Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Mirroring Characters

As humans we like patterns. We see similarities and differences, and we use them to make sense of the world. I think instinctively as writers we use pattern in our stories.

There are many types of literary patterns: parallel plots, echoing scenes, repetition for emphasis, mirroring plots, and mirroring characters.

Have you ever thought about using mirroring characters in your WIP? Mirrored characters are two characters who in some meaningful sense are reflections of one another. They can mirror similarities or differences. (I sound like a text book. Sorry :)

I think the easiest way to get this concept is an example:

Ebenezer Scrooge and Jacob MarleyComplementary Mirror. As we read The Christmas Carol we can see the similarities between Scrooge and Marley: materialistic, selfish, uncharitable, unforgiving. And as readers we see the inevitable—Scrooge will share Marley’s fate. The mirror then becomes a warning.

Ebenezer Scrooge and Tiny TimContrasting Mirror. While Scrooge is rich, emotionally crippled, and hard hearted. Tiny Tim is poor, emotionally whole (but physically crippled) and soft hearted. As the story continues we see that whatever positive changes Scrooge makes effect Tiny Tim in a positive way, thus tying their lives together. In a way they are two halves of a whole.

Other Examples:

  • Harry and Voldemort—They prove the point, no matter the similarities it is our choices that differentiate us.
  • Elizabeth Bennett and Lydia Bennett—Lydia’s bad choices are a warning to Lizzy.
  • Dr Jeckell and Mr. Hyde—the whole story is about mirroring these characters

I love this idea, and think it is a great way to add tension to a story: What you can’t afford to do to your protagonist, you can do to the mirror character, showing that it is possible, it’s a real threat or hope. Drastic things, irrevocable things, often happen to mirror characters in fiction for just that reason[i].”

Not every reader will want to analyze your work so thoroughly that they can spot every pattern, but patterns bring unity—and readers can feel that unity.


[i] Ansen Dibell, PLOT, (Writers Digest Books 1988) pg 107


A.J. Mullarky said...

Mirroring characters is a really interesting idea. I think it adds a lot to a story. Gatsby and Nick contrast so much... but they also have similarities (for example).

Anonymous said...

I love this concept. Great post!

Abby said...

I haven't thought much about this... (agh, I know - how awful is that?) I love this though. This is a great post and I think it would something to make our characters and story stronger. I especially love when it can serve as a warning to another. Very cool. Glad you shared this today.

E.R. King said...

Yes, yes, yes! I adore books with characters who are entwined! My romance novel has the two MC's mirroring each other and it's spectacular. I can't get enough.

Kim said...

Oh, I love that quote at the end...

Brynne said...

"Not every reader will want to analyze your work so thoroughly that they can spot every pattern, but patterns bring unity—and readers can feel that unity." Love this. I think you really nailed it there. So much of writing a successful book is, in my mind, connecting with readers emotions...and whether they know how the writer did it or not! Great post, Angie!

Angie Cothran said...

A.J. - Gatsby and Nick are a great example.

Raelyn - Thanks :)

Abby - I think it really makes characters stronger.

Emily - All of my MC have at least one mirror. I really think it adds a lot.

Kim - Me too :)

Brynne - I agree. Connecting with readers emotions should be the main goal in fiction. Thanks for stopping by :)

Jenny S. Morris said...

This is an excellent post. I love this idea, and it makes me wonder how I could use it in one of my stories.

Tara Tyler said...

never thought of this! excellent way to compare and contrast, emphasizing characteristics.

Liz said...

I don't think I do this very often, but it's a great idea!

Tiffany Garner said...

This is such a great post! I love mirroring characters. A lot of the time, I don't even realize I'm putting them in my WIP. When you see them in film, theatre, or literature, it makes the story so much clearer and easier to understand. I think Harry and Voldemort is probably one of my favorite mirrors--what would have happened of Tom Riddle had made the same sort of decisions Harry made, or vice-versa? So much in life is about how we react to things that happen to us, and we can become drastically different people based on the choices we make.

Ooh, I just realized that I have a pretty significant mirror in my

Angie Cothran said...

Jenny - Thanks :)

Tara - You're welcome

Liz - Thanks :)

Tiffany - I love when I find that I've done this accidentally.

Trisha said...

I haven't used mirroring characters...but I like the idea!

Miranda Hardy said...

This post will be lingering on my mind today, trying to think of the varying degrees of mirrored characters in literature. lol Great post.

Christa said...

Nice. I hadn't thought of this before but it really makes sense (and I see it all the time in movies!)

Rachel Frost said...

The main characters of my first novel, Tsirash, are definitely foils for each other. It's almost entirely character-driven; watching different characters handling similar situations has always interested me.

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