Writing Philosophy: Siblings

“Hey! Mom said it’s MY turn!”

“No way! This is mine! Get your own…”

Today’s topic:
Siblings

So I’d like to talk about the concept of siblings in stories.

Generally when it comes to siblings in stories it’s one of 5 ways it’s done:

  • One (mostly older) sibling getting looked up to by the (mostly younger) sibling.
  • Siblings having a rivalry.
  • One sibling dying to motivate the other sibling.
  • Siblings working together as a duo as two halves of a whole.
  • Siblings working together as a duo as two opposites.

I always really liked stories about siblings, it’s why I liked playing Double Dragon back in the day.
As a brother myself, I liked the idea of two or more people who share a deep understanding with one another and how that understanding would develop them.

See, most of the time, siblings would have learned more about one another than childhood friends. Childhood friends could at most just visit each other a lot. Siblings would generally be in the same household and have gone through everything together, warts and all. Similar to a married couple, siblings have been through the bests of each other and also the worst, and depending on how they deal with that is how their character arcs will relate to one another.

Sibling Rivalry grown up seperately

Now, for every “rule” there may of course be exceptions as well.

Maybe they’re siblings who got split at one (or both’s) birth, or relatively close to it. In this situation, they may in fact have NOTHING in common experience-wise and the only thing they have in common is blood.

Most of the time this leads to a rivalry when they meet again in the story proper.

With action franchises they tend to have the siblings fight similarly, even if they learned how to fight separately from each other. Guess the fighting style is in the blood or something. It always makes for a good little mirror-match sort of deal, which with Zyuranger they kinda did. The red and green rangers have many similarities in their design, with the dragon armor being the key difference (which makes it a poetic thing when Geki receives Burai’s dragon armor after Burai’s death).

Since they were separated from birth (or at least Geki’s birth) there is no real understanding of each other from their childhoods. Basically it is during the story that they learn from each other.

Sure, Burai knew about Geki, but Geki didn’t know about Burai. And it takes till Burai’s death for them to fully understand each other.
In a weird way, these siblings are very much strangers to each other with the only thing bonding them being their blood relation.

Sibling Rivalry grown up together

But it’s of course also possible to do a sibling rivalry with siblings who HAVE grown up together:

Devil May Cry 3 to me is still one of the greatest demonstration of a rivalry, and it of course had to have been between two twin brothers. (Honestly the only thing missing is a proper co-op mode… oh hey, the Switch Version has that! Yaaaay!)

It’s not JUST through the mixture of gameplay and story, like with the thing with Beowulf:

But it’s also through the implications in-between.
Dante and Vergil grew up together up to a certain point: their mother’s death. After that they got split-up and deviated from each other in their life experiences. By the time they meet again, their only ties are the times they had BEFORE Eva’s death and anything else has developed them differently depending on how they reacted to that death.

Dante chose to side with the humans since that’s what his mother was while Vergil instead started a search for power so that he would never be hurt again. What’s interesting with this set-up is that BEFORE Eva’s death, it’s implied that Dante and Vergil were VERY much alike.

Those similarities that are left?

They shine through every now and then when they work together.

People tend to underestimate the power of a good backstory. They generally just put a dead loved one in there to add sympathy points and then just move on from there.
ERHEM ERHEM!

Sibling Team

But a backstory can be strengthened by having multiple people be affected by the same event. It makes the event more grand and something actually worth remembering. Of course they’d be affected by a shared trauma, especially if it involves something like a parent.

But… depending on the personalities of the characters, while this USUALLY means they grow distant from another… sometimes it can instead make them grow closer.

The thing is that with parents having a tendency to die, that usually means that the siblings will be the only family they have left.
I think the only popular subversion to this would be Dick Grayson’s revised backstory in Batman Forever where he lost his parents AND a brother (not that it added much, but whatever), but most of the time the sibling survives along with the protagonist.

This of course means that the siblings will look out for each other, their shared goals are fueled by the same source. Either they develop skills that complement each other or they end up being a perfect match. They basically do everything together.

Sibling Side-kick

My least favourite of the way siblings are written would probably be where one idolizes the other.
I love Kaiba from Yu-Gi-Oh. I mean… what’s not to love?

But honestly the way Mokuba pretty much constantly follows him like a lost puppy has always been a bit of a waste to me.

At the VERY least he should’ve grown out of it and become his own person, you know? Heck, I thought it was interesting that in the Manga and Season 0 Mokuba was in fact the real mastermind. At least it would’ve been SOMEWHAT interesting.

The reason siblings in stories are interesting to me is that it immediately builds a connection between the characters, even if they otherwise have nothing in common. That connection could be used to develop them further into more interesting people. But that just wouldn’t be the case if one of them chooses to be nothing but a side-kick to the other.
They’re allowed to be the one following, sure, but they should also keep up and grow as people so that they don’t end up staying in the shadow of the one they’re following.

And yes, this also fits with Tails to Sonic, even if they’re clearly not ACTUAL brothers. Tails has always been more interesting to me when he’s NOT following Sonic.

He may have learned a lot of things from Sonic, but ended up following his own path.

I love that the IDW Sonic actually made use of that, have Tails actually split off from Sonic multiple times just so he could do his own thing.

The Raid

But just to point out to an example how being siblings would immediately build a connection to two characters, look no further than how The Raid did it.

Throughout the majority of the movie, Rama (the main character in black) keeps hinting that he has a personal reason to join the raid into this building full of criminals.

Andi (the guy in white/grey) is introduced as a villain, but in a clever subversion in a scene where it looks like he would fight Rama, he then reveals to the audience (Rama obviously already knew) that they were siblings.

Suddenly the whole movie gets a different view of the situations, this has become less the story of a bunch of police officers raiding a criminal infested building and instead has become about the story of two siblings from two different worlds (cops and criminals) trying their best to take care of each other in the shadows, outside of the eyes of their superiors.
Heck, by the end the two main villains end up BEING their superiors, the police chief was in fact raiding the building to kill the head criminal because he wanted to get rid of evidence of his own corruption.

The head criminal finds out about Andi sneakily helping Rama, which leads to the criminals capturing and torturing Andi.
This leads to Rama saving Andi, and they team up to fight Mad Dog, who’s like THE best fighter of the criminals.

With minimal amount of dialogue, just revealing that Andi is Rama’s brother immediately reframes what the story is about and also naturally builds up to how friggin epic this final fight actually is.
Before the sibling reveal, Rama was just seen as a tough and skillful cop and Andi was just seen as a powerful opponent that Rama would have to face somewhere along the line.

AFTER the sibling reveal, it retroactively explains what Rama’s true goal was in the raid and now instead of seeing Andi as a powerful opponent, he is now seen as a powerful ally instead.
How HYPE is it then when you THEN pit those two brothers up AGAINST Mad Dog who has demonstrated throughout the story to be even MORE powerful than both of them combined?

This wouldn’t have been as epic if they were just childhood friends or something. Simply by making them brothers it adds that next level of “the two are equally matched” that’s implied simply through saying they’re brothers.

Had Andi been a childhood friend instead, you would need to add more backstory to WHY Andi meant so much to Rama, but simply saying they’re brothers? That’s enough, and it just builds up the fight even more while still keeping the plot moving fast.

And to top it all off, this just adds that much more of a tragedy to how they now live in two opposite worlds.

By the end of the movie, Rama is back with the cops and Andi becomes the new head criminal. By seeing how close they ARE and also how great they COULD have been together, it makes it that much more tragic that this event would be the last time they’d ever see each other again.

Conclusion

So yeah, siblings. I’m a big fan of them as a concept. There’s such a purity to it that by comparison makes everything else so darn complicated. Relationships need to have personal reasons why they’re together, friendships need to have actual stories behind them. Siblings can just have a bond simply on the fact that they were siblings.

I just think there’s something beautiful about that.

Published by Huy Minh Le

Huy Minh Le is a Video Game Enthusiast, Movie Lover, Writer, Content Marketeer and regular TvTropes reader! His studies in Game Design, Art, and Writing has led to a very creative, yet analytical mind.

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