Tuesday, October 25, 2005



What I am calling clones have been called other names—“mirror characters” and “reflection characters”—but, whatever you call them, they are useful tools of the storyteller’s craft.

A “clone” in story terms is a tool for showing, not telling. Clones are characters in your story that represent what could, should or might happen to the protagonist if s/he takes a particular path.

Two of the Three Little Pigs are clones. It is the failure of the first two pigs that allows us to measure the success of the last pig. This is a simple use of clones, and one of the most obvious to see.

But clones exist in more complicated stories as well. In J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, the pitiful character of Golem is used to show what might happen to the hero Frodo if he is seduced by the power of a magic ring. Just as in the story of the three pigs, we measure the success of one character by the failure of another.

In Tootsie, the woman who is the object of Dustin Hoffman’s desire is dating a lying womanizer. In one scene, Dustin, as a woman, confronts the womanizer and tells him that he understands his womanizing ways better than he thinks. This is a way for Dustin to “see” and confront himself.

The television show ER uses clones to great effect. Often a character will have a problem that is then mirrored by a patient. If a doctor has a drinking problem, for instance, the next thing you know she is treating a drunk driver. With that, she, and we, see what might happen if the character doesn’t change her ways.

Going back to The Wizard of Oz, all three of Dorothy’s companions are clones. They, like she, are looking for something they already have. Having clones is a way of dramatizing ideas; again, a way of showing instead of telling. As I said earlier, the audience sees that the Scarecrow has brains from the very first scene and it is reinforced throughout the story. Perhaps you may remember the line, “Don’t cry, you’ll rust again,” said to the Tin Man. Hmm, turns out he does have a heart, after all.

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