5 Betrayals in Bestsellers: Physical Betrayal

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5 Betrayals in Bestselling Novels
As a reminder of this blog series, there are (at least) 5 betrayals common in Bestselling novels. These betrayals heighten the emotional stakes and tension in the story.
Here is the whole list:
  •        Internal Betrayal
  •        Physical Betrayal
  •        Family Betrayal
  •        Friend Betrayal
  •        Mentor Betrayal
As you may recall from an earlier post, these 5 betrayals can be split into two categories: Self-betrayal and Other betrayal.
The first two (internal and physical) betrayals fall into the Self-Betrayal category. This is when the character serves as his or her own worst enemy.
Since we have already examined Internal Betrayal in the previous post, let’s take a look at the second type of Self-Betrayal (when a character’s own thoughts, feelings and physical body betrays them).
It might be important to point out that Physical betrayal is one of the most pervasive forms of betrayals found in bestsellers. The broad use of this betrayal across genres deserves our writerly attention and focused application of the technique in our own stories.
Physical betrayal comes in many forms. Consider the following examples:
  • Injuries
  • disease
  • weakness
  • restrictions
  • old age

Perhaps physical betrayal populates so many bestsellers because it is so widely experienced as part and parcel of the human condition. The numerous appearances of this betrayal in bestsellers might be a kind of mirror reflection and exaggeration of our own fears, foibles and flaws.

Examples of Physical Betrayals

  • In the novel, The Survivor by Gregg Hurwitzthe  main character is stricken by ALS. The chronic condition both motivates the story opening and quickly creates reader sympathy. Even more, the physical betrayal significantly adds tension and a sense of urgency throughout the story as the character progressively loses function even as he attempts to protect himself and his family from some rather nasty bad-guys.
  • Stephen King’s Thinner is a story about physical betrayal as the protagonist, Billy Halleck, withers under the curse of a gypsy. The engrossing novel follows Billy as he desperately fights to break the curse before the ultimate physical betrayal, death.
  • In  my own novel, Dark Halo, a father’s depression and alcoholism destroyed his family and career. Over the course of 48 hours, he is beaten, bitten, swatted, threatened, injured and nearly crushed. In the same story, a disgraced angel’s body slowly transforms into the blackened shell of a demon.
How can you apply this betrayal to your own literary works? 
  1. Reflect on the major story goals, issues, conflicts, problems and questions. You may even want to jot them down for a snapshot view of your story.
  2. Ask yourself, “How does my character(s) physical body connect to the overall story goals, issues, problems, conflicts and questions?”
  3. Ask, “How can I increase the challenge of reaching the story goal by negatively affecting the character’s physical body?”
  4. Ask, “How can I raise the story stakes through some disease, restriction, ailment or injury of one or more of the major characters?”
  5. Consider what type or types of physical betrayals not only increase story tension, but also affect relationships with other characters (positively, negatively or both).
  6. Consider what type of physical betrayal most adversely affects your character(s). Sometimes making a list helps with brainstorming these ideas.

 

How will you use physical betrayal in your stories? 

 

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Christopher Kokoski is a speaker, trainer and author of Wicker Hollow and the Past Lives novel series.

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