Dec 02 2008

Writing Tip of the Day: Twins Are Generally Unhelpful

Published by at 8:24 am under Character Development,Writing Articles

Generally, character overlap is problematic.  If two characters are interchangeable or perform the same role in your story, removing one is probably wise.  Having a smaller cast-size tends to save space, improve characterization and facilitates tighter scenes.

Twins (and triplets and quadruplets, etc.) tend to be either indistinguishable copies or slightly modified versions of the same mold.  If they’re indistinguishable, then the second twin is heavily redundant with the first and either can be easily removed.

On the other hand, some twins have only a slight difference, usually along a single character trait.  For example, one is optimistic and the other is downcast, or quiet vs. loud/outgoing, etc.  There are a few problems with that.  First, one-dimensional differentiation is typically flimsy and shallow.  Why not just make them distinct characters?  Second, it’s generally harder for readers to keep twins apart, particularly identical ones.

11 responses so far

11 Responses to “Writing Tip of the Day: Twins Are Generally Unhelpful”

  1. Nathan Holdenon 02 Dec 2008 at 6:43 pm

    Superman and Captain Marvel, for instance?

  2. Daveon 03 Dec 2008 at 3:15 am

    The secret to Wolverine’s success?

    My guess is that he’s an easy identification figure for every scrawny, hairy little kid who gets the crap beaten out of him every single day. He then goes home and practices lunging in front of a mirror and dreams of the day when he can finally pop his claws and disembowel the creeps who make every day a living hell.

    The poor guy doesn’t notice that they only hit harder when he calls them “bub”.

  3. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 04 Dec 2008 at 4:37 am

    (If this comment appears twice, one with an unnamed commenter, it was me.)

    What if the twins are completely different? If one is a surfie with bleached blonde hair who is quite a hit with the ladies, and the other is an emo who is much tormented by his peers, they’re going to be doing very different jobs.

    Jack (Surfie): “Why don’t you TRY to be normal?”

    Ross (Emo): “Yeah, right, and conform to YOUR standards? Please, I’d rather be hit by a speeding bus. At least I get attention for being different, not some beachgoing man-whore.”

    Jack: “You won’t have to be hit by a bus, because I’m gonna kill you right now.”

    Ross: “I’m quaking in my boots! Oh, PLEASE don’t hurt me!”

    Jack: “…You’re an ar*ehole.”

    Ross: “You are, for lack of a better series of insulting words, a moronic jackar*e with the IQ of a garden hose.”

    Jack: “Pale, skinny little vampire! Go back to your coffin before the sunlight turns you to dust!”

  4. B. Macon 04 Dec 2008 at 8:17 am

    OK, but what do you get out of the characters being twins rather than just siblings? (For example, if eliminating the age differential is critical, then it makes sense to make them twins).

  5. Bretton 04 Dec 2008 at 11:22 am

    Remember my superiority complex triplets? are they a problem? I have three because I think it’s a big enough number that they feel clique-ish. If there was only one, they wouldn’t seem as powerful/threatening/effective. Also, each of the triplets has a distinct personality, but they are mentally on the same page. Kinda like three parts of a whole.

    Sarai (leader)- intelligent, facade of sweetness, conniving (picture a pure-blooded Karen, only to the next level.)

    Marai- goofy, “nice”, slightly ditzy, agrees with Sarai without question aka the “Yeeaaah” girl. (See Lilo and Stitch)

    Nítai- destructive, quietly defiant, subtle, maintains outward innocence

    Your thoughts?

    Btw, I just realized that my triplets mirror other girl groups of three. They all seem to have a common motif: Brains/leader girl, “cutie” girl, gloomy/tough girl.

    Powerpuff Girls
    Azula, Ty Lee, and Mai from Avatar
    Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, and Catwoman from Gotham Girls…kinda.

    I didn’t know the “girl group of three” concept was so universal. Will this help me or hurt me? It is my spin on a familiar concept, and I need these characters, but will they feel too “textbook”?

  6. B. Macon 04 Dec 2008 at 11:45 am

    I don’t think the the overlap with other groups of 3 will be much of a problem. When readers feel that characters are “textbook” or otherwise cliche, it’s generally not because of the roles that the characters have but rather because they don’t have enough flavor.

    I’m not sure how much it helps to have them be triplets. The main cost is that twins/triplets are kind of a cliche, and that putting them in the same family will probably limit their dramatic potential. (There won’t be as much opportunity for them to act as individuals, I fear).

    Making them family members also changes their reason for being together. If they were unrelated, then I think there would be a sinister undertone of “you’re not one of us because you’re not cool/pure/elven enough.” If they’re related, then the undertone is that “you’re not one of us because you’re not in our family.” I feel like that’s a lot less menacing. If these girls are supposed to symbolize pureblood resistance to, umm, a half-blood prince, then it would probably make them more universal to have them be unrelated.

    What do you think?

  7. Bretton 04 Dec 2008 at 12:07 pm

    Well, the reason they are related is so that they can also play the “long, respected family line” card. Allow me to explain. The triplets are part of the Kaenai family. (name subject to change.) That is important to the backstory, as well as present events.

    The Kaenai family and several other Zhudai elf warriors saved the life of Matadeth Kurei Zoramír (Alex’s elven ancestor) in the year 1046 of the Second Eon during a conflict with the Chith. They were awarded for their brave service and Matadeth Kurei organized them into the Matadeth Kai To, or “Brotherhood of the Prince”, called Kai To for short. They swore eternal loyalty to the descendants of Matadeth Kurei until released from service, either by their lord, or by death. then, Kai To membership has not been restricted to a specific family, but only to the best of the best elf warriors. However, in order to be a Kai To commanding officer, one must be able to prove descent from the original Kaenai family. The Kai To are like an elven secret service or SWAT team. The Triplets are Kai To agents as well as Knights-in-Training. Kai To membership sometimes overlaps with Knight membership. The Kai To requirements are much more stringent than the Knight requirements.

    This is important for three reasons:

    1. This gives them “eliteness”.

    2. When “Corrupt Politician” Valshion Marleo tries to take over he attempt to sway the Kai To to his side after the untimely death of Matadeth Loraketh Zoramír. He intends to use them to consolidate his power and ensure that Zoramír’s heir will never take the throne. The Kai To however, are none too impressed with his plan and refuse. Marleo responds by dissolving the Kai To, which still convene in secret afterwards, replacing them with his own secret service: the Mortura, or “Enforcers”. When Alex returns from captivity, there is a battle between the Kai To and the Mortura. The Kai To make swift work of them, reinstating Alex as Matadeth.

    3. Because the Triplets are Kai To, when Alex is elected, they are bound by honor to serve and protect him, no matter how much they hate him. EXTREME IRONY and payback for Alex ensue.

    Your thoughts?

  8. Bretton 04 Dec 2008 at 2:21 pm

    Your thoughts?

  9. Ragged Boyon 04 Dec 2008 at 3:21 pm

    This reposter is for Brett.

    Your thoughts?

  10. Bretton 04 Dec 2008 at 6:00 pm


  11. B. Macon 04 Dec 2008 at 6:10 pm

    That’s a lot of backstory for what I imagine to be fairly minor characters. Additionally, a lot of the backstory is far removed from the present of your story (like what happened in 1046 of the Second Eon). I think an editor would be really pleased if you recounted what happened in 1046 in an extremely brief way… do you think you could get it below 40-50 words?

    Here are some other random suggestions and observations.

    –I’d recommend just calling them Brotherhood of the Prince rather than introducing unnecessary elven words. That’s a strong name, I feel.

    –To the standard American reader, I suspect that nepotism and competence/eliteness are mortal enemies. If this group is supposed to seem as competent as a SWAT team, then what would you think about eliminating the detail about COs having to prove descent from the Kaenai family? If you’re really attached to that requirement, I’d extend it to all members to remove a potential source of confusion. (“does this group disdain humans or not?”)

    –I feel like I’m struggling with the names and neologisms here.

    –Regarding your #2 point, I’d recommend making sure that Alex plays a central role there.

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