I just saw a two-person play where one character did the majority of the talking and the other seemed to exist only to give the other character someone to talk to. I've seen this happen in books and TV as well, and sometimes a normally strong character will take this role temporarily. Usually the conversation plays out something like this:

A: < Talks for 3 minutes about ducks >
B: Oh, interesting, so you're saying that ducks can fly and swim?
A: Exactly! < Talks for 3 more minutes >
B: So what about geese? I've heard about them too.
A: Oh, those are similar, but there are some differences. < Talks about geese >

And so on and so forth. Character B never really contributes anything meaningful to the conversation and seems to only be there so it's not a 90-minute monologue. I would certainly view this as Bad Writing, and something that would be more appropriate in an children's educational video.

Is there a term or trope for this type of character or scene?

  • "Sherlock's skull"? As in the one on the mantel? Jul 1, 2019 at 14:07
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    Not an answer at all, but reminds me of Rubber Duck Debugging, where the duck is just there to listen and let the speaker figure out their own problem by explaining it out loud.
    – JPhi1618
    Jul 2, 2019 at 16:31
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    "Oh, interesting, so you're saying that ducks can fly and swim?" This has made my day. Jul 2, 2019 at 19:37
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    Doctor Who always called them companions.
    – IchabodE
    Jul 2, 2019 at 23:27
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    A "Harvey" - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harvey_(play)
    – ggdx
    Jul 3, 2019 at 12:47

5 Answers 5


I believe in this case, a 'sounding board' fits the bill, simply a person to bounce concepts, dialogue, and ideas off of. Just how some characters act as nought but mouthpieces, this one acts as nothing but an earpiece.

  • 2
    There certainly could be overlap with a sounding board, but I think they are quite distinct things. Being a sounding board is not a character archetype so much as something you can do in real life, and it also involves feedback. A sounding board is someone you say something to, specifically to check how they react to it. Without that reaction/feedback, they are not a sounding board.
    – smithkm
    Jul 2, 2019 at 20:46

I don't believe there is a single term for this kind of character. The terms usually applied to those characters roll in relation to the protagonist are Foil, Confidante, and stooge -- or as I call them Chumley.

The Foil serves to highlight the protagonist's qualities and make them stand out stronger by the comparison.

The Confidante permits deeper insight into the protagonist virtues, but not their flaws -- else they'd be a foil.

Stooge is someone that asks questions so the protagonist can speak to them. I call them Chumleys because that was Chumley's role in the Tennessee Tuxedo Cartoons.

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    TVTropes calls the latter archetype The Watson after the character from the Sherlock Holmes series.
    – Philipp
    Jul 3, 2019 at 11:52
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    You could also call them "the Glaucon," because Glaucon was an expression of this trope in Plato's Republic (the character says almost nothing but "hmm, interesting" as the protagonist lectures). I'm not sure if this predates all other examples, but it's in the running for sure. Jul 3, 2019 at 14:27

The term for this person is the interlocutor, from the Latin. It means the one who "speaks between," and often used for a character in a dialog --for example, the Platonic dialogs --whose role is secondary to the main speaker.


If the person only asks questions, you could also call them the querent.


Straight Man

A member of a team of comic performers who plays a supporting role by helping to set up jokes and punch lines through engaging in preparatory dialog with the principal comedian. https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/straight_man

See also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straight_man

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    That's for jokes and serves as a juxtaposition. OP is talking about a character that is there to just technically avoid having a monologue. Or alternatively/in addition to justify exposition from the protagonist.
    – VLAZ
    Jul 2, 2019 at 6:37
  • @VLAZ Welcome to Writing|SE, you might want to actually click on the links BEFORE you try to correct. The links disambiguate, and include alternate terms (such as "stooge" mentioned by EDL) under other conditions than just comedy. Also as an established stage role, it will be used to cover similar concepts when there is no word (because in real life things don't fit perfectly in boxes to match definitions on wiktionary). Assuming the goal is to find an established term, this is one of them. Not all questions have 1 answer.
    – wetcircuit
    Jul 2, 2019 at 13:42
  • A Straight Man can do more than just give the Silly Man someone to talk to. Their job is also to contrast the Silly Man and make them seem sillier by comparision. A good Straight Man can also talk just as much as the Silly Man by pointing out the absurdity of their statements. There are even scetches were most of the humor comes from the Straight Man getting wound up by the antics of the Silly Man. Like Monty Python's Parrot Sketch, for example.
    – Philipp
    Jul 3, 2019 at 12:00

This is an "info dump" or "exposition dump". The character doing it is Mr Exposition. (Warning: TV Tropes links.)

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    Following the Tropes link, the side character would then be a Watson
    – David K
    Jul 2, 2019 at 16:33
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    The question asks what the other character is called, not the one who's emitting all that exposition. Can you edit to answer that? Jul 3, 2019 at 16:22

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