Betrayal, that Tastiest of Tropes

A few days ago, I cornered one of my best friends to yammer about the story I’ve been writing for an RPG. I had told her a few basic bits prior, which from the look on her face may have actually bored her near to tears, but after a few days of isolated brainstorming I had come up with the full story, and obviously I had to fill her in. Obviously.

She’s been very patient with this habit in the past, asking questions and engaging and occasionally getting a word in edgewise to say things like, “Yo. Plot hole. Danger zone.” She’s also the one who frequently pokes me to ask what’s up if I haven’t been blogging. I super-owe her for these things. Italics can’t lie.

I was no doubt making her day very tedious last week as I stumbled through my explanation of the new ideas for the RPG story line (I’m not so great at making mouth-words, and even less great at doing so succinctly), when I finally got to the good stuff. The historic hero, who has endured much at the hands of a goddess known as the Lady of the Hollow, finally finds peace with the Lady’s sister-goddess, the quiet and kind Muse of the Dale. She saves him from the Lady’s dire clutches, and they fall in love. But the Lady is not put off so easily, and sends a pawn after the hero where he lives under the Muse’s protection. The pawn steals the hero away to the Lady’s lair, where she eats his memories and curses him to wander in the desert, having lost his love. What the Lady doesn’t know is that her sister-goddess and the hero have had a child–the Muse must decide whether to try and find her lost love, or protect their child from the threat of the Lady. She decides to save their child, and flees her sister’s wrath. The boy grows up knowing his father’s story, but knowing it would mean both their deaths to attempt to find him.

At this point, my friend stopped me. “OK,” she said, “now your story’s working, because it’s hurting my feelings.”

This made me stop and think a bit. As I mentioned in a previous post, it’s my inclination to want the best for my characters and to incur the interest/investment of the reader by showing how great they are. A far more efficient mode, however, looks to be making them suffer. Still write them to be generally likable, I suppose, but then kick them around a little. Betray them, and betray them like you mean it. The reader, whether consciously or unconsciously, sides with the character against you/Fate and roots for their survival and success. (Probably would have figured this out sooner if I had the nads to read George R.R. Martin’s stuff…)

As a result, since I’ve come back to AotA, I’ve been experimenting with dragging one particular character down (not the MC, but a close second) into a quiet psychosis…she has become the most driven, principled, and ruthless character I’ve ever written, and definitely hides the worst background. She will not be a good guy–she’s got too much to get done to be categorically good or bad–but in her way teaches the main character to hold her own.

And I can’t even pretend it hasn’t been fun. I feel a little bad, for sure, but if anything I feel now like I was holding her back–like a mom who keeps telling her kid not to get in fights, only to find out he’s got the makings of a boxing pro. I wanted different things for her at the beginning, honestly more along the lines of a martyr, but I’m pretty sure after filling her out that she’d be deeply insulted to be made a martyr. She’s become a grizzled crusader, and I think it’s way too cool. xD

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