Betrayal is always good for a bit of angst in fiction, and fanfiction is no exception. However, I’ve noticed several features of betrayal in fanfiction that tend to reoccur. For a start, things tend to work themselves out, partly I think because of the nature of fanfiction – we simply don’t want to think badly of characters we love.
In general the betrayal in fanfiction falls into two categories – the ex who betrayed a character in the past – a cheating wife etc – who isn’t part of the story anymore, and the current partner caught up in a misunderstanding. The plot is usually Character A once upon a time suffered betrayal with an ex and now has trust issues, which are magnified when, usually through a misunderstanding, it seems that Character B is cheating on them now too. Confusion and much hurt and shouting ensue before it all tends to work itself out in the end.
So, why do we like betrayal so much? I think it’s because many of us can relate to it – from both sides – the side of being hurt, and the side of being accused. We have all hurt at some stage, and so we can all relate to characters we love being hurt, especially by other characters we love – it adds and extra element of angst that we simply don’t get from the generic cheating partner in fiction.
Another feature of fanfiction is that the relationship dynamics need to be considered. Very often, especially in non-canon couples the relationship has a lot of added pressures and complications compared to other couples. Like I mentioned before, there are usually trust issues involved somewhere, and particularly in slash then is often an element of sexual insecurity or uncertainty – very often caused in part by at least one of the characters not previously having identified as gay – and so they are dealing with their trust issues in addition to questioning their sexuality and dealing with what is a massive change in their lives full of uncertainty, and so adding a lot of angst to what is already a stressful time.
Add into that their new partner ‘cheating’ and you have an awful lot of heartbreak.
And for the ‘cheating’ partner there tends to be shock, some anger – after all, no one like to be accused of something they haven’t done, and very often this partner will beg, plead and then shut the other person out – becoming very cold and clinical.
There will be a period where neither of them are doing well, friends will be concerned etc until, usually a chance meeting, a heartfelt talk, realisation of love and then reconciliation and a stronger relationship for it. Happy endings all round.
For most of us, sexual betrayal is the worst thing someone can do to you, it cuts to the bone, induces feelings of worthlessness, fear, hurt and self loathing. Not only is there anger towards the ‘cheater’ but there are also those negative feelings towards the self – especially given the recurrent trust issues and the previous betrayal by someone else, and these often are more cutting than the anger. Why does no one love me enough?
But there are also other types of betrayal that come up – especially in relationships with a seniority issue – no one likes it when their partner pulls rank. In these fics the partnership tends to involve one character of a higher professional ranking than the other, and for the most part it tends to work just fine until something happens and the senior partner ‘I gave an order’ which is usually met with ‘Yes, Sir’ and a revert to surnames or titles and the whole relationship takes a massive leap back to a purely professional one. Now, I’m sure we’ve all seen this in real life at some stage – and this is why you shouldn’t sleep with your boss.
So why have I included this as a betrayal? Well, in a way it is. It’s taking a relationship that was supposedly equal and highlighting the imbalance. The slighted party feels betrayed because they clearly aren’t trusted – often they haven’t been something important by someone who supposedly loves them and trusts them. They feel shut out on a personal level, even though on a professional level it’s entirely correct. This leads to a conflict over whether or not the relationship can continue. Not just that, but to have rank pulled is belittling – it’s putting someone in there place and that can only impact badly on relationships.
Then there is the Big Secret – this can be something really horrific from their past, a baby Character A never told Character B about, Character C letting Character D think they were dead, etc etc. Usually the Big Secret is already known by some other characters, which adds to the level of betrayal – after all, if the love of your life doesn’t tell you that they are still married to their ex, or that when you broke up they had a baby they didn’t tell you about, you are going to be hurt and upset, but more so because other characters know and THEY DIDN’T TELL YOU EITHER. So who can you trust? No one. Everyone is lying to you, you can’t trust your lover, you can’t trust your friends. You are alone. Betrayed.
Hurt is a powerful thing, and we fanfiction folks like to see our characters suffer a bit, safe in the knowledge that it will all work out in the end. But that’s because we’re a sadistic bunch in general.
So, I’m off to read some angsty fic.
Til next time.