The Impact Character Why Every Character Arc Needs One

The Impact Character: Why Every Character Arc Needs One

When we think of necessary characters, we tend to come up with obvious choices such as the protagonist, the antagonist, and maybe the mentor, love interest, and sidekick. “Impact character” probably isn’t at the top of your list. But it should be. Because you can’t create a character arc without one.

Creating Character Arcs

Creating Character Arcs (affiliate link)

“Impact character” is the term coined by Dramatica authors Melanie Anne Phillips and Chris Huntley to describe what is just as accurately termed by editor Roz Morris the “catalyst character.” This is the character who slams into your protagonist, catalyzes him into change, and has a major impact on his life.

The impact character is the one who enables, empowers, or sometimes just plain forces another character(s) to change. Basically, this is a flat arc character. If you’ve read my recent series on positive change and flat arcs, then you already know that in a change arc, the protagonist himself changes, while, in a flat arc, the protagonist changes the world around him. In essence, a flat arc character is the impact character in his story, enabling the change arcs of the supporting characters who surround him.

All right, but riddle me this? Who is the impact character in change arcs? That is, of course, the whole question.

What Is the Impact Character?

The impact character may be a friend, or he may be a foe. More on that in a minute, but, for now, suffice it that his actual role in the story isn’t what qualifies him as the pivotal character in your protagonist’s change. So what does?

Think of it this way: If the antagonist represents the story’s outer conflict, then the impact character represents the inner conflict.

Just like the antagonist, the impact character is a conflict-causer. Just like the antagonist, he’s at odds with the protagonist. But unlike the antagonist, the conflict isn’t necessarily the result of opposing goals. Rather, its core is the opposing worldviews of the protagonist and the impact character. The protagonist believes the Lie; the impact character (lucky dog!) already knows the Truth.

Throughout the story, the protagonist and his blind faith in his Lie are going to keep running smack into the impact character’s Truth. The protagonist may want to be left in peace with his Lie, but the impact character’s persistent presence keeps churning up the protagonist’s awareness of the Truth—and creating internal conflict.

Rochester keeps inspiring Jane Eyre (eventually to his temporary detriment) to view herself as his equal. The Ghosts of Christmas keep prodding Scrooge out of his inveterate miserliness. Mattie Ross keeps dragging compromising lawman Rooster Cogburn onto the road to justice.

A Muppet Christmas Carol

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), Walt Disney Pictures.

The impact character may or may not be actively trying to get the protagonist to see that Truth, but he’s going to be there at crucial moments in the story to help the protagonist see the error of his ways. He has the answers the protagonist is looking for (even though the protagonist won’t know that at the beginning of the story), and those answers are going to end up being pivotal in the protagonist’s ability to conquer the antagonist and the external conflict in his quest for his story goal.

Who Is the Impact Character?

As Morris explains in her book Writing Characters Who’ll Keep Readers Captivated, the impact character can take just about any form within your story:

 They might be mentor characters. These are figures who guide the protagonist into a new world, awakening the qualities they need to meet the challenges they must face. Typically they’re a coach or a father figure. They sometimes perish when they have fulfilled their role, or in a betraying twist they might turn out to be a formidable antagonist….

Note that just because the impact character understands the specific Truth needed by the protagonist, this does not mean he has all Truths figured out. In some instances, he may be a generally benighted character who actually has way less figured out than the protagonist does–except when it comes to this one Truth.

Consider a few options. Your story’s impact character might be:

  • The antagonist. (Long John Silver in Treasure Island)
Long John Silver in Treasure Island

Treasure Island (1950), Walt Disney Pictures.

  • The contagonist. (Tom Doniphon in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance)
Tom Doniphon in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), Paramount Pictures.

  • The mentor. (Kel in Mistborn)
  • The sidekick. (Nadine Groot in Red River)
Nadine Groot in Red River John Wayen and Walter Brennan

Red River (1948), United Artists.

  • The love interest. (Mr. Knightley in Emma)
Mr Knightley Emma Men of Sense Do Not Want Silly Wives Johnny Lee Miller

Emma (2009), BBC One.

  • Present for most of the story. (Raymond Babbitt in Rain Man)
Rain Man Dustin Hoffman Tom Cruise

Rain Man (1988), United Artists.

  • Present only intermittently, but looming large in the protagonist’s mind. (Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars)
Rain Man Dustin Hoffman Tom Cruise

Star Wars: A New Hope (1977), 20th Century Fox.

  • A collective of several characters. (The Radiator Springs townsfolk in Cars)
Radiator Springs Lightning McQueen Miss Sally Mater Cars

Cars (2006), Walt Disney Pictures.


The impact character is the pivot around which your changing character’s arc turns. A character can’t change without something that impacts him by consistently and convincingly conflicting with his belief in the Lie. When planning your character’s arc, put the impact character at the top of your to-do list—and watch that arc happen practically on its own!

Tell me your opinion: Who is the impact character in your story?

The Impact Character Why Every Character Arc Needs One


Click the “Play” button to Listen to Audio Version (or subscribe to the Helping Writers Become Authors podcast in Apple Podcast or Amazon Music).


Love Helping Writers Become Authors? You can now become a patron. (Huge thanks to those of you who are already part of my Patreon family!)

Sign Up Today

hwba sidebar pic

Sign up to receive K.M. Weiland’s e-letter and receive her free e-book Crafting Unforgettable Characters: A Hands-On Introduction to Bringing Your Characters to Life.

About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. Good piece. As I was reading, I was thinking of my MC’s best friend’s husband in my third novella. I’m not going to go into details, but he definitely forces my MC to do some changing!

  2. Ah, this post arrived very timely! 🙂
    Right now, I’m revising my half-finished outline by running it through the Character Arch posts and the Structuring Your Novel that I was lucky to win some time back….

    I’ve got two MC’s in this story. I’ve been thinking about them being Mentors for each others, but that doesn’t quite fit. Thinking of them as Impact Characters for each others makes more sense, but I think they both is in a Change Arch. They both have Lies they need to shed and Truths they need to learn … but it’s not the same one for both. The Truth MC1 needs, MC2 already knows – and MC2 have what MC1 needs. Is that making any sense? Can I do that, or does the Impact Character need to have a Flat Arch?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      No, you can totally do that! The key is that MC1 *is* following a flat arc *in regard to* the Truth that MC2 needs to know. And vice versa. Characters can follow more than one arc (although one will always be more prominent than the other – usually the change arc). It just depends on how many Truths and Lies are in play.

      • Thanks!
        I hadn’t considered that one character could follow more than one arch in the same story …… These two has very different background and experiences, so yes, that fits.
        *going back to thinking*

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          In this case, the flat arcs would definitely be submerged. They wouldn’t be arcs so much as just recognized Truths impacting each other.

          • I had never thought of it that way but my main characters follow the same pattern of change arcs for themselves and flat arcs in regard to each other’s lies but there is a third character who acts as impact for both of them, throwing their arcs together.

            I agree, the flat arcs are submerged. Thanks for posting this!

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

            Sounds like you’ve got a handle on it!

          • I agree too.

            When reading this post I realize that my MC has a change arc through the course of the book, but in the end, ends up being the impact character for my antagonist.

            I think you get a really cool affect from combining the two arcs.

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

            Yes, you definitely do! Arcs that combine into a single powerful thematic statement can take a book to a whole new level.

      • So if my MC is a primarily flat character(in regard to the main theme of the story, that love of wealth corrupts) but has a secondary, subtle truth (she needs to stop running from wealth corrupted individuals and fight them) she needs to learn, then another person can be an impact character in regard to that secondary truth? If so, a lot more in my story makes sense now

  3. thomas h cullen says

    Superb post!

    The Representative doesn’t have an impact character – encompassing all the timelines that the text represents, Croyan’s his own source of wisdom.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Flat arc characters – who impact the world around them – are usually the impact characters in their own stories.

  4. This has me thinking about my last novel. I thought the antagonists would be all of the children who bully the protagonist to the point where he shoots up the school. So, I wonder if the impact character would be the protagonist’s mother’s boyfriend who shows him how to shoot and teaches him a few combat techniques. What do you think?

  5. I’m wrapping up my final proofs on the book I’m releasing next month. This novel has two impact characters. The hero’s best friend, and hero’s dead lover. Both see the truth of who the hero is, and always have.

    I had no idea these characters had any kind of name for what they do. My hero having a best friend who sees the truth of who the hero is is something I always end up with. So cool!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Sidekick and mentor archetypes very often end up being impact characters. They’re obvious choices since they’re in the protagonist’s life so much anyway.

    • thomas h cullen says

      It relates to our just as human beings possessing the innate capacity for storytelling.

  6. “The protagonist believes the Lie; the impact character (lucky dog!) already knows the Truth.”

    Seriously – I’m going to paint this on my wall! It’s always been clear to me that my MC’s molester is the impact character and not the antagonist, as some in my critique group would say. My IMPACT CHARACTER does know the truth and is the one who forces my MC to change. I think I have two impact characters – one evil and one good… I can do that, right?
    Thanks for your great columns – I always share on twitter and FB

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, you can have as many impact characters as needed, representing different facets of the same Truth. (If more than one character represents the *same* facet of the same Truth, you might want to question whether or not one of the characters is extraneous).

  7. Very interesting. This will have me looking at my characters in a new way. Reviewing my current MS in final editing for publication, I find I have several characters who serve this purpose. Thanks for enlightening me as to their roles.

  8. I did not know what an impact character was before reading this, but in my story it is a website. Bad idea? I could probably make things much more interesting with an actual character, but that would make for a bigger story and a rewrite, as the website is consulted throughout. Well, thanks to this article, I’m excited to fiddle with it.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      You’re always going to get more bang for your buck out of a character than you will out of a static object that’s a plot device. But that’s not to say something other than a sentient being *can’t* be the catalyst in the story – especially if it’s a short.

      • It is a short, and I think two good scenes with a character instead of having several allusions to a website will serve it well.

        I am somewhat new to writing earnestly and am going to write shorts until I am where I want to be. Thanks for helping me along

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Shorts are a different medium from novels, in a lot of ways, but they’re a great way to start out. I wrote hundreds of shorts before I published my first novel.

  9. I’m surprised. But in my work in progress, the flat-arc character is the alternative love interest. In the next installment, he will be the Main Character, and has quiet a change ahead of him. But in this story, he keeps pointing out she’s attached to the wrong man.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It can definitely be an interesting technique to shift the flat and change arcs from character to character over the course of a series. Mixes things up while still allowing them to evolve naturally.

  10. Great article. I had subconscious placed a character like this in my outline not realizing their importance. Now I know I will have to make sure I write them well.

    Another awesome post K.M great work

  11. Luckily, I have them. But I have two of them, one is negative, and trying to kind of shatter my protagonist but accidentally making more impact in her positive character arc. Other is actually trying to make it happen. (Note: this isn’t the fantasy project I keep talking about.)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      An impact character can have good or bad motivations. Sometimes antagonists – who usually don’t have much interest in helping out the protagonist – can be very effective impact characters.

  12. Whatever role s/he’s assigned, this feels a lot like the mentor character in the Hero’s Journey.

    Is it necessarily the case that the change *must* come from a specific person, and this person *must* personify the direction of the protagonist’s journey? Certainly it can be a useful tool, but I don’t know that I agree that it’s a universal need.

    Without going through my library to see how it matches up with published works, it does feels like the circumstances themselves can provoke the change found in the arc, rather than a person. For example, in (let’s say) horror, the introduction of the horror element can itself catalyze protagonist change…

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The impact character often aligns with the mentor, but not always. The impact character can be the sidekick, the love interest, or, often, the antagonist. It can also be personified as some non-human element. But the technique is *usually* more powerful as a character.

      • As described (not to be argumentative), but as I see it, if the character is taking on the role of shining a light on the protag’s lack, and is pushing the character to become someone new, then s/he’s taking on the role of the mentor as described by Campbell, no?

        “4. MEETING WITH THE MENTOR. The hero comes across a seasoned traveler of the worlds who gives him or her training, equipment, ***or advice*** that will help on the journey. ”

        (It may not be offered advice, rather advice by example, but still…)

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          I’ll grant that it’s splitting a hair, but the difference is that impact character isn’t necessarily offering advice or tools. He may simply be using his Truth in a tacit way to present obstacles to the character. For example, when you’ve got an antagonist as the impact character, it’s his resistance to the character (and the character’s Lie-driven ineffectiveness in combatting that resistance initially) that forces the change, more than anything the antagonist may directly say to promote his own Truth.

          But, in many instances, yes, the impact character is definitely a mentor character.

          • Fair enough, and thanks for the reply.

            Still thinking about horror, though – stuff like Cujo, IIRC there’s a character arc, but there’s no impact character as such; the situation is what drives the character’s increasing desperation and eventual success and resumption of her failing marriage. Or is that more of a flat-arc character? I honestly don’t remember.

  13. Oh wow!!!! You’ve read Mistborn? Awesome!
    But now down to business. I have some trouble making impacters. Sometimes they are there and then then I figure out that they were only a subplot. How can I fix that? And how can I figure out who is the main Impact Character?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I love Mistborn. One of my favorite books. 🙂 (Although I wasn’t as enthusiastic about the sequels.)

      Often (but not always) the impact character will be the main relationship character. So that’s always a good place to start. Look for a character who knows the Truth your protagonist needs and who can help inspire, goad, or teach him how to reach that Truth.

  14. Huh. Just yesterday I was thinking about and making some large changes to a story I’ve had for a while, and as it turns out, I was working on Shawdawn’s impact character(s) before I even knew what they were! Before, I had planned on just one, but yesterday I changed it to three, each one coming once the previous had gone.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Good job on realizing that any given character only needs one impact character at a time (unless it’s a group representing a single impact). Otherwise, they become redundant.

  15. You’ve read Mistborn! 🙂

  16. Great article. The story I’m currently writing, my first novel, is at its core about characters overcoming their fears, and follows quite a few different POVs. It seems my numerous impact characters will be a big mix of mentors, sidekicks, love interests, and those who represent each other’s fears, whether friendly or antagonistic.

    I’ve actually thought of this concept before: in my notebook, I have a list of all the characters (over 20, though they probably won’t all get POV chapters), with sub-lists of the characters they’d get the most out of communicating with. I titled it ‘support conversations’ after a feature in a great story-based video game series, Fire Emblem.

    It’s nice to put a more professional-sounding name to it, anyway. It makes it easier to think about.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Great approach! This is something authors too often overlook. We want to not just create interesting characters – but characters who, when together, will create interesting relationships.

  17. Loved this post–as I was reading I could identify the impact charas in my books and it makes me ponder who the “impacters” will be in upcoming stories. Thanks for this thought-provoking post–I like the idea that they have a basically flat arc and that they PUSH that MC to change. This could be their personality/take on life or their actions.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Exactly! The “push” can come from just about any aspect of the character. It’s a lot of fun to play around with subtler ways of approaching than the push than just with outright words from the character.

  18. Hey, I didn’t know impact characters even existed, but as I read the definition I immediately thought in my story Michael is the main characters, Blood (his brother) is the impact character. Blood is always stirring Michael’s conscience (‘do you remember?’, ‘don’t you understand?’, ‘if we can, we should do it’) and that’s the basic of their relationship. They are often in conflict, but they love and trust each other, and this is the great fun in their relationship.

    I love writing them 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      In truth, it’s hard to write a story *without* an impact character. This is one of those things almost all of us are doing subconsciously long before we realize we’re doing it.

  19. This is a brilliant article and has heartened me because it completely describes a character in my novel – Hartley Keg. My protagonist Steve is thrown from his miserable but comfortable existence into a situation where he has to solve the crime and prove his innocence. Hartley is the character who keeps shaking up Steve and his world view. Thank you for sharing this wonderful concept.

  20. Sheryl Dunn says

    I always thought of my protagonist’s husband as a secondary antagonist. She’s part of a conspiracy of women who kill pedophiles; he’s a lawyer who defends the justice system…even when it fails.

    The main antagonist is the serial killing pedophile who turns the tables on her, but he, too, is a bit of an impact character. Mostly the husband, however.

    Thanks so much for labeling and describing the impact character. Somehow I stumbled upon the idea and implemented it, but now I have a name for it and even more helpful details.

  21. Sheryl Dunn says

    Hmmm. Not sure about that, K.M., and after reading the list, I think he’s a bit antagonist, contagonist, Reason, Reflection (a la Michael Hauge), and perhaps other elements as well…and some of the other main/dramatic characters have elements of more than one archetype. But, you’re right that he’s definitely got some contagonist stuff going on.

    Perhaps my characterizations are all a muddle! (But my two outside editors thought they worked, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they’ll work for readers, too.)

    • thomas h cullen says

      Ideally, the closest thing to me that a character should have to an identity is to perhaps represent ideas:

      I don’t actually believe in concepts such as protagonist, antagonist, impact character……at least I don’t believe in their should existing.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Don’t mind me then, Sheryl! My observation was based just on your brief description–and probably is off base!

  22. Sheryl Dunn says

    Given how many manuscripts I’ve reviewed where the writer really has no idea how to create interesting and dramatic characters (dramatic in the sense of moving the story forward), I think that studying archetypes can be very useful.

    However, just like many other so-called rules (I prefer to call them tools), being a slave to a rule or archetype isn’t necessarily a good thing, but it’s important to know them before you choose to discard them, in my opinion.

  23. Sheryl Dunn says

    Thomas, I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying. If you’re saying that telling is a way to deviate from archetypes, I can’t agree.

    I think deviating from archetypes may mean mixing it up, i.e., creating characters that have elements of various archetypes, not just one archetype, and who play more than one role in the story dramatically.

    Or, another example might be to give an archetype character an arc that converts the character into a different archetype…not just the main character, but other dramatic characters, too.

    Or, you create an archetype character who simply appears like an archetype, but isn’t really, as the story unfolds.

    What I’m saying is that our characters, like real people, should be changeable and sometimes unpredictable because of their hidden and revealed motivations. We don’t fit a mold (rarely), so neither should our characters, and yet each of us has a core set of values and beliefs that determines our actions and the way we live our lives, even if we don’t fully recognize those values or beliefs, or because we’re afraid to recognize them.

    • thomas h cullen says

      I’m grateful for that. The effort you’ve made to make your position clear. Thanks.

      Often times, a character being just capable of exhibiting certain behaviours is down to narrative expedience: it’s a convenience for the storyteller, allowing them their pre-decided narrative route, or general trajectory of narrative. Not all the time of course, but I’m sure a lot of the time.

      This is along the lines of what I meant.

      Everything you said was correct.

  24. Sheryl Dunn says

    Some people think that all narrative is telling, rather than showing, but such is not the case. Sometimes mere word choices in a narrative can show rather than tell. I wish I could remember a good example, but I don’t have time to look up some examples today. Maybe another day!

    • thomas h cullen says

      Inherently, to want to write a novel, or to create a film means having to some extent having to be insincere; having to ‘tell’ or ‘show’ more than necessary, or having to create an archetype, or to establish a superfluous amount of characters (the size of the new Star Wars Episode 7 cast, for example).

      It’s just over only four thousand words, featuring just a handful of characters, as well as the merest hint of action:

      Yet this is in precise truth what contributes substantially to The Representative’s own special power.

  25. There is some good material here, thank-you, but I don’t believe your explanation of impact (influence, obstacle) character is the same as what Dramatica describes. If you are using their term and their concept of impact character then I’d suggest looking at what Melanie herself has written about it:

    The IC doesn’t have to be “flat”. Either the MC or the IC will “change”. The MC can remain steadfast in the approach to the story goal in which case the IC changes. The MC can change in approaching the story goal in which case the IC remains steadfast.

    The purpose of the IC is to make the MC re-evaluate their current position in the story to help them address the story goal. The MC approach will address different aspects as he progresses to the climax. The IC ‘s interaction is always to present the other viewpoint the MC needs to consider — but not necessarily take.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      My take on the impact character is a little different from the straight-up Dramatica presentation. I find it less confusing to identify the catalyst character in relation to the Truth/Lie arc than the relationship with the protagonist.

  26. I was curious, can characters represent The Truth even if they don’t speak about it? In my action story, the main Characters Lie is that to survive you can’t trust or rely on others (she is a resourceful coward who has been burned a lot)

    Can her impact characters be a romantic couple, who don’t just rely on each other, but devote themselves to aiding others? One has a flat arc and is a bit of a stereotypical hero and the other has their own lie that Self Worth is determined by Others.

    My other question is what arc is it when the conflict is about Corrupting a character but they are willing to suffer tragic consequences to not be corrupted? My favorite stories have always been heroic characters who keep to their Truths, and have every conflict try to tempt them to loosening their morals but despite eventually losing everything, they stay true to their beliefs. They don’t change anyone else or themselves, but they affirm a Truth by sacrificing themselves for it.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      An impact character can definitely “show” the Truth instead of “telling” it. But the effect on the protagonist still needs to be more or less explicit sooner or later, so it’s clear why her own views are changing.

      As for tragic heroes, I think you’ll find that in most of these stories, these are characters who *are* changing at least one other person. Gladiator isn’t anywhere near a perfect example, since Maximus obviously ends up changing all of Rome by his adherence to his Truth unto death. But that scene at the end with Juba is a great example of the Truth being “carried on” even though the protagonist is tragically gone.

      If you can think of any specific titles of stories such as you’re thinking of, I’d be interested in hearing them. As I say, I bet we’ll find that there *are* other character impacted even amidst the tragedy, but I’d definitely be interested in seeing any exceptions.

      • Wow that was such a swift reply I didn’t expect it sorry i took so long..

        Um Cyrano D’ Bergerac, while it could center on his looks, he already learned Roxanne preferred him before Christian died and suspected so beforehand, but refuses to tell her because it would foul his friend’s memory to him. She becomes a nun and he visits her every week. In the very end she finds out he wrote the letters, because he is dying from a assassination attempt and lets the information slip. Despite that, he came to see her, because he promised. He dies in a mock fight with compromise, stupidity, cowardice and prejudice which he swears he will never relent to.

        He died because he had enemies he could not leave alone He lost true love because he would not compromise his feelings toward his friend, and while he could have healed, he could not break his engagement with Roxanne.

        I guess he changed Roxanne? His poetry made her realize looks were not important, but she always valued intelligence and inner beauty over pretty looks. And she was a nun due to losing Christian, but she only realizes who her lover was at the end, years later, and definitely will stay a nun to mourn her lover, just a different one.

        I mean it all starts because she makes him promise to befriend Christian, and how upset she would be if Christian were dumb. Of course he is quite intelligent, but he gets tongue tied around women. To make them both happy, and to show his commitment to both, he forges his letters, which continues to the very end protesting that even if he wrote it, it shouldn’t matter because it was Christian’s blood staining it. It is my favorite play.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          I have to admit my familiarity with Cyrano is based entirely on the Wishbone adaptation. :p But I think you’re probably right in identifying Roxanne as the character who was changed–in spirit if not physical circumstances or actions. Doesn’t Christian change some as well?

  27. Cool beans!

    Wow, so the impact character/s play a pivotal role in the our protag’s arc. Correct if I’m wrong but they cause the inner conflict and for the most part see the truth vs the lie. Sounds like this applies most to the positive arc, but would the impact character also be present in negative arcs? I’m also assuming they wouldn’t be in flat arcs since they character isn’t changing at all.

    Great post. I’m slowly digesting the character arc info. This is a good beginning. It’s overwhelming to know where to start though. I do have your book Crafting unforgettable characters. Trying to dissect your posts one by one and break them down into bitesize snacks until I can assimilate them. Impact character is a great eye opener and makes perfect sense.


    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      In the flat arc, the protagonist *is* the impact character, causing change in the world around him. In negative arcs, the impact character will often be one who is, in fact, touting the Lie and impacting the protagonist for the negative.

  28. My two main characters are really each other’s impact characters. Their relationship shifts a lot, from uneasy allies to friends to best friends to enemies to friends again, and finally to “sisters”. They are almost polar opposites, and on most occasions they dislike each other, because they challenge each other’s worldviews. Thank you for writing this! Excellent piece!

  29. In my stories about Amelia, Vance helps her overcome her lack of self-confidence and to trust her instincts, and Samantha often opposes how StarGirl handles things and doesn’t think she’s good enough, but Vance thinks she is. Mary is just a character who helps out whenever needed, and BeamGirl helps out too as well as Sam. I don’t know who my impact character could be. Any ideas?

  30. Vance could be someone who represents someone who is confident and trusts his instincts as well as Mary.

  31. Jocelyn Montpetit says

    From a semantic point of view, the term impact character does not make much sense, because it does not tell much about its role or its place in history. Protagonist, opponent, ally (sidekick), the opponent allies, sender, recipient, objective (goal), are words that tell what they do. You do not have to explain because everyone understands them.

    All I realize, reading your text, is that you speak of mentor, coach, father figure. These terms make sense, as it means (in our minds) something. For they are the archetypes and most people know the archetypes.

    To create an impact on a character (by the way on the audience), you do not necessarily need a character. The impact can be created by something else like illness, bereavement, death … Death has many faces. It can be physical, psychological, spiritual and serve the character as motivation.

    The impact is then created by the consequences of a situation (or event) that occurs in the life of a character. The impact creates awareness on … The brevity of life, love, injustice, corruption, betrayal, etc.

    The goal is not to create a character that has an impact but to create an impact on the viewer by awakening his conscience on his own life.

  32. My antagonist is in nearly complete control of the events of the whole series, so he is the impact character in for my nerdish protagonist’s change arc (and probably more arcs when I think of them).

    He WANTS the protagonists to change and become honourable men so that they will serve his purposes, mostly so he can exact his revenge more effectively. The main point is that he is insane.

  33. Samiul Lameem Akbor says

    Can an impact character go through his own change? If not, then can an impact character be more inside the protagonist? In my story, I am thinking that my character will realize the evil he has caused by looking at his own handiwork.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, the impact character can experience a change arc of his own–however, not in regard to the same Lie/Truth that the protagonist is dealing with. The impact character already knows the protagonist’s Truth, so he has no need to evolve into an understanding of it. But he can grow out of a different Lie in a subplot.

  34. Maria Christine Vesterli says

    How much of an impact on the plot does an impact character need to have? I understand why having an impact character is important, but if the plot itself forces the MC to face their lie, wouldn’t that make the impact character redundant?

  35. Thanks for being so generous with your blog. I’ve been binge reading your posts having only recently discovered them and learning so much. This post is a bit of an eye opener. My MC is trying to save a young girl at risk but her motivation is the external validation she’ll get. The young girl resents this and partly through her the MC learns to do things for the right reasons. The young girl is a major character in plot so I hadn’t thought of her as an impact character with a flat arc but that’s quite likely isn’t it?

  36. I was wondering; would my Impact Character follow a full Flat Arc?

    Like, am I able to use your Flat Arc’s Pt. 1-3 series for an Impact Character, or is that only for the protagonist?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Impact Characters won’t always be Flat-Arc Characters. They only need be in possession of the Truth the protagonist needs; otherwise, they could be following their own Positive or Negative Change Arcs in relation to other related Lies/Truths. However, if you wish your Impact Character to follow a Flat Arc, then, yes, you can totally use the info in my series to achieve that for any character.

  37. Thea Kelley says

    About the Impact Character having to be a flat arc character – But what if he’s a Wounded Healer? Can’t he know the Truth on behalf of the Protag, while refusing to recognize it for himself?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes. The Impact Character can impact the protagonist with a refusal to embrace the Truth. It’s also possible that the Impact Character embraces the protagonist’s main thematic Truth while succumbing to other Lies.

      • Jay-Soo Lee says

        Hello! I’ve been reading your books on writing and your blog posts for quite a while now and found them extremely helpful and encouraging. Thank you so much for sharing your insights.

        I have a question regarding this topic though. Let’s say we have a positive change arc protagonist. You said that the Impact Character can be the antagonist. In your post about how to have multiple antagonists you wrote that the ANTAGONIST (of the different antagonistic archetypes) has to believe the Lie or evolve into believing the Lie. (I assume this is in order to show what would happen to the hero if he were to keep clinging to the Lie.) How then can such an antagonist be the Impact Character, who by definition has the Truth and keeps confronting the protagonist with it? Or can only other types of antagonist be the Impact Character?

        In my story the protagonist is a boy who believes in a Lie, which leads to the kind of behavior and story goal which his father (main antagonist) is opposed to. The well-meaning father is also trying to impact his son to effect positive change. However, the dad isn’t perfect either and believes in a Lie of his own, which, on a deeper level, is essentially the same as the boy’s (like father like son). Does this mean that the father isn’t really capable of effecting the necessary change in his son? Even if dad realizes during the course of the story that he himself needs to change as well? In other words, do I need a third character to be the Impact Character for the boy?

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          It depends on the story. In some stories the antagonist may know the Truth. For example, in romances, the two love interests are each other’s antagonists. One of them often knows a Truth the other needs.

          Sometimes, too, you’ll have an antagonist who *knows* the Truth but can’t live it or is too caught up in competing Lies.

          And it’s also possible for the Impact Character to be “dark” and influence the protagonist by demonstrating the negativity of the Lie. See this post: How to Harness the Dark Side of Your Impact Character.


  1. […] K.M. WEILAND  The Impact Character […]

  2. […] us how to create evergreen characters who live on after the book is read, K.M. Weiland explores the impact character, and Melissa McPhail has 4 steps to the ultimate compelling […]

  3. […] 3. I really liked this article by K. M. Weiland about the “impact character.” […]

  4. […] The Impact Character: Why Every Character Arc Needs One – Helping Writers Become Authors. […]

  5. […] The Impact Character: Why Every Character Arc Needs One […]

  6. […] arc and see what happens!  For further information on the subject please click the following The Impact Character: Why Every Character Arc Needs One. Without an “enzyme” in your story, there won’t be enough essential ingredients […]

  7. […] hooked on any fiction. Anyone writing a literary analysis paper can understand the fact that bold characters make an impact on people from generations to generations, and these writers are called evergreen […]

  8. […] Change arc character faces, as in the above table. The Flat arc protagonist plays the role of an Impact character on leading to that other character’s […]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.