In Swan Lake, the black swan Odile is transformed by her warlock father into the white swan, Odette, and posing as Odette she tricks the prince into breaking his oath to the white swan- because clearly making life-binding oaths to a woman you know so little you can mistake her for her potential twin is a BAD IDEA.
It's a fascinating premise: the evil impostor posing as a good protagonist; the evil twin interfering in the life of the good one; the good personality getting disrupted by the evil one. We have always been thrilled and in the same time frightened by the doppelganger.
But what does it offer as a narrative device, what does it explore?
Trying hard not to make a 50 Shades joke here, what is explored often is the extent of one's limits: our best and our worst. Our highest and lowest points in any scale, any aspect of our lives. Presenting a character with their doppelganger is basically to force them to face the darkest side of their own selves.
Often, both the white swan and the black swan exist intertwined in the characters we create (provided we've graced them with a personality rather than just an archetypical trope- though even in that case there may exist nuance and struggle with oneself), and this lurking, brittle balance can be used to both propagate the plot in a story and engage the audience, communicating far more than just the sequence of events: for often, what will bring forth the white swan or the black swan in a character is circumstance.
From all the potential criminals, usually the one that does commit a crime is the one that is presented with the opportunity. The same goes for heroes, and for cowards. It's the situation that will cause a character to react to it in a manner that will not only help the plot progress but also tell a lot to the audience about who this character is.
And often the same character can be a bastard and a saint, a protector and a perpetrator, a compassionate person and a cruel one- depending on the circumstance.
And because if a character is written like this, it's not certain which of the two will surface in his/her next reaction to an upcoming situation, the white or the black swan, suspense is built and drama saturates the interactions of a novel's, a webcomic's or movie's cast.
It goes without say, too, that if the right circumstance to call a character's black swan (or white swan) doesn't arise, then it will be unlike the audience will ever witness it. It doesn't matter though- it's enough that you, the creator, knows which circumstance that is because somehow the fact that it potentially exists, just there in the background, is enough to saturate a character with nuance.
And nuance is really all it takes.
Have you had a character with this potential? If so did they display it? If not, do you know when they could have?
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Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Sept. 29, 2018
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