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 12:00AM, Jan. 2, 2020
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