC learns a piece of her own forgotten history in which she accidentally hurt one of those people very badly, but they have loved her without fail for years despite that fact.
    However, leading up to that plot point, the MC begins to learn (a’la positive change arc) to trust someone else. I’m thinking that if I can sow some growing resentment from the impact character toward the MC leading up to that for that other budding relationship, both character’s arcs will be stronger. My question is, would that cause the MC to essentially be the impact character for the impact character’s arc, (if the MC’s final realization of the truth (and subsequent expression of love for others) ultimately causes the dissipation of the impact character’s bitterness)?
    I hope that made sense 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Speaking very specifically, I’d say yes. However, this is one of those things that can get really complicated really fast, since technically every interaction with every character is an impact of sorts. The “Impact Character” (of the capital letter variety) is usually pretty black and white on the specific Truth in question (although he can learn and change on other Truths), but, of course, life is a complex weave of motivations and understandings and that should be reflected in the story. Personally, I tend to feel the strongest arcs are presented by archetypal character roles, which would mean an Impact Character who is solid on his *aspect* of the Truth throughout.

      • Lauren says:

        Ah. That does make sense. I’m trying to find the line between making sure it’s complicated enough to be realistic while not being unnecessarily intricate or in danger of not ringing true to the main heart/theme of the story.
        Thanks for the advice! I always get something out of your posts 🙂

  20. Garrett says:

    As I’ve been learning more about the IC in my story, I’ve come to the conclusion that my IC definitely has this “negative” effect on my MC. It sorta came by accident, but also by the story speaking to me about what it really wants to say. I didn’t plan to have an IC embrace this lie, but it seems the logical course for the meaning I’m trying to impart.
    Thinking more about it, it’s really amazing that the MC can bond so much with the IC (and through that bonding) that the MC finally sees the flaw they’ve embraced and realize the IC has been a mirror all along. Makes me think about who the “impact characters” of my own life have been during times of differing problems 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      It’s worthwhile to note that the “negative” impact character won’t have a “negative” effect on the protagonist in a positive change arc. Even though the impact character himself embraces the Lie, he *is* impacting the protagonist positively by driving him toward the Truth. This is in contrast to the contagonist, who *will* affect (or attempt to affect) the protagonist negatively by trying, and in some measure succeeding, in seducing him to the Lie.

  21. Yolanda says:

    I had never heard of this (presenting the Positive of the theme’s Truth, an aspect that is Contrary to that Truth, another aspect that is outright Contradictory Negation of the Negation, which is an atmosphere in which the Truth doesn’t even exist) before. I’m sure on some level I knew it existed because I love stories/movies, etc. But, to see it written out like you’ve done and then doing more research: I’ve just had my own Oprah Winfrey – well in this case, K.M. Weiland – “a-ha” moment! Wow!

    So, for my character, Her theme is Self-Acceptance. The contrary would be Self-Disapproval. The Contradiction is Self Rejection. And the Negation of the Negation is her Rejection of Others.

    Then, when I tie all this in with the impact character (maybe plural?)…I think you’ve just released my mind-numbing writer’s block. The flood of creativity is washing over my brain again. Thank you!!!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Boo yeah! 😀 That’s great to hear! The “four corners” of theme was an eye opener for me as well. If you haven’t read Robert McKee’s Story>, I highly recommend it.

  22. Oh my goodness, this is brilliant! I’m currently working on a Western novel in which my MC is a type of classical, tragic character. I’ve got a basic manuscript with the bare bones of the plot written, but it’s missing a lot of the character development the MC has to go through in her story arc. Without even knowing what an “impact character” is, I was using her love interest in that role. Adding a “negative” impact character into the story is just what this story needs. A warning to the MC about where her path will lead.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Awesome! Sounds like fun. I love westerns. All my early story ideas were for westerns. But I haven’t written one in a long time.

  23. Well, well, well. I’d never heard of an impact character and now it makes total sense and I can suddenly see a bunch of impact characters in the movies I’ve recently watched. It was like having an epiphany. So thank you for that!

    I have a question (if you’d be so kind…) I’m struggling with my story right now (Only the friggin’ climax, which – I know, I know- is an Act I problem. I’ve got an old man meeting his 3 grown up children for the first time ever. He’s lived his whole life in isolation because he’s a wanted man (German WWII deserter/story takes place in 1982). His only company for the past two decades has been a man, almost his same age, whom he found 40 years before on the streets and sort of raised him. During the father-children meeting, secrets start to come to the surface and the old man confesses to a life of not-so-pretty deeds. His kids start to hate him more and more throught the dinner as he recounts the story of his life, and eventually decide to leave the dinner and let him rot in the past. The other man, the old man’s only friend, I think, is the Impact Character, because he, and only he knows who this old man has really been all these years. The children are just judging him from what they’ve heard throughout the night. I want this man to be the character who changes the children’s opinions of the old man, but I can’t figure out how to make it surprising. Is there a certain way an impact character manisfests itself or goes about doing what he’s meant to do (in the story)? How can I be sure I’m making it clear that he’s my impact character if he has very little interaction with the children during the dinner?

    (Sorry for the long post and sorry for any grammar/spelling mistakes. I’m a native spanish speaker 🙂 )

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      For better or worse, there really isn’t a right or a wrong to have your impact character do his impacting. The impact can be a catalyst for change in any number of ways–directly or indirectly.

  24. You make some fair points, and in the BBC series Sherlock, Sherlock and John, are in a way, both main characters, though Sherlock is the protagonist. They do change each other, though, since John ends up opening up to people and gets over his depression and gets a wife and Sherlock leanrs to be less rude and abrasive to others.

  25. Great post. My current book is so very much the protagonist’s journey from believing a lie to seeing the empowering truth to reach what she neeeds, and I had not heard this description of a character arc before, even from professionals.
    Very impressed by your work. Thanks.

  26. directornoah says:

    Hi K.M,
    I’m having trouble understanding my character arc and how to use the impact character efficiently.

    1. In my WIP, the Lie is that my protagonist distrusts people, she overcomes Lie and trusts, then finds out the Truth, which is learning how to recognize those who are trustworthy, and those who are not.
    Is this a positive arc or a disillusionment arc?

    2. In my plot, the protagonist meets two people, Aaron and David. Aaron warns her not to trust David, as he might be hiding a dark past. After David talks with her, she is persuaded to his side, and decides to trust him. Aaron pleads with her not to help him, but she refuses to listen, having been told by David, that Aaron is the one who’s dangerous.
    In the end, it turns out both of them were working against her. Aaron is under the strong influence of David, who is the main antagonist.
    Is Aaron the contagonist or the negative impact character?

    3. Another point is that, if both characters betray her, will she realise the Truth about knowing who to trust and learning the consequences of trusting the wrong people, by herself, or revert back to the distrust Lie even stronger?

    Do you think that perhaps, I should change Aaron into a positive impact character, so she can distinguish the comparison between the good and bad characters, finally at the end?
    Any help will be greatly appreciated.
    Many thanks, Noah ☺

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      There’s a lot of overlap between negative impact characters and contagonists, so likely your character in question fulfills both roles.

      Your story strikes me as perhaps offering its strongest possibilities via a Disillusionment Arc.

      It’s always great when each character has an equal and opposite character in a comparison role. So if you can set up both a positive and a negative impact character, that will only strengthen your thematic argument.

      • directornoah says:

        Thank you! As always, your help is invaluable. 😀
        I just have a few questions though.
        Surely, the negative impact character alone, is the one who leads the protagonist towards the Truth by his wrongful ways, so why would you need to have a negative AND a positive impact character?

        Are you saying that in my story, Aaron’s actions as the negative impact character, are not enough to show my protagonist the Truth about trust at the end, without a positive impact character at work too?

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Negative impact characters represent the Lie. Positive impact characters represent the Truth. Generally, they align, respectively, with the Contagonist and Mentor archetypes.

          The character needs to not just see through the Lie, but also be given a definitive Truth in contrast. This is also part of the structural evolution of the character arc. Speaking very generally, the first half of the story up until the Moment of Truth at the Midpoint is about the character learning to recognize the fallacy of the Lie. But that, in itself, doesn’t bring him to the Truth or complete his arc. The story’s second half is then about recognizing, accepting, and solidifying the Truth.

  27. directornoah says:

    K.M, I’m wondering whether this is alright for an impact character or not.

    Aaron is a dark, corrupted character, but for the majority of the story, retains some good within his nature.

    (The Truth is about who to trust and who to not)

    Aaron himself doesn’t know the Truth or Lie, but he unwittingly uses the distrust Lie, when trying to help the protagonist. But of all the characters in the story, he is the only one who is trustworthy, and truly on the protagonist’s side.
    Also, he only reflects the trust part of the Truth, and not the complete Truth.
    Therefore, can he just represent a facet of the Truth, as an impact character, and is it acceptable in this context?

    Many thanks once again. 😀

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yep, characters don’t have to be completely black and white. And if the character is using the Lie–consciously or unconsciously–then for the purposes of the story, he “knows” the Lie.

      • directornoah says:

        So, if I’ve got this right, a character can use the Lie and still represent an aspect of the Truth, even though the Truth is different to the Lie?

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Yep.

          • directornoah says:

            Great, thanks! 😃
            Although I’ve learned a lot from your blog, I’m still relatively new to these writing concepts, all of which are seperate principles, but must be tightly interwoven and merged together, to form a powerful and cohesive story. It’s a little bit overwhelming and daunting to say the least, with everything seeming so complex and involved when you first discover about it.
            Thank you so much for your good advice and guidance in this new world of storytelling! 😀

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