B is for Bacon in the BLT’s of Literature
If I could, I would spend all day writing nice little things about writing, about my writing, about poetry and authorship… but if I did that I would probably run out of meaningful things to say before too long. I suppose what I am attempting to convey is that sometimes spending time doing other activities besides your beloved hobby and job enriches life and expands thinking. Thank goodness that every once in a while these other activities demand my time, or my writing would began to suffer even more than it does now.
This time around I wanted to say a bit about character duos. And trios. Character duos and trios. There are plenty of famous character duos in the literary world (think Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson), but much fewer trios and even more solos (a single hero or heroine). There are important differences for all of these, not the least of which is number of characters obviously, and there are different reasons to choose a duo over a solo, or a trio over a duo, etc. I say etc., because maybe you’d like to use a quartet, quintet, sextet or all the way up to maybe a duodectet or a novemdectet in your story or novel. These last two, 12 and 19 respectively, are probably taking it too far, but having almost numberless central characters is not unheard of (see the Game of Thrones septet—yeah, I slipped that one in). What I mean to say is that trios or duos or other numbers bring their own set of advantages and disadvantages.
For instance, in the Game of Thrones series, the author develops the story in multiple places simultaneously across a large fantasy landscape. For each place, there are typically several characters used by George R.R. Martin, the author, to show important occurrences within the storyline. I imagine, though I do not know, that once he writes the last two books all of these little developments will come together in a single, final, clamorous event. But the numberless central characters works for the story, and it would be nigh on impossible to write it from a solo viewpoint, or even from a duo’s or trio’s expanded vision and thoughts. Martin needs a hundred pairs of eyes to make his septet the geographically sweeping narrative that it is.
My thoughts on duos and trios?
My thoughts are these: if you’re going to have a duo, make it a trio. Even if the story is written from a first-person view like the Sherlock Holmes periodicals, or from a third-person limited view like the majority of the Harry Potter series, a trio gives a writer more flexibility and more material to work with. Additionally, with the trio a character or characters may be excluded from certain scenes to revert to duo-like or solo interaction and action. A duo, however, does not offer a trio’s incredible dynamics unless you write in a new character, which then makes it a trio anyway. But which is easier? Creating an entirely new character, or simply excluding one from a scene? Obviously the latter, since good character creation is difficult.
Let me explain some more benefits of trios. For example, inherent within a trio is a minority. We’ll take an easy illustration—an obvious difference—and use gender to clarify this statement. If you’ve got two boys and one girl in your trio, or two girls and one boy, you’ve instantly got a minority. And minorities are wonderful sources of humor and drama. Guess what two girls and one boy will do in their free time? Probably activities which are slightly more girly than normal, and which may just make the boy uncomfortable and resentful until the other two acknowledge and resolve his feelings. The same goes for the opposite configuration. There will always be a minority, because if the trio took a vote, the vote could not be a tie since there is an odd number of voters. If one refrains from voting, well, then you have another fun scenario because that person must somehow be persuaded or persuade the others into taking a side. And then the one ultimately left in minority could dissent, which causes even more drama.
Even more delightful than a minority, is the love-triangle (maybe). Granted, you could have a love-triangle with a duo, but only if you write in a third character who is an outsider by virtue of the word duo. Outsiders, like minorities, are gold mines for humor and drama. Unfortunately for the duo, the same thing could be done with a trio—simply write a fourth character that only two members of the trio fall in love with. If the third member has any personality at all, they will find the other two either ridiculous or disgusting, or possibly become jealous of their attention and time. Ta-dah! You suddenly have an outsider and a minority, which doubles the fun and the possibilities. Or you could make the love-triangle occur within the trio, which makes for some completely different but equally fun scenarios, and once more you don’t have to create a new character.
As a thought experiment, imagine what the Sherlock Holmes stories would be like if there was a third person involved instead of merely Dr. Watson and Sherlock. Changes things, doesn’t it? Even though I love Doyle’s stories as they are, a third character would probably make them more lively and maybe even better. Here’s a second thought experiment for your consideration: imagine if the Harry Potter trio were a duo instead. What if it was only Harry Potter and Hermione Granger? Or only Harry Potter and Ronald Weasley? Or, even more strange, imagine if Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger were combined into a single character, or one of the two combined with Harry Potter instead of each other. (Note: For more on the Harry Potter trio and their dynamics, try reading this excellent article: Erased by Time and Blockbusters: The Cautionary Tale of Ron Weasley.) More likely, the traits of the character being removed would be spread among the remaining two in the trio, which brings me to my last point.
A trio means you can make your characters more human.
What I mean by that is simply this: you will need a certain set of character traits and skills for your protagonist to carry out whatever is before him or her. You could bundle them all into one character, but that makes for a character that is often too complete and therefore boring. You could spread them between two characters, but if you’re going to make a duo, why not make it a trio for reasons already specified? Spread those traits out between three and you’ve got three very flawed, but also very strong characters. Their flaws highlight their strengths and vice versa. That is, their strengths are that much stronger because that’s what they play to. But if they’ve got thirty different strengths, which one do they focus on? For that matter, which one does the reader focus on?
The very essence of being human is being finite and weak, but intrinsically resilient and resourceful. One character cannot, therefore, have too many gifts or at some point he or she will become inhuman (though not in the super-powers sense) and much more boring. Two characters offer a compromise, but they also can seem inhuman since they must fit together and make up for each other perfectly. That doesn’t often happen in life. In life, two people may get along wonderfully, but they must have something in common or they will not get along wonderfully for very long and will eventually go their separate ways. In other words, the duo composed of complete opposites is not realistic and one not composed of complete opposites will have some glaring, awful weakness or else the characters will be inhuman and boring.
E.g., don’t we want stories that are about ourselves? About us? About humans?
But make it a trio, and you can get away with making your group invincible, because individually they’ve got a lot of weaknesses and only a few strengths. If one’s missing, they’ve still got a lot of weaknesses, but all three together become an unstoppable force because all bases are covered—first baseman, second baseman, and third baseman. If one goes down, the second can help him or her up while the third holds the enemy at bay. To put it in biblical terms, “if one prevail against him two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” If you want your protagonist to carry out some great feat, think about this: your character can carry out an even greater feat with a couple of friends.
I mean, golly, who wants a BLT sandwich without the B? What in the world is a LT or a BT or a BL sandwich? Of course, this does not mean that a duo can’t or shouldn’t exist. Some duos are important, or can’t become a trio, but there aren’t many. What’s Peanut Butter without Jelly when it comes to your PB&J? Then again, I don’t remember anyone preferring a PB&J over a BLT. And I’ve never seen a restaurant offer a PB&J, either.
Probably because they’re all selling BLT’s.
Because Trios are better than Duos.
And so is bacon.
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This entry was posted on January 16, 2014 by The Janitor. It was filed under Literature, On Writing and was tagged with author, bacon, BLT, character, childlike, Dr. Watson, duo, Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin, Harry Potter, Ronald Weasley, Sherlock Holmes, trio, writing.