Clones, or mirror characters, reflection characters, variation-on-theme characters, are characters who highlight, through comparison and contrast, aspects–especially thematic aspects and stakes–of the main character. Let’s see if we can develop some clones for a couple of the one-liners we’ve got going:
1. Our human-rights-attorney story: When the money runs out before the case against his transgendered partner is over, a human rights lawyer joins a prestigious and wealthy law firm not knowing that the managing partner is the devil behind the lawsuit. Our thematic premise is:
Standing up to those in power leads to self empowerment;
cowering to those in power leads to disempowerment.
Let’s say we want our main character and his partner to succeed. That means we could use a clone to show failure, which, for our story, is cowering and disempowerment.
For our lawyer’s clone, we could have another lawyer at the firm who came in as an accomplished idealist who succumbs to the pressures of the firm and, dramatizing his disempowerment, starts to drink and do what the firm tells him even though he hates himself for it and maybe he commits suicide.
Then for our transgendered character, we could have maybe a previous transgendered character, who was recruited by human rights attorneys to be the face of a case that would push and expand civil rights legalities. And we could show how that client succumbed to the threats and pressures of a clone–or even the same–law firm and managing devil partner. Maybe this person became afraid of people, afraid of going outside, and became a recluse.
Our main character will eventually show courage in standing up for himself, so when the story starts out he needs to be someone who cowers. Maybe he’s had it easy so far in his legal cases; he hasn’t had much push back. Meanwhile the devil attorney has had plenty of pressure and pushback and just gets stronger.
To show this in the movies, they would cross-cut back and forth showing each attorney at work: our hero having easy but successful cases with lots of financial and intellectual help, one time cowering and giving in at the slightest pushback, but still having an overall successful career so far; and our antagonist maybe starting out with everything against him, poor, no role models, no mentors, busting his ass and standing up tall to people who should intimidate him into giving up; he loses some, but wins too, until, years later, he’s now managing partner at this prestigious firm.
If we used a dual perspective point-of-view, we could show this comparison and contrast too.
Stakes could include jail or death or injury or loss of the relationship. We’ve already got an attorney above showing death is possible and maybe the clone client ended up in jail for a while, where he was roughed up and maimed. And maybe they go to speak to the clone’s former partner who is still devastated by the deterioration and eventual loss of the relationship.
2. Our diamond bullets story: When his brother’s gang develops a diamond bullet that can penetrate bulletproof vests, a scholarship student must decide whether to help his brother avenge the death of their gang-leader father or protect the father of his girlfriend, the Police Commissioner of New York City. Our thematic premise is:
Acceptance leads to family;
Revenge leads to loss of family.
So, again, let’s have our main character be successful. This means we want someone else to show that revenge leads to loss of family. I think the obvious clone here is the gang-leader father who was killed. We could expand on this so that he was In the process of trying to exact revenge for something (maybe something to do with the diamond bullets–keeping the story tight) when he was murdered, leading to the brothers becoming fatherless, losing their family.
Our main character grew up in a tough environment, with a dad and older brother both heavily involved in gangs and violence and the other stuff that goes along with that. Here we can compare and contrast the two brothers. We can see just how upstanding our main character is, in that he is going to a prestigious school by means of an academic scholarship, by contrasting him against what he could have become: his brother grew up in the same circumstances, but shunned school to instead follow in their dad’s violent footsteps.
We, of course, can have the brother kill someone to show that the stakes for the Police Commissioner are real. We could also show a kid at our main character’s school being expelled for a meager offense, maybe he drops a cigarette, and that’s enough at this private school to be expelled. And, of course, that’s way less of an offense than the amount of drugs the gang threatens to plant on our main character in order to get him to help them kill the Commissioner. So once those drugs are planted and only the gang knows where, we feel for the kid because we know he’ll be expelled when the gang bribes a student into reporting the drugs and saying that our main character hid them there.
Well that’s it for me. What about you? What sort of creative ways have you come up with for using clones to show variations on theme and aspects of character and stakes?
UP NEXT, ON MONDAY
We’ll dig deeper into theme by looking at other thematic tools that can show, rather than tell, our theme.