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I've been having a hard time thinking about a good way to create a betrayal scene without forcing it. Even if I somehow wrote the scene, I just can't feel the emotions behind the betrayal; the sadness, heartbreak, grief, and etc., it just never feels personal for the protagonist, which is why I want character-based betrayals. It may be because I can never understand the meaning of "power" and how people can lust over it, which I used on the betrayer for his driving factor.

The kind of driving factors that I want should be character-based, like conflicting ideals and morals, and not story-based, like the circumstances of the current plot forced the companion to betray the protagonist.

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  • Do you want to focus on the "betrayal scene" (i.e. what would make this scene look good), or betrayal itself (i.e. what would make it natural and good for the plot).
    – Alexander
    Jul 23 at 17:30
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    Ethereal 'power' is a terrible motivator. Make it more concrete, and you may find your answers: Security, safety (from what?), luxury, self-satisfaction in beating the system...
    – Weckar E.
    Jul 24 at 7:46
  • "it just never feels personal for the protagonist…" What personal stakes have been established for the protagonist? Have you built up this trust over time so readers have any emotional investment to care?
    – wetcircuit
    Jul 24 at 13:14
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    @Dewux, "the protagonist's reason for her betrayal... [is] simply because she's the lover of the betrayer" – that's circular-logic (She got killed because she is a murder victim) the opposite of establishing stakes for the couple. You've described a generic lust-for-power baddy and his 'simp' girlfriend. Why did they get together if they are idealogical opposites? No one cares about Padme and Anakin, their relationship is completely unearned. Padme exists to have twins and get fridged. We are never invested in them as a couple, there are no stakes to whether they succeed or fail.
    – wetcircuit
    Jul 24 at 14:54
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    @wetcircuit yeah but unlike Anakin's relationship with Padme, which we hardly get to see, I've invested in the two's time together and how they became dependent on each other just before the protagonist's lover became a total d*ck but I've also done the same for the betrayed, I've written how he helped her stay strong in her relationship with the betrayer, hence he became her "emotional" support. EDIT: Now that I think about it, their relationship is pretty similar to Harley's unstable relationship with the Joker and how Ivy was her support.
    – Dewux
    Jul 25 at 11:27
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"The current plot" should be based in conflicting ideals and morals to begin with. That makes "plot based" and "morals based" betrayal the same.

I suggest you read some stories that have more to say than "random plot activities."

A good place to start is with Cold Light by Karl Edward Wagner.

The core of the story is exactly the thing you are trying to understand.

The central character is Gaethaa the Crusader. His loyal right hand is Alidore.

Gaetha has taken on the role of crusader for the good. He tries to stamp out evil whereever he perceives it to be.

Alidore has followed Gaetha through many battles and trials and always held to Gaetha's line - doubtful though that may have been at times, since Gaetha is not above incidental murder or torture of innocent bystanders in finding and destroying some source of evil.

Alidore's doubts about the righteousness of Gaetha's crusades has been growing over time.

When Gaeetha orders the city of Sebbei burned to the ground to get at one evil man, Alidore betrays Gaetha and stands against him.

Alidore turns against Gaetha because he has realized that Gaetha is (or has become) as evil as those he hunted - all in the name of good.

Betrayal isn't just simplistic "sell my friends for a plate full of silver dimes" or "let my friends die so that I can rule the city." It is so much more complicated.

Betray your friend because:

  • Friend has turned into an evil S.O.B. (Gaetha)
  • Third party has kidnapped your {father, mother, sister, brother, best friend, other loved one} and will kill them if you don't betray the protagonist.
  • Friend is doing the right thing but the wrong way - letting them go ahead would be worse stopping them.
  • Friend wants to do something bad that he'll regret and the only way to save him from it is to do something bad to him - call the police to stop your buddy from murdering his cheating girlfriend.
  • Friend has gone totally off the rails - pyschotic and doesn't realize it. The only way to help the friend is to "betray" him to the police so that he can get psychiatric help.
  • Probably a bazzillion other things.
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  • Thanks for the book, I'll add it to my list! However, with the summary you made, it feels like the story's betrayal scene was story-driven instead of character-driven, but it's still a natural betrayal scene nonetheless.
    – Dewux
    Jul 24 at 13:47
  • The characters develop and change. The betrayal isn't driven by the need for the story to move. The betrayal is central to the entire concept of the story and the characters.
    – JRE
    Jul 24 at 13:58
  • It is a short story, not a novel.
    – JRE
    Jul 24 at 13:59
  • Oh sorry about my misconception.
    – Dewux
    Jul 24 at 14:14
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Emotional wounds

I suggest using emotional wounds. Here's a list for inspiration (there's also a book, and it even has a section of wounds aptly named "Misplaced Trust and Betrayals." I highly recommend it.)

Give the protagonist a suitable wound and then have the antagonist hurt them just the same way again. The past and the present will deepen the hurt even more.

Or, if you already have a specific type of betrayal in mind, make it the second time around for the protagonist by having them being betrayed the same or a similar way in the past.

Dig where you stand

To get at the emotional writing of the protagonist's reaction to the betrayal, I think there's only one possibility. You need to dredge up a betrayal from your own past. Yes, it will hurt... writing is sometimes painful, but that's the cost of good writing (much like a lot of other forms of art). You need to expose your soul here.

The good news is, it doesn't have to be a betrayal similar to the one in the story. It's after all the feeling of being betrayed that is important, not the betrayal itself.

Come to think of it, this is also true when it comes to the emotional wound of your protagonist. Having been hurt once and now being hurt again but in a different way would of course still pack a double punch.

Getting Visceral

The most important reaction from your protagonist should be visceral. I.e. in the body.

What emotion does the betrayal cause? Rage? Terror? Devastation? Or something else? All of them?

Where does the pain of the betrayal sit in the body? What does it do to the throat? The stomach? The head? The sense of balance? The heartbeat? The chest? Etc.

You might have to go through the whole body until you find the right place and the right visceral reaction.

Do only one or a very limited number of reactions!

Find the one telling detail that will show your protagonist's visceral reaction.

This is seasoning, and no seasoning makes the story bland, while too much seasoning makes it inedible...

On the other hand, this is probably a key moment in your story and your protagonist's life, so you can pepper it more than any random scene.

Fix it in editing

Is this the first draft of your story? Then do the best you can with this scene now and finish the first draft. Put it away for a while (from a week to a year, depending on how quickly you forget or relax about your story, or how long you can manage without working on it... ;-)

Pick it up again and read it like you read any other book.

Maybe that scene won't even stick out? Or maybe it does, then see what "the boys in the basement" (your unconscious in Stephen-King-speak) have been up to for all this time... maybe they've come up with a better way to write the scene? Then change the scene!

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