From the mind of Megan Arkenberg

June 28, 2015

In which I complain about people who write about twins

Posted by Megan Arkenberg with 71 comments
Sometimes, the only proper response is withering sarcasm.

Or: Stop Twin Nonsense 2K15!

A couple of years ago, my sister and I came up with what I’m going to call Leda’s Law.* It goes like this: in a fictional family with more than four children, two of the children will be a pair of twins. Try it out for a second. The Weasleys in Harry Potter? Check. The Stantons in The Dark is Rising? Check. George R. R. Martin managed to avoid this with the Starks, but that’s probably because he already had a pair of twins on the board. I don’t know for a fact that Leda’s Law is more prevalent in science fiction and fantasy than in other genres, but I do know it’s prevalent enough to be irritating.

Here’s the thing. Like most tropes, Leda’s Law exists because it is convenient for writers, and like most tropes that are convenient for writers, the reason for its convenience is pretty gross. Writers decide that they want a particular family to have a mystically significant number of children—say, seven. But they don’t want to go through the effort of devising seven distinct characters. They think the solution to this problem is to write in a pair of twins who are, for all narrative intents and purposes, the same character.

Writing seven physical descriptions? Now you only have to write six! Coming up with seven mystical powers? Now you only need six! Killing off seven people in a series of contrived coincidences? Now you only need to contrive six!

I wish I were kidding.

I ran into Leda’s Law yesterday while reading a short story in the archives of a popular online SF magazine. I’m not going to name and shame, but I will say that the structure of the story entailed one section dedicated to the death of each of five siblings. Well, each of four siblings, because of Leda’s Law—the twins had to share a section. From a narrative point of view, the twins were the same character.

Writers, from the very bottom of my heart, I am begging you: Please stop doing this. It is gross.

Please stop writing stories, scenes, and sentences in which twins function as a single character. Please stop writing sentences like “Castor and Pollux went to CVS because they had run out of cotton balls.” (Both of them coincidentally ran out of cotton balls at the same time? Or do you think they share a bag of cotton balls?) Please stop writing things like “Linda and the twins were waiting in the car.” (Linda gets a name but the other two people in the car don’t? Why is that?) Please, please, please stop writing bullshit like “The serial killer had six victims—seven, if you count the Smith twins.” (People who do this—do you honestly think one of the victims was going to stand still while the serial killer was going after their sibling? The day a serial killer tries to take on a pair of twins at once is the day that serial killer is going down, IMHO.)

I’m one hundred per cent sure that the people who write this kind of nonsense don’t bear any animosity towards twins. They probably even know twins in real life. (I assume most people know twins in real life? It’s hard to tell, since everyone who knows me knows a twin.) They’re just…I don’t know. Lazy? Unobservant? They think no one is going to care?

Speaking as a twin: I care. I care a lot. When I was eight, I cried when I read books with twins in them because fiction kept screwing us up. I’m a bit past crying now, but I have definitely cursed at my computer screen. I’m sure fictional representations of twins don’t have a major impact on my quality of life. But they are responsible for a lot of minor annoyances, and you know what? They make me feel terrible. I'm betting they make a lot of twins feel terrible. 

Maybe people have somehow gone through several decades of life without realizing that talking about individuals as though they were not individuals is insulting. If this is you, consider this your wake-up call. Stop writing about twins as though they were a single character. Stop publishing stories that do this. Stop reading stories that do this and letting it pass without comment. It’s a very minor thing. It’s a very gross thing.

Please, stop doing it.

And don't even get me started on people who write about twins as though they were the same constellation. 


*Ironically, one place where Leda’s Law doesn’t seem to apply is Greek mythology, where large groups of siblings (the Perseides, the Muses) are all singletons and the twins tend not to have other siblings (Artemis and Apollo)—or if they do have other siblings, those siblings are also twins (Helen and Clytemnestra, Castor and Pollux). Of course, if you're siblings in Greek mythology, you probably already share a collective name and a catasterism, so your desire for individuality was probably doomed from the beginning. 

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