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The Unity of Opposites

September 23, 2014

lethal weaponI used the term “Unity of Opposites” today and realized/remembered that nobody knows what I’m talking about. I really like that term – an old professor of mine, Jeffrey Davis taught me the term, and it seems to me that more people should know it.

It’s a pretty simple concept – in a story, you put two opposite character types in a space, and then figure out why one (or both) of them can’t leave.

You see it all the time in stories – the cop who does everything by the book is teamed up with the cop who plays it loose. You’ll automatically get conflict in your story because these two characters are going to butt heads, and since they’re partners, they’re stuck with each other. They can’t leave.

The filthy roommate is assigned the dorm with the fussbudget. The honor student’s study partner is a lazy stoner. The athlete’s three-legged race partner is… me.

That’s always the trick. The story is more interesting if they stay together, but why do they? That’s the “Unity of Opposites” – why they don’t say say “OK – be crazy. I’m going home.”

cerebus51-2There’s a great comic book called “Cerebus” that has an issue with the lead character (a warrior aardvark) trapped in the hold of a boat with characters based on Foghorn Leghorn, Groucho Marx, and a few other crazies. It’s a really fun issue. Why doesn’t Cerebus leave? He’s trapped in the hold of a boat. That’s the Unity of Opposites.

Please don’t tell me that the author of Cerebus is a misogynist. I know. He still writes a pretty awesome comic book that I started reading before that was obvious, and couldn’t stop.

My latest script is about a female reporter who’s stuck with a guy who thinks he’s a super-hero, and she’s his Lois Lane. But as I was fleshing out my outline, I kept thinking two things – first, why can’t I describe the story without telling it from his POV? And second, where’s the Unity of Opposites? Why doesn’t she just punch him in the face until he goes away?

So I left the original concept and made them brother and sister. Once I had that idea, the story stopped being a one-joke premise and (relatively) quickly started to expand to the feature that I was hoping I had. It also much more easily became about Megan, my lead, with her brother in the supporting role.

Though I do miss that one joke…

But I realized that I needed to really connect these two characters in some meaningful way that they couldn’t just ignore. I needed a Unity of Opposites, and my story’s starting to work now that I have it.

  1. September 23, 2014 at 4:35 pm

    that is an excellent issue of Cerebus for sure!:) Please check out our progress on a Cerebus animated feature film https://www.facebook.com/cerebusfilm

    • September 24, 2014 at 3:03 pm

      I’ve been aware of the film, but haven’t seen any of the recent progress. it looks cool – I’m looking forward to seeing more!

      • September 24, 2014 at 3:27 pm

        thank you so much -we’re getting there:)

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