THE DREADED DOPPELGÄNGERS
Why I Reject Scripts About Twins Twice as Fast
When I was in high school, there were three sets of twins – two fraternal and one identical. The latter – a pair of sisters a year ahead of me – were a particular object of fascination. What would it be like, I mused, to have a lookalike sib who excelled in the very subjects that weren’t my strong suit (i.e., gym and chemistry)? Would our parents be so attuned to our personalities we could never fool them by trading places? Would we play silly tricks on friends or make shopkeepers think they were experiencing déjà vu? I remember peppering these girls with questions about telepathic communication or if one of them stubbed a toe in gym class would the other feel it.
Decades later as a professional script consultant and contest judge, I’ve discovered that in any given month, I can count on at least a dozen screenplays employing zygosity as a plot device, the authors apparently unaware that almost every formula involving twins has appeared – and reappeared – in movies, plays, books and pop culture since the days of Romulus and Remus.
It’s further amazing how many writers specify that sibling characters are twins despite the fact this never enters into the storyline. (As one client explained, “I just thought it would look cool”). Add to this the cliché that at least a third of all pregnant females in sitcoms and soaps see double in their ultrasounds. Apparently if one baby is cute, twin babies are guaranteed to fly off the adorability charts.
If you’re contemplating a plot using doubles as a technique to deceive readers, be forewarned of rejection: at the end of the day, the volume of twin tales that have already been told translates to very few fresh spins left.
Most of the writers that pen scripts about twins are neither twins themselves nor do twins run in their families. While this can also be said for those who write about drug lords, fashionistas and secret agents, a certain amount of research needs to be invested in themes that are out of one’s sphere of knowledge. Did you know, for example:
- Identical twins have the same DNA but don’t have identical fingerprints.
- Since 1980, twin births have steadily increased. Fertility drugs are a contributing factor.
- Identical twins typically outlive fraternal twins.
- Cirque Du Soleil is the largest employer of twins.
- Twins are frequently preemies.
- West Africa produces 4 times more twins than anywhere else in the world. No one knows why.
Twins have been with us throughout the ages – some as rivals, some as like-minded peers.
- Melanesian myths attribute stupid acts of nature to To Karvuvu and all the smart stuff to his brother To Kabinana.
- Cleopatra and Marc Anthony had twin offspring.
- Castor and Pollux – the Gemini boys – merited their own zodiac sign.
- Rome might have been called Reme if the latter hadn’t been killed by his greedy twin. Such are the risks of being raised by wolves.
- Biblical lore yields the story of Essau and Jacob.
- Benedict and his twin sister St. Scholastica found their mutual calling in the church.
- Conjoined Siamese twins Chang and Eng Bunker fathered 22 children during the 19th Because their spouses constantly fought, the brothers split their time between two separate houses.
- Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren became synonymous with advice to the lovelorn.
- To accommodate California’s child labor laws, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen both played Michelle in Full House.
Lastly, how do you tell twins apart? Whether it’s classroom capers, hospital mix-ups or mistaken identities, film and TV writers commonly resort to these gender-specific clues:
- Evil male twins usually have facial hair in the form of a moustache, goatee or beard. In contemporary settings, evil twins dress like thugs or bankers. Good male twins often wear glasses and aren’t fashion-conscious.
- Evil female twins wear shorter skirts, higher heels, more makeup (often including a beauty mark), and speak in lower, sultry registers. Good female twins are the drab ducklings that have yet to embrace their inner swan.
What’s the best twin spin you’ve ever read or seen on screen? Share it with us in your comments.
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