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Reflection Characters

Banes at 12:00AM, May 19, 2016

Reflection Characters

When I was doing a little reading on the “Mentor” character type, I learned about something called “Reflection Characters”. It was an eye opener; I'd never heard of this before, though I could instantly see how it made sense in storytelling, and dozens of examples came to mind right away.

Reflection characters are the people in a story who show us different sides of the protagonist. They are the friends, family members, co-workers and strangers who show us who the protagonist is, who s/he isn't, and the consequences of failure (or success) in the protagonist's story.


To know and understand a Protagonist as fully as possible, we need to see how they stack up against other people. The reflective characters might share a Protagonist's job, or social status, or point of view on life, or whatever, and we will see how the similarities, but especially the differences between the Protagonist and Reflectors show who the Protagonist is and how they stand out from the other people in the story.

So the buddies who hang out with the hero may have a lot in common with him/her, but there should absolutely be differences that set the Protagonist apart. See many, many stories to observe this in action. Z in the movie “Antz” is different from his buddy (and from everyone else in the colony). Ditto Lloyd in “Say Anything”, Sydney in “Scream” and Ed in “Ed Wood”. All these Protagonists are surrounded by cohorts, but those cohorts indicate that the Protagonist is DIFFERENT.


The reflective characters are incredibly handy for showing the STAKES of the story. What happens if the Protagonist fails or loses? What happens if they succeed? This stuff is much better shown via reflection characters rather than exposition.

So we have the sexy camp counselors who are goodly enough to be murdered in slasher movies, or the married couple who lives the possible example for the single Protagonist in a romance, or the “company man” who shows the peril of giving it all to the Corporation the Hero is working for…

The stakes of winning or losing, and showing possible futures for the Protagonist depending on his/her choices: That's important stuff!

This can give real drive to a story I think; I haven't looked at my own writing for examples of this yet, but I look forward to it!

In a way, every character other than the Protagonist could be seen as a reflective character. Depends on the story I guess. But although Antagonists, Mentors, and Love Interests are sort of their own categories, they can also be reflection characters. The Protagonist can reflect other characters, too:

In Star Wars, Han Solo shows Luke the possible future of turning his back on the Rebellion and going the selfish route. In the end, Luke doesn't go that way, and even reflects a more heroic option for Han, who joins the heroes in the final battle. Darth Vader, Leia, and Obi Wan Kenobi are the Antagonist, Love Interest (or so it seemed at first), and Mentor, but they also function as Reflection Characters.

In any case, this is something to consider. I'll write more about it when I figure it out a little more.

Yes, I want to Reflect on it.

Talk to ya later!




Z74 at 2:52PM, May 19, 2016

It's interesting to see the pieces that make up good writing exposed . You never really knew that they were in there , but when pointed out you're like oh yeaaa ...

bravo1102 at 1:49PM, May 19, 2016

I heard it referred to as mirror characters. How a supporting cast can be used to mirror various aspects of the protagonist. I can recall some works that even has this shown literally with mirrors. Or the antagonist or some other player saying it in dialogue. A writer can hit the reader over the head with it.

usedbooks at 11:47AM, May 19, 2016

Interesting. I've never heard that term before. Sounds similar to a foil. (Maybe a foil is a type of reflection character?) I always thought Lando was the textbook foil for Han. He shows what Han was like before his character development in Episode 4 and represents his former pre-heroic life.

Bruno Harm at 6:36AM, May 19, 2016

You see this a lot in action movies. where the Protagonist has team mates that are almost just like him or her, but more scared or selfish or careless. a lot of horror movies are kind of like "you see how this character isn't like our hero? that's why they died." It probably works best when used to show a protagonist's vulnerabilities. Like Sam in the LOTR.

KimLuster at 6:29AM, May 19, 2016

Very interesting!! While I've known about the extreme example of this (the Foil); that other characters are also reflective gives me a warm fuzzy!! Cuz it's sorta enlightening when you discover you've been subconsciously creating these sort of characters!! Nuther great post from Banes!!

Ozoneocean at 1:42AM, May 19, 2016

Interesting stuff! And a great little titbit from Guntervallace there about Leia too!

Gunwallace at 1:26AM, May 19, 2016

Great post. It has made me rethink some stuff I'm writing. Leia really was Luke's love interest. Splinter of the Mind's Eye, the novel that was to be the blueprint for the straight-to-video sequels the studio figured would be all they would get out of the franchise even has them hooking up ... there were at least two versions, a 'young adult' and a more steamy version. Alan Dean Foster.

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