Thursday, April 1, 2010
Twins in fiction
Some cliches to avoid…
The Good vs. the Evil
Sidney Sheldon’s Master of the Game features identical twins Eve and Alexandra, but Eve is like a female version of Damien from The Omen. She attempts to burn Alexandra alive when they’re both five, then grows up to become a promiscuous murderess. No one sees through her façade, and Alexandra adores her, which made it near-impossible to identify with Alexandra as well.
The concept occurs in speculative fiction as well – Raistlin and Caramon from the DragonLance books came to mind instantly. It doesn’t even have to be as drastic as good and evil, or good and morally ambiguous. The Sweet Valley High series revolved around Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield, who were the studious nice girl and the popularity princess respectively.
It’s better to give each of them traits because those work for them as individuals, rather than because said traits contrast with whatever the other twin has – e.g. the first twin is cold and sarcastic, so the second one must be kind and caring.
And if there is sibling rivalry, why not for a good reason? A real-life example: Amy and Karen Grossman were twin figure skaters, but Amy was better, and professional figure skating is intensely competitive. There’s only room for one at the top of the podium. That’s realistic conflict, which isn’t easily resolved either.
This is where the twins change places, usually so they can see what each other’s different lives are like.
Again, no one sees through it. Judith Michael’s first book, Deceptions, dealt with this plot, where aristocratic Sabrina and housewife Stephanie trade places, so Stephanie can enjoy a Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous existence and Sabrina can see what it’s like to be a married mom of two.
There’s no idea so tired that a good author can’t make it readable, but I wouldn’t find the Switch easy to buy if one twin can fit too neatly into another’s life. There’s more to a person than just their appearance – their way of speaking, preferences in jewelry, daily habits, all of these contribute to making up a person, and changes in too many of these should be noticeable.
Even if friends can’t put their fingers on whatever’s changed, they shouldn’t be a hundred per cent accepting of the impostor either (unless the impostor has had a great deal of practice in passing for the other person).
Twins in both fiction and real life often have similar names, but one disadvantage of giving them such names is that it emphasizes their twin-ness rather than their individuality. The writer has to work that much harder to show that they’re different (as Jacqueline Wilson did for Ruby and Garnet in Double Act).
And it can get twee. The heroine’s two sets of younger twin sisters in Bertrice Small’s Blaze Wyndham were called Bliss, Blythe, Larke and Linnette, but those kinds of names are more or less normal in historical erotic romance.
I was less keen on Dawn and Eve in Piers Anthony’s Xanth novels, and I gave up on that series altogether around the time that the twins met two brothers called Mourning and Knight.
Twins can magically sense each other’s presence or emotions. And the flip side is?
When there isn’t one – or when the supposed link between the twins is only used as a plot device – this can be a tired cliché. On the other hand, a mental link can be a lot of fun for writers to play with.
Twins can be one mind in two bodies, so there’s no need for them to talk between each other any more than your left hand needs to communicate with your right. This can be very creepy. Dean Koontz’s novel Whispers makes great, if horrifying use, of such a setup.
Or they can have a bond which diminishes both of them in some way. In one of my worlds, twins are always born without intelligence or personalities. But they also have a link which makes them the perfect means of long-distance contact, since they’re able to mindlessly send whatever they hear to their siblings, who will then repeat it. They’re like living telephones.
And the bond doesn’t have to be only mental or emotional. If you’d like to have twins being very different, maybe there’s a secret but immutable balance in the universe that means only one of them can be rich and successful, or intelligent, or happy. Not both. What would happen when one of them figured that out?
What are your most disliked twin-cliches?