Character Change – Betrayal

This is the lowest form of negativity in this initial series of six character change articles. It doesn’t quite fit with the rest because the chance of a person escaping from this is near zero. This personality makes a good villain. Revealing how they got that way in your story can help your readers feel some sympathy even though they will still hate the character.

The Problem

The betrayer will take advantage of every opportunity they can find to get what they want without concern for who else might get hurt.

A mild example of this character type is people who pretend to be stupid or incompetent so other people will do things for them that they could have done themselves. They may also exaggerate complaints about minor problems with goods and services so they can get big discounts or refunds. “So what” if a business did everything to help them? They’ll cheat anyone to give themselves an advantage.

There are worse betrayers than the manipulators. Some are con artists who work within the bounds of the law.

For example, a friend of mine invented a patent for growing a popular food plant with much less risk of some common problems. The product yield was more than double that already existing in the industry. To maximize his profit from the patent, he needed to start his own business with one greenhouse and expand from there as the profits rolled in given his edge over the competition.

Like most people, he needed a partner with money to get started. He found two backers who were ready to fully fund starting up a company. All he needed to do was put the patent in the company name and it was a done deal. He talked to a few people first and discovered a problem. These two had a reputation for scamming people out of their patents. They back the company and then don’t provide enough money for the company to stay afloat. When it goes bankrupt, as creditors they get the patent. And their scam works within the limits of the law.

You can get lots of story ideas for similar scams by searching the web for “scam” and reading until you dream up a good idea. If you’re creating an important character, look for a collection of similar scams. Deviants often follow the same patterns over and over.

The worst of the betrayers are outright criminals. We’re talking about all of the variations of betrayal of trust here: embezzlers, grafters, grifters, child abusers, anyone who is put in a position of trust and then betrays that trust.

The Cause

To become a betrayer takes being betrayed so severly or so often that it becomes accepted as normal in the mind of the betrayed.

The character got married and became a victim of spousal abuse. After escaping the bad marriage they developed techniques to keep people at a distance. Maybe they don’t become physically abusive but emotional abuse can be just as effective at avoiding another bad marriage.

Someone gets cheated on so many business deals they accept that as standard business protocol. Then they develop their own scams.

We all become like the people we associate with. Our social environment has a strong effect on the kind of person we will become. Nobody stays the same after a few years in prison or a few months in a war zone. Years lived in a neighborhood with a high crime rate also take their toll.

An adult who is a victim of betrayal can try again with a more trustworthy person and possibly heal the damage. Even if the problem is caused by many betrayals in a hostile environment, they can move into a better environment and eventually change themselves back to the healthy loving person they used to be.

A child who is betrayed may not have that luxury. The earlier their trust is betrayed the less chance they have to go back to a better more trusting time in their life.

Just as we may not achieve full physical development until sometime in our twenties, our intellectual and emotional capacities also need time to mature. It takes time to build happy memories. Betrayal in childhood destroys that basic happiness.

How your character’s personality has been molded by betrayal depends on how sever the betrayal and for how long of a time. In any case, they will suffer from low self esteem because someone thought they were so worthless that abuse was acceptable. In more serious cases, they will become abusers themselves. The exception is sex abuse, which appears to be a male only form of betrayal.

The Cure

I’ve mentioned one kind of cure already, the memory of a happier time in the past when there was no betrayal. That’s fine for milder cases, but what about someone who’s been worked over good, such as a character who gets set up for a murder they didn’t commit and spends 20 years in a federal penitentiary?

How are your memories for more than 20 years ago? The same as mine, I’d bet. Foggy. As if they were something from a book or movie except you know they happened to you. Let me just flip this around here and point out that this shows another way to overcome betrayal – time. When enough time has passed without further betrayal, it can fade into foggy memory.

Your characters may be victims of betrayal who haven’t turned into betrayers. This can be a good surprise element to put into a character’s personality. Although they are not a bad character, because they have suffered from betrayal in the past they may not be entirely trustworthy. This problem shows up when a character backs out of a deal because they don’t trust the other person. A character may even go over to the side of a bad crowd because they don’t trust the good crowd that they already know. They see that one of their friends has similar personality traits to someone who betrayed them and assume the friend will betray them too. Stereotyping people based on similarities of personality is common human behavior because it makes the social world simpler. For the betrayed / betrayer, it makes the world more hostile too.

If a character is a full blown abusive betrayer, it will be almost impossible to help them find a cure. They don’t trust anyone and can’t be trusted. The only way they can be rescued from such a personality trait may be by spending a long time in an environment specifically set up to help them recover. Other than programs set up by psychologists and social workers, the only cure may be falling in love. Both of these solutions will take time and that can be hard to show in a story.

Story Ideas

If you must convert a betrayer in your story, you will need some methods for showing the passing of time without boring your audience.

Method One: Write several chapters with dated journal entries showing the character’s progress and setbacks. The setting should always be centered around the program or relationship that is healing them. Alternate the chapters with stories about other characters in another place. This is where you will set up the challenges the character will face after recovery so build the tension.

Method Two: Continue your story about the other characters and only insert short pieces about the character’s recovery; at the end of each chapter, for example. Use these pieces to show how their trust is building. When they mention a setback, continue with how they overcame it to go on.

When the character returns to the main story, get them into the action right away. They must act to show how they’ve changed.

This completes the initial six articles on character change. I will try to post some articles of a different flavor before moving on to a series about character change due to common life problems.

Article by Ivan Izo.

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