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The “Influence Character” in a Nut Shell

By Melanie Anne Phillips

Stories have a mind of their own, as if they were a person in their own right in which the structure is the story’s psychology and the storytelling is its personality.


Characters, in addition to acting as real people,, also represent facets of the overall Story mind, such as the Protagonist which stands for our initiative to effect change and the Skeptic archetype which illustrates our doubt.


Yet in our own minds is a sense of self, and this quality is also present in the Story Mind as the Main Character. Every complete story has a Main Character or the readers or audience cannot identify with the story; they cannot experience the story first hand from the inside, rather than just as observers.


This Main Character does not have to be the Protagonist anymore than we only look at the world through our initiative. Sometimes, for example, we might be coming from our doubt or looking at the world in terms of our doubt. In such a story, the Main Character would be the Skeptic, not the Protagonist.


Any of the facets of our minds that are represented as characters might be the Main Character – the one through whose eyes the readers or audience experience the story. And in this way, narratives mirror our minds in which we have a sense of self (“I think therefore I am”) and it might, in any given situation, be centered on any one of our facets.


Yet there is one other special character on a par with the Main Character that is found within ourselves and, therefore, also within narrative: the Influence Character.


The Influence Character represents that “devil’s advocate “ voice within ourselves – the part of ourselves that validates our position by taking the opposing point of view so that we can gain perspective by weighing both sides of an issue. This ensures that, as much as possible, we don’t go bull-headedly along without questioning our own beliefs and conclusions.


In our own minds, we only have one sense of self – one identity. The same is true for narratives, including fictional stories. The Influence Character is not another identity, but our view of who we might become if we change our minds and adopt that opposing philosophical point of view. And so, we examine that other potential “self” to not only understand the other side of the issues, but how that might affect all other aspects or facets of ourselves. In stories, this self-examination of our potential future selves appears as the philosophical conflict and ongoing argument over points of view, act by act.


Ultimately we (or in stories, the Main Character) will either become convinced that this opposing view is a better approach or will remain convinced that our original approach is still the best choice.


No point of view is good or bad in and of itself but only in context. What is right in one situation is wrong in another. Situations, however, are complex, and often are missing complete data. And so we must rely on experience to fill in the expected pattern and to project the likely course it will take. Entertaining the opposite point of view shines a light in the shadows of our initial take on the issues. Psychologically, this greatly enhances our chances for survival.


This is why the inclusion of an Influence Character in any narrative is essential not only to fully representing the totality of our mental process but to provide a balanced look a the issues under examination by the author.