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Reflecting on Reflection Characters

Banes at 12:00AM, July 20, 2017

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!




Tantz_Aerine at 12:29PM, July 21, 2017

I'd also say that sometimes the surrounding characters serve to be the opposite reflection to the protagonist, or complementary in what they cannot provide due to character design. Like for example Obelix is the opposite reflection to Asterix, showing off Asterix's smarts because he's (mostly) stupid (though there are times where I think he's not really as imbecillic as he acts). Or Captain Haddock is complementary to Tintin because he emotes and reacts as most people would expect (and provides the humour too) because Tintin is bland as toast without him.

ozoneocean at 4:10AM, July 21, 2017

They're like the other members of the band- they're around to support the front person and make them look better.

bravo1102 at 11:36PM, July 20, 2017

A simple way to understand the concept of the "foil" is to think of Abbot and Costello. The dynamic of the straight man (often a fast talker) and the gullible often childlike pratfall guy is that of the protagonist and the foil. Abbott is not a reflection of Costello, he's the one Costello bounces everything off of and vice versa. Just like in the Marx brothers Chico was Groucho's foil.

Banes at 7:16PM, July 20, 2017

@Whirly - I see what you mean! I think a foil is more of an "opposite", but they could fall under the "reflection character" umbrella too. Foils have a similar function I guess, the way they emphasize the character of the person they're...foiling.

Whirlwynd at 9:51AM, July 20, 2017

I've heard the term "foil" before in a literary sense but I'm having a hard time figuring out if it's the same thing or not

Banes at 6:42AM, July 20, 2017

@KimLuster: Thanks KL! I definitely thought of The Godstrain and its three other Godstrain-empowered beings that reflect what Kimber 'could' be.

Banes at 6:41AM, July 20, 2017

@bravo: Yep! The Antagonist would be the numero-uno of reflection characters!

Banes at 6:39AM, July 20, 2017

@Ironscarf: heh - I'd love to claim it's a clever...reflection of the content, but I just forgot about Photobucket's new policy.

KimLuster at 4:40AM, July 20, 2017

Good stuff!! I've never heard this term!! Although in hindsight it's kind of a 'duh' revelation (I think we sorta instinctively knew what they were) - but I think my writing could've been a bit better were I aware of this, then I could give more thought on how to include new 'side' characters!!

bravo1102 at 2:47AM, July 20, 2017

Simplest reflection character is the antagonist/protagonist trope. "I am but a dark reflection of you Stupor Guy!"

bravo1102 at 2:44AM, July 20, 2017

No photobucket is holding his images for ransom based on its new third-party hosting policy. No premier account, no images.

Ironscarf at 1:20AM, July 20, 2017

Very interesting article. I'm trying to decide if the image chosen (please update your account to enable 3rd party hosting) is meant to cleverly reflect the content, or if you just need to update your account?

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