Yes, I know. Not exactly happy thoughts and fluffy kittens, right?
Life in our household has been knocked off kilter by the death of our beloved dog, Bailey. As a childless couple, our dogs are the next closest thing. It came as a shock to us when Bailey was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease which was literally killing him. After many costly vet bills and several med switches later including chemotherapy, we thought he had the whole thing beat until he went into sudden liver failure. Putting him down was probably the hardest decision I have had to make in my adult life and is still something we are dealing with on a daily basis in our house. God, we miss him.
They never tell you how quiet it is when they are gone. I keep wondering when it’ll get better because right now, my routine is shot to hell and my concentration is about the size of a gnat’s. Protector should’ve been out by now, but it still sits on this computer with editor comments waiting for me to have the motivation to open it back up. I have tried to sit down and get to it, but it’s just too hard.
So. What now?
Well, I’ve wanted to talk about character betrayal for some time now and given the solemn nature of this post, now is probably as good of a time as any.
Like real life betrayal, some types of character betrayal can make us question an author’s moral integrity, as well as, our own. I can think of two recent examples in the last couple of years that have really stuck with me. For my purposes, I am using one book and a TV drama.
I was a pretty die-hard Sons of Anarchy fan. Don’t know why that particular show resonated with me, maybe due to my family’s humble backwater beginnings or maybe the acting was compelling, got me, but I was sucked in, especially when it came to the turbulent relationship of the main protagonist and anti-hero Jackson Teller and the love of his life, Dr. Tara Knowles.
That particular relationship, more so than the outlaw brotherhood, really got me in the gut. The sheer weight of hope that I carried that they would make it out of this awful life alive was staggering. And ridiculous given the fact that it wasn’t even real, but I couldn’t stop the emotion. She was his moral compass, his redemption for all the horrible things he was doing as a biker outlaw. I didn’t know one person who wasn’t rooting for those two.
Then Kurt Sutter, creator, writer, and part-time director of the series did something that not only disturbed me, but pissed off every female fan in all of fandom – he made Jax cheat on Tara. With a whore. While Tara was in prison for trying to help out his club. She’d been in there less than a week.
What a bastard. Both of them. And every female SOA fan took to the internet and spouted their fury. It was bloody impressive. Hell, I was one of those women.
Outrage doesn’t really cover the gamut of emotion that most women felt at that betrayal. A lot of fans felt that they had been duped, buying into this idea of “unequivocal” love – that no matter how much of a monster Jax had become, his love for Tara was untarnished and coveted. Wrong. I think in that moment, Sutter took away not just our hope, but our innocence as well. When Sutter unexpectedly killed off Tara at the end of Season 6, I was done. To this day, I still think that he made a mistake.
Second case. Outlander. Spoiler alert. Jump over this bit if you’re not up-to-date on the books, okay, well, like three of the books because I haven’t read them all either nor am I likely to. I’m over it.
But before I was over it, I was hooked in. Not really the first book so much as the second and then the third maybe. Like the closeted romance junkie that I am, I was digging the relationship between Claire and Jamie Fraser. Not so much Claire because still now, I don’t find her a very likable character in a lot of ways – I mean who abandons their only child regardless of age and not being funny, I don’t know any women who’d ever forgo seeing her would-be grandchildren forever. Not realistic. No, really, it isn’t.
That aside, I rooted for their tumultuous relationship, cheered them on when they finally realized their feelings for each other and yes, drank up all those sex scenes like a thirsty man on a desert island given a margarita. I bought in, the whole thing, even when she got pushed back through the stones. (Sci-fi story, my ass, but that’s another rant).
But the deal breaker for me was when Jamie Fraser practically raped an annoying yet virginal young woman who then became pregnant with his bastard child. Yes, she was horrible, but Gabaldon went too far for my liking – not just in the forced sex arena, but also, allowing the character to become pregnant. And this is my reasoning:
Yes, Claire is gone, perhaps forever, and Jamie is still a man with man needs, so sex is inevitable, but for him to end up with a son out of it, when the love of his life, is stuck in another century raising his other child, is downright wrong for me *and* also seemed out of character (along with wedding stupid Laoghaire). I can’t say it any more plainly. I wasn’t seething like I was with Jax Teller, but I was definitely in the groaning and eye rolling territory. You just can’t do it if you’re going to bring them back together, not without there being this massive wedge between them forever. Children change everything.
So back to the question of character betrayal. Characters lie, cheat, steal, kill, maim, and do all sorts of underhanded things all the time and yet we still forgive them. When does it cross the line?
This is an important question for me as an author because inevitably, my own characters step off the right path or in some cases, run head long onto the path of destruction, destruction that is almost always caused by some sort of betrayal. And it is something of a theme for the next book, Betrayer. Yep. It’s even in the title.
The bigger question is what betrayal is acceptable versus betrayal that makes a reader walk away?
I can tell you from the above examples that romantic betrayal is almost always a deal breaker. For women. Who are the majority of my audience. Jax Teller poisoned his relationship with his wife (and redeemer) Tara the moment he made eye contact with Colette. To have Tara walk in on them having sex was the final twist of the knife. Every woman watching that scene would’ve punched her fist through the TV and ripped his balls off if they could’ve. And at that moment, everyone knew that Jax Teller was not going to get the happy ending. Ever.
With Outlander, I still don’t understand the legions of loyal fans. Jamie’s betrayal of Claire’s memory is easier to swallow, sure, but when they do get back to each other again, you wonder why you even cared to begin with. Their relationship which seemed so fiery yet utterly inseparable becomes . . . boring. I know. I really said that. So while I was outraged earlier at his behavior, by the end of whatever book I was at (American colonies one with Bri and the annoying guy), I just didn’t care. Their relationship had lost the spark and it felt like Gabaldon was flogging a dead horse (here comes the hate mail).
There is a fine line with betrayal and what you can get away with whether it’s the white lie or a gruesome murder. Yes, some people still root for the anti-hero, just think Dexter. The question is how to know the difference and knowing your audience well enough to know when too much really is too much.
Problem is I’m still trying to work that out.