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I have reached a point in my story in which the characters, who are in a sort of gang, will have to turn against each other. The specifics of it are not important; what is, is that capturing the main character presents an opportunity for them to gain more power, and they gather to capture the MC and bring them in for their prize. However, I am having trouble figuring out if the MC should anticipate this betrayal at some point, or for it to come as a complete surprise to them and thus the reader, making it a better twist.

Note that before this the gang had a large period of mistrust and absence where they were almost starved with siege warfare, so they are now pretty much separated and desperate for power, which is why I am hesitant on just playing the MC off as clueless.

So, what do you think I should do?

  • What position does the main character have? Is he or she the gang leader? What's his/her intelligence and personality? From what I've read so far it would best to anticipate the betrayal, but withhold that information from the reader. – Boondoggle Jan 9 '18 at 21:36
  • @Boondoggle The main character is merely another member, with the leader being a completely different person. The main character is intelligent and curious, however, due to recent plot events they are feeling overwhelmed. – Unhappymarshmellow Jan 9 '18 at 21:44
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    I've made some edits to your question. Your question was kind of hard to understand, and the title was misleading (sounded like asking what to write), so some of the edits were pretty heavy. I've tried to maintain your words wherever possible, but if you feel I didn't do that, you can always roll back or improve the edits. – Thomas Reinstate Monica Myron Jan 9 '18 at 23:42
  • Is there a reason your character couldn't prepare for it without telling the reader? The reader might not pick up on something like "I'll be right there, guys." MC wrapped up his email and hit send. When he saw his friends, he knew it wasn't going to go well..." not telling the reader (yet) that the email had incriminating documents on the rest of the gang, and if he doesn't email his friend every 24 hours, the friend will send the documents to the media. – corsiKa Jan 10 '18 at 19:25
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Two issues: 1. What do you need to make the story work? And 2. What would be plausible if this were real life?

Of course #1 can conflict with #2. One of my pet peeves is when characters in a TV show or movie don't do the obvious thing to solve their problem, and you know that the reason they don't is because if they did the movie would be over in 5 minutes. I often find myself saying to the TV, "Oh come on, why don't you just call the police?", etc.

The easy answer is, Don't make your characters behave unrealistically. If there's something that any rational human would think or do, but doing this would not take the story in the direction you want to go, then give us a reason why the characters don't do it, or why they do it but it doesn't work. Like if the character would naturally be suspicious, tell us why he was so easily duped in this case. The villain had saved his life once and he just couldn't imagine he would turn on him now. He was so busy doing X that he just never noticed the obvious signs of trouble. Whatever works.

  • Ant-man: "I think our first move should be calling the Avengers." – Douglas Jan 10 '18 at 20:26
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If I were writing, they would have to be suspicious, no matter how this affected the story. The only good reason to NOT be suspicious is some form of love, romantic, sibling, parental, etc. For example, a son may not believe his own beloved father would betray him. I have a best friend of forty years that might as well be my sibling, we have been through multiple family deaths together (in his family and mine), victimizations, a fire, car crashes, murders in our family. I would not believe my friend could betray me.

For anybody else, a friend of a few years, a coworker or something like that, and especially anybody I knew that had betrayed somebody else in the past, suspicion is raised whenever some "anomaly" or "strange coincidence" occurs.

If I were writing, I think the lack of suspicion would break suspension of disbelief, it would look like a deus ex machina, like the bad guy accidentally leaving an obvious gaping hole in their defenses.

One thing you could do, for the better twist, is come up with a better twist for the suspicion. Make your traitor also realize the MC will suspect betrayal, so the traitor leaves behind clues or hints to the MC, so the MC suspect the wrong person of being the traitor.

If you can do this under the covers so the reader doesn't realize who the true traitor is (or thinks the true traitor is an ally) Then the MC is blind-sided when the true traitor is revealed, as you want.

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An alternative answer:

You can leave it up to the reader to wonder whether the character knew.

This depends on your writing style, but it is actually possible to show everything the character actually physically does and much of the character's immediate reactions and responses to events, without describing anything at all of what the character knows, thinks, suspects, plans.

A mild form of this is in an action story of some sort when:

He described in a few words what he wanted done. The sentry nodded brightly and saluted, a sly grin spreading across his face. 'You can count on me, sir,' he said, slapping his rifle butt for emphasis, and Daniel moved on, satisfied.

Then the reader learns the plan later by seeing it in action.

Likewise, you don't have to show suspicion; you can just show the result. Someone suspecting an imminent betrayal is hardly likely to demonstrate the fact, which makes it difficult for an outsider to tell whether it is in fact suspected or not. So show what actually happens. Does the betrayal succeed? It sounds like you want it to. So, you could have it succeed, but have it be a near thing due to unexpected difficulty encountered by those betraying him.

Ultimately, it's your story, and what happens in it is up to you.

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Short answer YES.

You should make the member who is competing for power be suspicious of his friends. Gangs have a specific hierarchy of ranks. When you act beyond your rank you risk the consequences. If the character was seeking power from other groups it could be even worse. The main character (MC) would have to be suspicious of everything when he or she is playing high stakes.

There are many things you can do to keep it interesting for the reader.

  • anticipate and overcome betrayal: withhold the information from the reader that the MC knows he's going to be betrayed and let the MC have a secret plan. When the MC is caught and the secret plan is executed you can opt to explain the plan or leave it as self-explanatory.
  • anticipate betrayal and lose out: the MC knows he's going to be betrayed and it turns into a bloodbath. The MC dies (i.e. false protagonist, and a new MC is introduced. This can be surprising to the reader and can be very interesting. Also, you could have the MC live and replace the boss. The MC would function more as a background character. This way the reader can get more point of views from other characters.
  • clueless, but win: there's a fight, but the MC brutally wins becoming a powerful gangster. Maybe the MC knows martial arts or has some super power. Based on this event you can add a background story about how the talent and skills developed. The environment and difficulties that the MC had to deal with.
  • clueless and lose: the MC is caught and was not prepared, even though he is "intelligent and curious". This wouldn't make much sense.

Take your pick. If you know where you're going, all you need are the tools to get there.

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