Two-handed players are fun, but what’s the key to writing compelling double protagonists?
One of the funniest types of stories to write is a two-handed sword. Not only can you balance two different characters, but you can also draw similar arcs that clash, adding an electrical quality to each scene. Films with two protagonists are very playable and a lot of fun.
But what if you’re not 100% sure how to write one, or how to balance tone, subject, and dialogue?
I mean what are dual protagonists?
Today I want to see how to write a great script with two protagonists. We’ll look at examples within the storytelling technique and talk about some of the best practices, tools, and tips you can use to improve your own work.
Sounds good? Then let’s start.
What is a two-handed or dual-protagonist film?
Double definition of protagonist
This type of story focuses on two different people. The characters are usually opposites or come from different backgrounds, beliefs, or social positions. They have different perspectives and experiences that shape their arcs as the story progresses.
The main difference is that they are parallel protagonists. Both want the same (or something similar) and both fight for a common goal.
If you want to make it a little more complicated there is a difference between the protagonist and the main character, but that’s another post.
What is the role of dual protagonists?
The reason I love writing with dual protagonists is because you can advance their arcs by pitting the two against each other.
Often times you need to make scenes more dramatic to show your characters under pressure, but when you have a two-handed sword you always have drama next to the other person. These characters will disagree on the process and that gives you an instant opportunity to advance your genre.
How do dual protagonists work?
It seems like a cliché, but since the beginning of cinema, having two protagonists has always worked.
So what’s behind this chemistry? I think the main idea is that they fit into any genre. The use of two protagonists creates comedy, drama, horror, and more. You can mask exposure by showing two people talking to each other and you have a different brain for your character to extract clues or pull plot points apart.
Even when it comes to character arcs, you can measure them all the time by running two against each other. When they have a common goal, you can show that they are moving towards that goal by seeing each other and their relationships.
This helps the audience stay involved in every aspect of the storytelling at all times.
How writers use dual protagonists
Authors use two-handed swords in different ways. You can use these tactics in any way you want to manipulate a story.
It all comes down to character development.
We often see them talk a little bit about the world. Are these people of different races or sexualities? Do they have different qualities that normally clash in conflict, but learn mutual respect through history? Or are they similar people who are played off against each other, where only the strongest survives?
We’ll get into specific examples later, but here it’s important to know that adding a protagonist can help deepen your subject and get the most out of your writing.
Cops and Rom-Coms with two protagonists
Two of the most common ways to use two-handed swords are in romantic comedies and in cop stories.
These literal partner stories are perfect breeding grounds for two-handed people because they give both parties space to get angry with each other. Whether it Deadly weapon or When Harry met Sally, both films depend on the growth of the people in the center.
They all have meet-cuts too – these genres have a lot in common.
Cross-genre police investigative films thrive when we see two people from different walks of life and with different methods or styles solve a case. Think about The heat and 48 hours. Both films share similar kernels, but focus on making cops friends and solving a case despite their differences. And we see the central characters grow.
Romantic comedies are eerily similar. We often see unsuitable people finding their way.
I love a movie like The five-year commitmentwhere we see two people who love each other but still have a lot to do. Or even something like Love and basketballdescribing the journey of two people trying to find their place in one sport and in each other’s lives.
These two sub-genres underline the two-handed capabilities as a storytelling technique.
How to distinguish your two-handed characters
The easiest way to distinguish the protagonists is to distinguish them from different walks of life or different races, beliefs or sexualities. Or even different genders.
you want the audience to see the same story twice, once through each character’s eyes. Your point of view must completely change our perspective on what happened.
A two-handed sword becomes one of the few times in storytelling where the audience is ahead of the characters.
You can change the way these people talk, you can make each other’s mortal enemy, just make sure they are different.
Are there times when the characters are the same in a two-handed sword?
Another great question. In ancient practices, sometimes there were two people who were very similar. But they still had different backstories and different ways of looking at the world. It’s as old as the phrase “good cop / bad cop”.
In my opinion The Godfather: Part II has a journey where the protagonists are similar. The young Vito Corleone starts his crime syndicate, while his son Michael does the same in the future. Everyone makes similar decisions based on family and money. But at the core they are still very different.
Another instance would be something like Bridesmaidswhere the two women are already very similar friends who learn in the course of the film that they are different.
There is another option here. We could watch a story where people grow apart like one Very bad or Mary and Max, the animated film about pen pals.
Great examples of dual protagonist films
We’ve covered many different versions of how we view two-handed swords throughout the cinema. For this section, I wanted to focus on a few that we haven’t talked about yet and those that cross different genres and maybe others that you never thought of but who are two protagonists nonetheless.
Movies like Rush hour are obvious. There are even stylistic iterations like The departed, or phrases, like Midnight run.
So, to avoid cops and romcoms, what other examples can we pick up?
How about a horror movie like Antichrist? It is the story of a couple who grapple with the death of their child. They all experience something dark and mysterious in the forest. It is a study of grief and fear and the absence of God.
How about a movie like that The end of the tour? It’s about a reporter and a writer who go on a book tour together, each overcoming their own individual hurdles in order to come to an understanding of writing and life. Even if things don’t go as they imagined.
Last I wanted to take a look at the quadrilogy of. throw The trip. We travel to England, Greece, Spain and Italy, following two comedians who eat their way through the landscape and get older together.
Or what about the romantic trilogy of of In front Films in which we see two young people getting older, falling in love and dealing with what married life is like together?
These two-handed swords use different characters to draw life experiences and arcs to give us a deep insight into life.
Summary of the two-handed or dual protagonist film
I hope you have learned with me that there are so many practical uses to add a protagonist to your work. Having two is not a crowd, but an opportunity to extrapolate what you want the audience to learn and how they should feel when the movie is done.
Characters that can interact with each other keep the audience involved and allow for better casting opportunities across the board.
Do you love these types of movies and want to talk more about them? Write your ideas and thoughts in the comments. I look forward to breaking this down further and see what we can achieve together.
Otherwise go to writing.
I am curious to see where your ideas will lead you.