The Double Act

One style that’s common to all genres is the double-act. From comedy to fantasy to police dramas, having two main characters is a powerful tool for increasing the tension and driving forward the plot.

One type of double-act takes two characters who are fundamentally different and observes what happens between them. In the 1987 film Lethal Weapon, the veteran Murtagh sees the world very differently from the trigger-happy Riggs, and they often fall out over each other’s actions.

However, a double-act doesn’t necessarily need to argue all the time. In Good Omens, Aziraphale and Crowley represent good and evil respectively, but they have a longstanding agreement to let the other do his job without interference. I find it interesting that the novel was written by a duo, but because Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett write in a similar style, I think that accounts for the consistent quality of the writing.

But even a duo needs support from time to time, and that’s where a supporting character can be useful.

In the Channel 4 comedy Peep Show, the duo comprises the serious Mark and the laid-back Jez. Two of their constant supports are Mark’s love interest Sophie and Jez’s acquaintance Super-Hans. Their actions can affect the two main characters, and drive forward the plot, in ways that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

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Ramp up the Action

By convention, a stage play is written in three acts. The first act introduces the audience to the characters and their world, the next presents the protagonist with problems to solve, and the third makes those problems even worse until the climax near the end. The same structure can also be borrowed for screenwriting, novels and even short stories.

I’ve recently been editing my play in the hope of having it featured at a festival in April. When I started, it was an hour long, and I need to submit a 20-minute extract. I’ve decided to use the first 20 minutes, the equivalent of the first act.

When creating the extract, however, I realised there was too much exposition and not enough foreshadowing. So I’ve been working to tighten up that first act, eliminating subplots that aren’t referenced again while bringing forward those that are.

While my work isn’t finished yet, I’m now happier with the play than I was. That said, it comes at the cost of shortening the overall length, which will need to be considered at a later time.