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Influencing Character

How Influencing Characters Work in Television and Ensemble Film

Since most episodes of television have three or more Storylines (see our tutorial), and ensemble films can have any number as well, it follows that in these types of stories there will be multiple Protagonists, and these Protagonists usually have some sort of Character Flaw that they need to overcome.  That’s where Influencing Characters come in and they’ll be there for each storyline.  How great is that?  SO GREAT! 

Basically, whenever a Protagonist has an “issue” or “behavioral problem,” (the Character Flaw), there is usually an Influencing Character to help them change or get over it. 

TELEVISION EXAMPLE

The pilot of Baskets, entitled “Renoir”

Storyline A – Chip fails out of clown school and moves back home to Bakersfield where he becomes a rodeo clown to keep his dream alive.

Protagonist: Chip

Storyline Character Flaw: snobby about his job prospects

Influencing Character:  Ernie gives Chip a job and helps him get over his “la did ah” ideas of being a clown.

Storyline B – Chip’s scooter gets wrecked and his insurance adjuster Martha starts driving him around.

Protagonist: Chip

Storyline Character Flaw: doesn’t want Martha around or to help him

Influencing Character:  by the end of the storyline Martha changes his mind about her being around and helping him

Storyline C – Chip tries to get $40 for HBO in the hopes that Penelope with get back together with him

Protagonist: Chip

Storyline Character Flaw: will do anything for Penelope

Influencing Character:  NONE  (Chip’s Flaw doesn’t change in this storyline)

In this example, Chip is the Protagonist for every storyline, but there is a different Influencing Character for each. 

ENSEMBLE FILM EXAMPLE

Here are the Influencing Characters for different storylines in the ensemble feature film The Royal Tenenbaums and how they help the Protagonist of each storyline change:

  • Margot (Inf C) helps Richie (Protag) get over his debilitating, destructive love for her by admitting she loves him. 
  • Royal helps Chas get over his bitterness/grudge towards Royal by saving Chas’s kids and acknowledging his grief.
  • Both Raleigh and Richie help Margot get over her secretive, self-destructive behavior by addressing it. 
  • Henry helps Etheline become open to the idea of a new love relationship by pursuing and supporting her. 
  • Richie helps Eli acknowledge and do something about his drug problem. 
  • Dudley supports Raleigh / is his sidekick while he investigates Margot’s cheating on him. 
  • All of the family members help Royal change from being disingenuous/selfish in his actions toward them to truly caring for their wellbeing.

Note that in a few of the storylines there is more than one Influencing Character.  Remember, there is no limit to how many of each type of character there can be for any particular storyline.  It all comes down to what works.

Stories That Don’t Include Influencing Characters

Sometimes stories will have a specific situation, condition, or Opponent that is engaging in a way that focuses on obstacles rather than change of the Protagonist’s Character Flaw.  Because of this approach, there is no inclusion of an Influencing Character in the story. 

For the most part these types of stories tend to have high stakes or great personal jeopardy for the Protagonist.  This is found most often in the genres of Action and Horror, and in the subgenre of Survival.

Some examples of features that do not have an Influencing Character:  Taken, The Martian, 127 Hours, All is Lost, Kill Bill Vol. 1.

Note that the movie Cast Away falls into this category, but the writers employed a clever work-around and had the Protagonist Chuck create his own Influencing Character of sorts in the volleyball Wilson.  Wilson gave Chuck someone to talk to, therefore helping the audience understand what Chuck was going through and thinking. 

Also good to note that certain storylines of television or ensemble screenplays can have a storyline that has no Influencing Character.  This usually means that the storyline is focused on some other component – like Protagonist’s Goal or Opponent or Adventure.  In other words, that storyline is more about a conflict and its resolution rather than how the Protagonist changes, which is usually where the Influencing Character would be utilized. 

Summation Questions for Identifing an Influencing Character

  • Who accompanies the Protagonist along the adventure?
  • Who helps change the Protagonist’s Character Flaw?
  • Who is the second-most important character to the story?
  • Who helps the Protagonist achieve their goal?
  • Who has the most important relationship with the Protagonist in the story?