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Reflection Characters

Banes at 12:00AM, Jan. 2, 2020

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 I found interesting!

Happy New Year!




Banes at 8:43AM, Jan. 3, 2020

@hushicho - I don't disagree. Except this is nothing we "have to" do. It's a way to highlight characters and stakes. It's a way to approach things. One angle to look at things. Many characters have multiple functions in a story. Thanks for your thoughts!

hushicho at 12:34AM, Jan. 3, 2020

I can't agree with your classifications of the Star Wars characters, mainly because while they do occupy *some* of those roles, that oversimplifies them...and Leia is not just the love interest, she's an extremely capable leader in a situation no one could have done much better in. The story of A New Hope does often revolve around Luke, but I would say more that he's one of several protagonists, without whom the story could not advance. I think perhaps it might be better to say that we need to make sure characters respond to each other and reflect qualities about each other, and have this continue in a natural way that also reflects feeling of the real world and the way real people interact.

Banes at 8:13AM, Jan. 2, 2020

@Avart - thanks Avart! Yeah I’ve never purposely done this either.

Banes at 8:12AM, Jan. 2, 2020

@Sharose - my ensemble cast means the protagonist changes too. And characters shift roles. The “refl cation characters” thing seems like it could happen unintentionally/automatically just in the writing of a story

Avart at 7:14AM, Jan. 2, 2020

Interesting @Banes, I haven't heard about this type of character, but definitely I need to work on that.

ShaRose49 at 6:38AM, Jan. 2, 2020

Sorry, accidentally hit the post button twice!!

ShaRose49 at 6:37AM, Jan. 2, 2020

Oh’s hard for me to figure out who exactly are the reflection characters in my stories, it almost seems like every one of them could be at a different time, since the role of protagonist (over time) switches back and forth between several different characters.

Banes at 5:34AM, Jan. 2, 2020

@Andreas_Helixfinger - Absolutely - You expressed that beautifully! Makes me want to read those books. ...Or see the movies again. xD

Andreas_Helixfinger at 2:27AM, Jan. 2, 2020

Two of the strongest examples of reflection characters I've come across in film adaptations is Samvise Gamgi, Frodo Baggins loyal and always dependable travelling companion, and Gollum, his guide to Mordor whos been corrupted and twisted by the ring of power, in Lord of the Rings. Sam's a perfect reflection of what Frodo used to know and used to be, desperatily struggling to hold on to it as the ring of power, that he has made himself the carrier of, is crippling him from within with its evil influence. Meanwhile, Gollum is on the opposite end of the spectrum, a reflection of what Frodo will become if the ring has its way with him. Sam ressembles everything good in Frodo, everything worth fighting for, friendship, courage, trust, kindness and love, all the things that is being gradually stripped away from Frodo as the story progresses towards the end. Sam: "I cannot carry the ring for you... but I can carry you!" I weeped when I saw that scene in theater back in the day^^

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