Welcome to the latest post on Character Types in fiction. Today, I’m featuring a post by a guest writer and a dear friend of mine. Please welcome Sarah Fluegel as she writes about twins and their common tropes in fiction!
There’s something about twins that’s naturally intriguing to people—something about their similarities and the way they act around their twin draws people in. A lot of this curiosity and interest overflows into books and media. Whether they are identical or fraternal, the same or different genders, the interest exists whenever twins appear in a story. The thing is, though, that just like any other character, twins can fall into common tropes. They can even become a trope themselves. Though interesting to read, these common tropes can become boring for viewers or readers but oh so easy for the writer to fall into.
The first trope that often goes along with twins is the overly identical trope; this is when characters go beyond being biologically identical. This is creepy identical, like the twins from The Shining identical. They look, dress, talk, and act exactly the same. They’re so similar that they might as well be the same person.
Twins who fall in to the overly identical trope are left with out much character development and gain most of their interest from the fact that they are twins. Tim and Jim from Kim Possible act almost exactly alike, and the only thing that really separates them is the color of their shirt. Padma and Parvati, like Fred and George in the Harry Potter movies, are even sorted in to the same house and dress in nearly the same dress for the Yule ball.
The problem that happens when authors take identical twins to the extreme is that they loose opportunity to develop character for each individual person. Not that any of the authors did a horrible job of writing their characters, but it also goes to show how easily this trope can be fallen into.
The second trope that pops up a lot in media is the polar opposite twins. They may look alike, but their personalities are night and day. This can be a good thing, but like the identical trope, it can easily go wrong. This trope is where when one twin likes something or does something really well, and the other likes or does the complete opposite. If one is artsy, then the other plays sports. If one can sing, the other is tone deaf. Or if one is suave and a romantic, you can bet the other one can barely even talk to the opposite sex.
In the Sweet life of Zack and Cody, Zach is the “cool”, athletic, ladies’ man while Cody is the nerdy, genius with no skills with the ladies. By playing into these stereotypes, writers can run the risk of flattening their characters. Instead of the rich characters that writers hope to create by creating opposite personalities for their twins, they can become one-dimensional. Their characteristics can become so reliant on the other person that it doesn’t allow the character to surprise you.
When you know that one twin is going to act a certain way and that the other twin will act in the opposite way, the plot and characters becomes too predictable. You lose a lot of what makes the characters seem real, that each person is unique, and their interest don’t always follow the status quo. Now all authors can fall into stereotyping, but it seems to happen more easily with twins because you have another character to use the “opposite” traits.
In the end of the major problems with twins is that authors often forget that they are not writing one character but two. In my own life, I’ve meet people who just don’t get that twins aren’t identical in everything. They each have their own brain and thoughts and experiences that are entirely separate from their “other half.”
Twins aren’t photocopies of each other and they also aren’t photo negatives of each other. There’s cross over in interests and in friends. There’s similarities in speech patterns and mannerisms. But they are each uniquely their own person.
George and Fred from Harry Potter are a good example of twins that are identical but still stand as their own person. Sure, they may look and act similar, but enough character development has gone into making them their own person.
There are also twins that have the polar opposite personality but still seem like twins. Dipper and Mabel from Gravity Falls are a good example of polar opposites who still seem like twins. Dipper is a smart and focused monster-hunter while Mabel is a sparkle-obsessed, joy filled ball of sunshine. Throughout the show, they display interest in the other twin’s passion and have a loyalty that can really only come from being a twin.
My favorite set of twins in media is Marvel’s Wanda and Pietro Maximoff. When you are first introduced, you don’t know they’re twins, partially because they are fraternal, partially due to good writing. They act like twins—truly they do—even though some audiences may disagree. They don’t wear similar colors or talk in the same way, but they have a loyalty and a connection that is something different than regular siblings have. It’s not that they are polar opposites or exactly the same, but they are people that just happen to be twins.
Which is how twins should be written, whether they are identical or fraternal—just as people who happen to have another person running around who either looks startling similar to themselves or simply shared a room since before they were born.
Meet the author:
Sarah Fluegel is an artist, English major, and art editor at her university’s literary magazine. She grew up with two older sisters who happen to be identical twins. When she’s not in class, she spends the rest of her time trying to keep her dragons from burning down her university.
Let’s chat! Be sure to give Sarah a warm welcome! Who are your favorite sets of twins in fiction? What are your (least) favorite twin tropes?