Is there a good way to tell a reader it's OK to confuse 2 characters?

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  • Is there a good way to tell a reader it's OK to confuse 2 characters?

    When you saw "The Social Network" or read the script, did it matter to you which Winklevoss was Cameron and which was Tyler? Were you concerned that you might have confused who was who?

    I ask because I have a comedy with two characters who are a team - supporting characters. They are always seen with each other. Yes, there are some distinguishing characteristics - one watches reality-TV shows, the other doesn't. But it's more important to me that the reader think of them as "those two idiots". I've even given them somewhat similar names.

    Like with Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd in "Diamonds are Forever". If you read the script, would it matter if you mixed them up? Or Tweedledum and Tweedledee?

    Here's the problem: I've gotten some notes from readers that they confuse these two characters. And while I don't care that a reader actually confuses them, I don't want a reader to think that's a problem.

    So I'd like to hint to the reader that this is OK: Please feel free to confuse these two characters.

    Any ideas for how to do this?

  • #2
    Re: Is there a good way to tell a reader it's OK to confuse 2 characters?

    I'd have some fun with it...

    Fred (or is it Phil?) reaches for his wallet.

    Jane tosses the ball to Phil (or is it Fred?), who throws it back.

    ...then the confusion appears deliberate.
    TimeStorm & Blurred Vision Book info & blog: https://stormingtime.com//

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    • #3
      Re: Is there a good way to tell a reader it's OK to confuse 2 characters?

      It's actually a running gag in Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. At some point they even get confused which is which themselves.

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      • #4
        Re: Is there a good way to tell a reader it's OK to confuse 2 characters?

        I named two characters Pete and Repeat and no one complained.

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        • #5
          Re: Is there a good way to tell a reader it's OK to confuse 2 characters?

          I like hscope's idea. It might add an extra laugh (well, smile) and tells the reader that your intention is for the audience to confuse the two characters.

          Bill
          Free Script Tips:
          http://www.scriptsecrets.net

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          • #6
            Re: Is there a good way to tell a reader it's OK to confuse 2 characters?

            Originally posted by goldmund View Post
            It's actually a running gag in Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. At some point they even get confused which is which themselves.
            That running gag actually exists in HAMLET and it's taken a step further in Stoppard's play/film.

            I think the key is to comment upon the intended confusion within the script and/or story, whether it's just giving a tip-off to the reader or having the protag confuse the two characters.

            Keep in mind, there's a big difference between characters like the Winklevosses in THE SOCIAL NETWORK, who are nearly identical but have personality differences (and even conflict between each other), and, say, the two Agent Johnsons in DIE HARD, who look nothing alike but essentially behave as though they are one and the same. The latter is much easier to establish from the get-go and be done with it, because it's clear that it doesn't matter which one said what. With the Winkelvosses, there was a tightrope to walk where we know these twins have different feelings, but it never plays out in a where where we have to stop and think "Wait, I need to know which brother this is."

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            • #7
              Re: Is there a good way to tell a reader it's OK to confuse 2 characters?

              This is a little tangential to this, but has some correlation:

              I just read a script where the writer wanted to lead another character into believing that twins were double-switching identities, when in fact they weren't. In other words, each twin was pretending to be the other, pretending to be them. In other words, they were themselves, but wanted the other character to think they were only playing themselves. Clear? Yeah, it's confusing. It was important for the story, and onscreen would play great, but on the page, it was confusing. The writer did it by instituting temporary character distinctions, something like "Sally's twin" instead of the character's name Mae,* in the middle of the climactic scene.

              I got why the writer did it, but it produced a few pages of muddle for me, especially since there were other multiples of other characters in there.

              This is a case where the viewer would had an advantage over the reader, but in this case, I think you might have to lose the mystery you would grant to the viewer of the finished product, for that sake of reader's clarity.

              I don't know if this would work, they'd have to try it and see, but if I'd been that writer, I might try something like "Mae, dressed as a brighter, bolder version of herself, enters" and continue to keep her character name the same throughout (alternately, underline, but somehow draw attention to the trick at the beginning and keep the names straight.)

              The question is how much confusion can you afford before you send the reader off-track? You don't want the reader flipping back several pages, going "Wait--what? Who?" As long as the reader can proceed through the plot with relative clarity, whatever you do is fine.

              (* made-up names)

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              • #8
                Re: Is there a good way to tell a reader it's OK to confuse 2 characters?

                As your movie is a comedy, this task seems very doable.

                You should indeed have some fun with it, and let third persons comment on why it's not a problem.

                For example: Girl stands in supermarket aisle, one of the dudes grabs her ass or makes a dirty remark to her and quickly disappears into the next aisle. Girl turns around, is pissed and goes after him. When she turns around the corner, she slaps the other/wrong dude. Some excited, half-deaf grandpa clapps his hands enthusiastically, he loves the scene and shouts: "It wasn't this one, it was the other one!" And giving it an afterthought: "What the heck, they are the same anyways!" Then enforce that last remark by making everybody laugh, other people chime in, and/or the dudes themselves agreeing!

                I'm sure this has been done before, but you get the idea.

                Besides third persons commenting, they could also comment themselves that it doesn't matter. I don't know their personalities and relation to each other, but for example, they could even themselves shrug in reaction, look at each other, laugh, and say something that amounts to: "Well it doesn't matter!" (meaning "We are essentially one, so it makes no difference!").

                If you want to engrain this even more in the audiences' head, you repeat with similiar scenarios.

                This is to establish the feeling you are after, and then it has to be enforced throughout the whole movie.

                Heck, try to even reward the audience for not knowing who is who - they should get a good amount of fun out of it - and you as a screenwriter as well. It's something positive!
                sigpic

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                • #9
                  Re: Is there a good way to tell a reader it's OK to confuse 2 characters?

                  Thanks for all the suggestions. As for taking this on directly by having a third character confuse who-is-who, I would like to do that. Now, I just need to craft a moment like that that also does one or two additional things, because I don't know that it would be worth it if all the scene does is highlight that they are interchangeable. Again, thanks.

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