Vampire Diaries – Parallel Scenes in Fiction


So, did anyone else watch The Vampire Diaries, Plan B this week?

If you did, you’ll no doubt have spotted the parallel scene between Elena/Stefan and Katherine/Mason at the beginning of the episode. One scene shows Elena and Stefan in bed and the other Katherine and Mason. Both couple are talking and kissing.

This is a great example of using parallels to enhance a plot. It links, not only the lead character or protagonist, Elena, to the villain (or antagonist), Katherine, but also foreshadows the eventual loss for both of the characters at the end of the episode. This is all the more memorable by the fact that Katherine is, physically, her doppelgänger as well. We watch it feeling almost like we are seeing two sides of the same coin.

We know they aren’t the same person but seeing an essentially good person and a villain, looking exactly the same, but acting wildly different heightens the conflict and makes us root for Elena all the more. We are essentially falling into the classic good vs evil, but still enjoying it all the same.

By the end of the episode both Elena and Katherine have lost something.  The main difference is their reactions to it and that Katherine ends up with the upper ground.

This technique of linking the protagonist to the villain is one of my favourites but it does not need to always be done in this way. But first, before we could into other ways to do this, lets look at why this works in many forms of fiction:

So why do it? Why parallel? Well in fiction, we as the writer want our audience to like the protagonist (even if they are an anti-hero and are not that likable). We want the audience to care about what happens to the lead character so that they’ll follow them through the whole series of events and see where they end up. But at the same time we don’t want them to be perfect, because that’s boring. Nobody cares much about perfect characters, we need them to have flaws.

By using parallel scenes, parallel character traits or even having them appear the same physically we keep the link between the main character and the villain throughout and the threat of danger becomes heightened. To the hero, the villain is there and is wearing their face. They are tormenting them, toying with them and the hero cannot avoid them even if she wants to. It adds to the suspense and keeps the plot tighter.

Having said that, be warned, doppelgängers are over-used in films and in fiction and many books fail at using them. I once read a book and was enjoying it, but as soon as I found out the bad guy was a version of the good guy I shut the book and didn’t go back. That might have been a little harsh, but I’ve been there, done it and I’m tired of the `characters own worst enemy is himself’ villain. Thankfully, in the vampire diaries, Katherine is not Elena, so we avoid that old cliché.

So what ways can we use parallelism?

Well, first of all it doesn’t have to be between the villain and the hero, it can be between any two lead characters. And it doesn’t have to be blatant, (though side-by-side scenes mirroring each other do work well) it can be subtle. You can have parallels between behaviour, concurrent themes in main plots and in subplots or just give characters similar or opposing traits.

.

It can be particularly effective to give the hero and the villain similar traits or opposite traits, i.e. the hero is introverted and the villain is introverted or the hero is introverted and the villain is extroverted. In this way, they mirror or complete each other.


This also works with two lead characters and is often used in theatre, tv and film, whereby, the lead character’s sidekick or friend is the opposite (Think Joey and Chandler from friends), like the Straight man and the funny man.

These parallel themes can be seen often in sitcoms, whereby one main plot and at least one other subplot occurs also. Let’s say for example that there are three plots in total with different characters: Each plot appears to be different but they are all about the same thing. I’m going to give `Friends’ as an example again:

I watched an episode today where Rachel got a hairless cat, Phoebe didn’t want to move in with her boyfriend and the rest of the group kept a game of catch going for a very long time. On the surface, they appear to be three different storylines But you could say that all these plots relate to committment and things not working out as planned. In each subplot, a committment it made that ends badly. This is a common theme that is paralleled in all plots.

So remember, next time you think about your story or writing project: Is there anywhere you can use parallelism to enhance the story or create links between characters and themes? Have a go at it.

For more info on this episode there’s a great article at monstersoftelevision: Plan B

See: Chekov’s Gun  or  What’s a MacGuffin? Clever or Copout?  for more info on literary techniques.

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