Thursday, October 7, 2010

Secret hinting

Now this isn't a likely scenario for anyone's book, but I always love this sort of twist. So let me set it up and ask you all.

One of the most agonizingly painful scenarios is when character A is betrayed by the lover, really betrayed. And you can really milk that for angst and pain and all that good stuff.

However, there are a few of us who want to make it EVEN WORSE. The 'betrayer" is actually doing it to save the betrayed, only this requires that everyone think it's betrayal.

Let me set it up so I can use he/she pronouns. I'll summarize the world's most tearjerking ending, of Dedicated Villain, by Patricia Veryan.
Roland is a "dedicated villain," a charming rogue who manages to ingratiate himself with a traveling troupe of performers who are (he knows) trying to leave with Prince Charley's gold to return it to the donors.

Roland of course wants to steal this gold from them. Along the way, he becomes friends with everyone and falls in love with Fiona, one of the girls in the troupe. They have no idea he's anything but a nice guy who wants to help them. Well, a couple of the men are suspicious of him because he's so smooth and handsome and all that.

Anyway, in the end, he realizes that the Evil Army Officer has figured out that the troupe has the gold and is going to arrest them (and after the Bonnie Prince's rebellion, arrest meant they'd be hanged). To save them, he has to make them all believe that he has betrayed them and stolen the gold.

And they do, realizing that he never was who he said he was. So he's sacrificing his own redemption (getting these good people to care about him) by exploiting the terrible reputation he thought he'd escaped. And he's sacrificing Fiona's love, but so that he can save her life.

Sigh. It is so wonderful.

Anyway, the question. If you've set up this sort of double-cross, this fake betrayal, would you (in the "betrayal" scene) hint somehow that there's something off about his actions, so that the reader kind of doubts that he's really betrayed them?

Or would you let the reader have the same experience as Fiona, thinking that Roland has really betrayed them?

And why? And how?


Kelsey (Dominique) Ridge said...

You pose a great question. On one hand, I love it when books make me cry, so I'd love to see it from Fiona's angel. On the other hand, dramatic irony is one of my favorite things, so I'd love to know it's a betrayal. I guess, in my mind, the best of both worlds is to have the reader know he isn't betraying them but still see it from Fiona's perspective. Then, I can have my dramatic irony and my tears as well.

Julie Harrington said...

I don't mind hints, but I think for a setup like this they'd have to be fair hints but woven into the story very, very well so only if I was really paying attention might I *suspect* the truth. That way, I'll continue reading for sure to see if I'm right and if I don't pick up the clues, I'll be shocked and re-read the whole thing just to go back to pick out the clues. To me it's like watching an episode of Columbo vs. Murder She Wrote. Columbo (almost always) played fair. Everything was there if you were paying attention. Jessica Fletcher always whipped some bs "off screen" information out at the very last second to nab the killer and I ALWAYS felt cheated by that.


Anonymous said...

It seems to me the answer would depend on what sort of story you are writing. If a major part of the focus is on figuring out what the Evil Officer plans - in other words the mystery is there as more than just window dressing - then you can't give the reader more than small hints because figuring out the reasons behind Roland's actions is part of figuring out the mystery as a whole.

On the other hand, if the "mystery" is really only there to support the betrayal then I think you need to show it from both Roland's and Fiona's POVs in order to get the full impact.

Jordan said...

This is similar to something I'm trying to do in my MS. Interesting discussion!

Jordan said...

Oh, to answer the question, in my story, the reader has all the information from the beginning. In this case, I think it makes the betrayal more acute since the reader knows that he could—and couldn't—have avoided the betrayal.

I'd planned on writing the betrayal from the POV of the betrayer. (He's doing the major action in the scene; she's just observing as he reveals his true identity to someone else. I'd envisioned the betrayer seeing her and realizing what he'd done at the end of the scene.) But since the truth was so well established (=dramatic irony fully exploited?), I went for what Dominique mentioned, the POV of the betrayed. So also not quite as challenging as the setup you've described—but very fun.

Leona said...

That's interesting what was said in the columbo vs murder she wrote

I always figured it out in both shows. Recently, I started rewatching Murder She Wrote, and when she tells how she figured it out, they show how she figured it out- the misspoken word, the mud on the pants, whatever it was. It isn't quite as magical as I thought, even though I knew who did it! LOL There are times I go and reread the book simply to see if the clues were there. Sigh. When they are I feel both vindicated and idiotic. Of course I knew who did it, the author told me all along. But in the same vein, they did it so well, I couldn't always pinpoint it.

I like this set up you have. I tried to write it once, but got PO'd at myself for not letting him get the girl when he so deserved it.

Unknown said...

I guess it depends on how the story is written. Is the reader allowed inside Roland’s head? Do we know what his intentions are from the get-go?

If not, then yes, I definitely would choose to hint at something ‘off’ about his actions when he ‘betrays’ the troupe. It’s what redeems him in the reader’s eye. It’s what make the reader route for him and want Fiona to believe in him when no one else does.

However, if we’ve been Roland’s accomplices and have been in his head all along, then no, I’d let the reader believe Roland chose to betray everyone then wham… surprise twist near the end. He shows his hand and wins back Fiona. Awwww. HEA.

Interesting topic since I’m working on something along those lines. I’ve got a double ‘double-cross’ going on.

Heroine is sent to ‘betray’ the hero. The reader knows from the start she has an ulterior motive for what she’s doing (to save her younger sister’s life) therefore, hopefully, the reader can sympathize with her.

But to make it interesting, I chose not to reveal to the reader that the hero knows the truth, which makes things very tricky LOL
I’ve placed hints here and there when in his POV, using both inner and spoken dialogue that's loaded with double-meaning, depending on how you look at it (or what you suspect).

Ultimately, when everything is revealed, and the heroine changes her mind and refuses to betray the hero, he admits he knew and played along to help her.

Edittorrent said...

I think in a romance, the big hint would just be that the hero is in love with the heroine. If it's just that, the betrayal might seem even worse, but also after the reader finds out that it was bogus, will understand. "Well, of course! He really loves her!"