Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Thematic Rule of Two

Zestful Blog Post #225

I like to use twos in writing.

If you have a work in progress—fiction, that is—most likely you have a theme in there somewhere. Take a little time to think about it and look for ways to develop it. Does love conquer all? If so, throw in more hate and see if you can shake love’s foundations. Or, perhaps, is love meaningless—and noble action the only valuable thing for a human to dedicate himself to? Ramp up the romance and see if the dispassionate seeker can be swayed.

A good technique is to explore more than one theme; then they can carom off each other and build complexity. A tough guy with a drinking problem is a bit of a cliché; what if you have your addicted detective fighting for the right to adopt a five-year-old orphaned beauty queen? Whoa, dude, that is off the wall. It can become a main plot, or a strong subplot. You’ve got a man’s struggle with inner demons, and you’ve got a needy child in limbo. This opens up all kinds of possibilities: family, the circle of life, exploitation, vulnerability, love and sacrifice.

You can jolt some juice into your work in small ways, too. Instead of simply having two characters disagree, have one throw a chair. Or if you already have a fistfight going, make sure somebody ends up with life-changing injuries, instead of just a black eye. Let your characters abandon themselves to their fates—and hey, fate is another theme right there. How do your characters think about it, what do they do to try to beat it, cheat it, or meet it?

[Rocket and capsule, U.S. Project Gemini. Two guys were in there, all the way up and all the way down. Photo by ES.]
When you feel stuck, sit back and throw out some possibilities involving twos, or even threes.

Oh, my God, they’re twins! That’s how the alibi got past the D.A.!

Get out now! It’s not just a twister, it’s twisters plural, coming from opposite directions!

Success in love and achievement both! Wow, what could go wrong now?

I betrayed not only you; I betrayed myself as well.

We’ll use not one decoy, but two. It’s foolproof, I tell you!

You see how it works. The rule of two is an easy technique to visit any time your fiction needs a boost. 

Have you used the rule of two in writing fiction? Tell us about it. Or, if you simply have a good recipe for soft, warm cookies, let us know. We’re getting hungry. To post, click below where it says, 'No Comments,' or '2 Comments,' or whatever.

If you'd like to receive this blog automatically as an email, look to the right, above my bio, and subscribe there. Thanks for looking in.


  1. I must need wine. The ticket looks like a wine bottle to me. ... and chocolate, in keeps with the theme of thematic twos.

    Great ideas, thanks!

    1. The 'rocket' looks like... I also need an editor, lol.

    2. Yes, wine and chocolate make a lovely couple! Glad you stopped by.

  2. Great advice to keep in the writer's tool box. Thanks.

    In the dystopian setting for my latest manuscript, the protagonist doesn't want to care about people so that she doesn't have to be sad when she loses them. But pesky nice people keep popping up that she can't keep from caring about.

    1. And I very much like what you're doing with those characters, Bev! Thanks as always for joining the discussion here.

  3. Excellent advice, Elizabeth! I love this concept of twos. May have to incorporate it into my writing.

    I did have my mild-mannered protagonist kick over a chair during an argument, actually. It came as quite a surprise to me (as well as to his girlfriend, come to think of it).

    And, as a matter of fact, I *do* have a lovely recipe for soft, warm lemon-ginger oatmeal cookies. If I may be so bold as to share a link to it from my blog, here it is:

    1. Rita, thanks for the feedback, and for the recipe link!! Those cookies sound just the right thing for a cloudy weekend afternoon, with a nice pot of tea.

  4. As always, another great idea. I did have a character start crying while looking at a picture, then throw the picture and frame across the room. That worked.
    No cookie recipes. I am more likely to make cookies from the dairy case. They come in little flat packages that are pre-scored so you can break off as many as you want and have them baked in about 15 minutes. Almost instant gratification!

    1. Yes! A further note on that: Personally I'm not the type to throw and break something in anger, but it feels SO GOOD when I make one of my characters do it! And Beej, re: those cookies. They are lethal, but in a good way. Marcia discovered them about a month ago--the Nestle brand, right?--and we both put on about two pounds over the course of a weekend...

    2. Yes, those are the ones. I totally get that. Now, I'm not the throw things kind of person, either. But in the story, my character happens on an old picture she hadn't seen in a while of her ex--just as she thinks she's gotten over her. She strokes the picture with her thumb as the tears start, then throws the picture against the wall and watches it shatter. She decides to go get something stronger than sweet tea before she cleans up the glass. It was quite effective in the story, but I'd never do something like that. Those cookies are lethal, for sure. And sooooooooooo good.


Tell us your thoughts! You know you want to.