I don’t know how many of you watch TV’s Game of Thrones or have read George R. R. Martin’s series a Song of Ice and Fire, but a lot has happened on the TV show that involves plots and schemes. And a whole lot happened on the season finale. I’m not going to get into the show itself or into the theories about who did what to whom, and what really happened. But I did want to mention something that one of the producers mentioned in his recap of the final season.
He was talking about conflict, how it’s not only about good versus evil but that conflict often takes place between people of good intentions (or in my addition, between people of bad intentions) who have different views of the world. Conflict isn’t always between the good guy and the bad guy or between characters with different approaches to life or even between characters with different belief systems.
We already know this. We know in our personal lives that when we’re at odds with friends and family, when we can’t come to an agreement, nothing feels right. And eventually all of us discover that when it’s worse than a simple disagreement, when we’re betrayed by those we love and trust, there’s nothing worse. The betrayal cuts into our very souls and into our hearts.
Betrayal Used in Fiction Well
There are some good questions to ask when intending to utilise betrayal as a major catalyst or motivation for a protagonist. Can betrayal add tension beyond a single scene? Is there enough to last the length of a novel? Could a simple betrayal (even a mistaken betrayal) lead to something even worse? What kinds of reactions fit the betrayed character’s personality? How does the betrayal affect other elements of the story? Does it take over the emotional component? Should it? Can it be toned down to better fit the story? Or should the betrayal be ramped up, making it a major element of the story? How is life changed for the betrayed? And who should be the protagonist, the betrayer or the betrayed?
Remember that betrayal packs the strongest emotional punch for readers when they know the characters, when they feel the effects of the betrayal because they know what it means to the one betrayed. A betrayal too early in a story or between unfamiliar characters won’t be as strong or as involving as one between characters the readers have come to know and understand.
Betrayals can start out small and grow, or they may start as a powerful conflagration. But they should produce immediate responses and long-lasting repercussions. Betrayal is a conflict that spreads, like ripples on a pond. Unless it’s small to begin with and a result of a misunderstanding that’s easily straightened out, a betrayal is the kind of conflict that causes problems more than once through a full-length novel. Characters don’t easily forget a betrayal, even if forgiveness is sought and given.
If you’ve not considered the effects of a good betrayal in your stories, do consider adding one. No, betrayals aren’t necessarily perfect for every story, so don’t assume that you must have one. But a betrayal between friends or lovers, between trusted comrades, may be exactly what your current project is looking for.