How (Not) To Employ Betrayal in A Story


Betrayal as a thematic element in YA post-apocalyptic novels has an important place. Your hero has to fight his or her way through the ridiculous battles and obstacles that are placed in their path because us readers need to cheer them on until the glorious end where the obstacles are vanquished and our hero wins. The betrayal of one or more of those who are closest to the hero is one of those obstacles.

If you’re an author like James Dashner, author of The Maze Runner trilogy, then you understand how to use the element of betrayal to great effect. Currently, as I am zipping through The Maze Runner books, I am heartily enjoying the use of the betrayal element in the story. It is up front and center, in your face, and carries the second book, The Scorch Trials. The characters themselves became aware of a betrayal that was coming, but that did not make the effect any less potent. Dashner uses the betrayal theme to great effect.

And then you have authors like Veronica Roth, author of the Divergent series. Roth is one of those authors that also uses betrayal as an important element of the story. However, the betrayal is not between the characters.

The first two books were told from Tris’ point of view, while the third book flopped between Tris’ and Tobias’ point of view. The change in perspectives annoyed me. Why did she decide to change the perspective for this last book? As the end neared and it became cleared that Tris’ would not live to the end of the series, I realized this and only this was the reason for the change. How can a story continue if your main character is dead? The answer is you cannot.

I had been very much into Tris’ perspective and felt disconnected from the story with the perspective change. Something outside the story itself was now grabbing and diverting my attention from the story. My suspension of disbelief abruptly ended. I kept feeling discomfited and wnodered why the change occurred. When I realized what was going to happen, I felt cheated and betrayed by the author.

And this, my friends, is how you should not employ the use of betrayal in your story. I was an am still highly annoyed at this. I can no longer trust Veronica Roth as an author, and I am not sure that I will be reading any more of her stories because I cannot be sure she won’t try to pull a dirty trick like this again.

Let your characters trick each other all they want. It makes a story more interesting. But neverever trick your readers.

Currently Reading: Daybook by Ann Truitt

Ann Truitt (1921-2004) was a major American artist in the mid-20th century. Although I recently learned about her, I cannot remember how I came across this artist. When I discovered that she wrote Daybook as a journal of her own discovery process as an artist, I knew I had to read it.

Ann was a minimalist sculptor, writer, and mother. Her writings share her feelings about whatever she was going through at the time: her time at Yaddo, an artists colony in Saratoga Springs, NY; her financial struggles before and after her divorce; her childhood; and how she came to be who she was as an artist.

Instead of feeling a huge gap between me and this artist, I feel close to her. Her journey is my journey. Where she has gone, I can go but in my own direction. Where she was, I have passed there. Here is one quote where I know what she means (italics mine):

I begin seriously to contemplate taking a routine job of some sort but am loathe to do so. Not out of laziness but because I fear the kind of sickening failure implicit in betrayal of self, the spending of my energy drop by drop instead of into the waves that lift my work into existence.

For most of my life, I lived an existence of sickening self betrayal. I know that hard knot in the stomach put there by an internal screaming that tells you, both at once, that you cannot fail at this thing called life  and at the same time screams that you must cannot open yourself and follow your hearts desires. I know the shallow panic of a closing throat and the internal silent hysterics that are whipped up from the prohibition that no one can know how I really feel. I ate the pressures of self submission into conformity until touched by another’s stressful requests, which then exploded all over the two of us. I was left shaking in shame; they were left confused and afraid.

Ann Truitt’s Daybook is the journey of herself and the journey of artists everywhere. I am not sculptor, but I see and feel the life she crafted as she made her way forward through and into her art. I can craft that for myself, maybe not in color blocks, but in words, in story, and in the sharing of the self. I share my Self in the hopes that someone else can see their tracks in mine, their hopes in mine, and their dreams in mine.