I'm looking for a word or two that describes someone that a protagonist interacts with, but is not necessarily a rival or an ally, but could be. That entity could also be neutral, or change from one to the other.

Things I've scrapped:

  • antagonist: they don't have to antagonize the protagonist
  • opponent, adversary, contender: they're not necessarily competing in anything
  • conversational partner: they're not necessarily friendly and might attack, or might not even speak to the protagonist

What I'm considering right now:

  • encounter/encounted: seems most neutral, but etymological it means meeting an adversary (according to google dictionary)

sample sentences:

  • Your _______ stares at you belligerently.
  • Your _______ smiles at you.
  • 1
    If they aren't currently anything to you (i.e. not something positive like a friend or something negative like an enemy) then you can't use "your" at the beginning of your sentence. Try using "A" instead, e.g. "A character stares at you belligerently".
    – AndyT
    Jul 20, 2017 at 14:32
  • 1
    Sounds like a counterpart, but belligerent doesn't make that neutral. Jul 20, 2017 at 14:38

4 Answers 4


There's a novel by Robertson Davies called Fifth Business, which describes a character somewhat along the lines you describe, named Dunstan Ramsay.

According to the Wikipedia article, Davies later confessed to having made up the term himself. The novel is no longer so widely-read, so I'm not suggesting that Fifth Business is right for your purpose. However, a lot has been written about Davies and his writing, and in one of the more academic works you might find exactly the word you want.

A search for "Dunstan Ramsay" on Google returns a large number of hits, including a WordPress blog devoted entirely to explaining the book's main characters in terms of Jungian archetypes!

Somewhere in this I found the term character foil, which might suit your needs.

  • Foil "A person or thing that contrasts with and so emphasizes and enhances the qualities of another." ODO. So yes. Jul 21, 2017 at 16:40

Working under the assumption that the person who may become your antagonist is not a good friend of yours, I think acquaintance fits best there. Otherwise, contact would also work.

Edit: By chance, I happened on the word interlocuter today, which reminded me of this post. It's a little formal, but it matches your request perfectly.


A deuteragonist is the "the person second in importance to the protagonist," so if the character is of any significance, that may work.


The person you are describing is what would be termed a non-player-character (NPC) in a roleplaying game -- a person you encounter who might be hostile, or friendly, perhaps a source of information or resources. (There are more examples at TV Tropes) The idea is that such a person is present only to advance the plot for the Important Characters, though an enhanced NPC might well become an important part of a team (for example, a knight might have a squire, or a doctor a receptionist, who provides support services without functioning as a source of plot.)

Unfortunately, there's no single non-gaming term I can think of that really covers this, which is why the genre needed such a term.

Similarly, in a movie you need extras and supporting/bit characters to pad out the scene without taking focus from the stars.

Something like

  • The foil stares at you belligerently.
  • The minor character smiles at you.

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