Saturday, March 20, 2021

Making it Personal: Backstabbing Best Friends


Our topic for the week is all thanks to the Ides of March and legendary backstabbers. Who's the best backstabber in fiction?

Dear people, I give you Fernand Mondego.

What a jerk, right?

I have ridiculous love for The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. I've been taken with the tale since I was a teen and am currently working on a fantasy novel inspired by it. When the movie with Jim Caviezel and Guy Pearce released in 2002, you can imagine my delight. Though the story and characters had been changed pretty drastically, the essence of the original work remained. And I LOVED IT. Still do. I will never turn down an opportunity to catch a viewing, and I'm re-reading the book this year, too.

In my opinion, The Count of Monte Cristo is one of the best revenge tales ever written--if not THE best. However, the betrayal in the film felt even more severe than in the novel. How? Why?

Because Fernand's character received an excellent revision, IMO.

In the film, Edmond and Fernand are best friends. In the book, the young men are merely acquaintances (Fernand is Mercedes' cousin). Because there's no personal history between the men in the book, the knife of Fernand's betrayal, though still buried deep, doesn't strike the reader's heart quite so sharply. 

Until I prepared for this blog post, I'd known the villain in my novel was missing something, some detail, some WHY for his dastardly behavior, but wildly enough, even given how much I adore The Count's tale, both film and book, I couldn't put my finger on the issue. Last night, the answer hit me.

The deception is awful, but it's not personal enough. It doesn't cut to the bone.

I even recalled some old writing advice I'd read and stored in the cobwebby corners of my mind: MAKE EVERYTHING PERSONAL. MAKE IT HURT. The stakes, betrayals, loss, etc. will affect our characters and readers much more if raised to that next degree--the emotional degree.

It was like a lightbulb went off in my brain, though I felt dim for not having seen the answer before. Thus is the writer's life, I suppose. Betrayal hurts more when committed by someone we believe loves us, or at least a person who possesses some level of loyalty and familiarity. This also affects the villain/protagonist relationship across plot points, because the game totally changes when a character is up against someone they know well--or thought they knew well. There's soooo much writers can do with this type of conflict, so many twists to explore. It's FUN, y'all!

So, if you're wondering how to amp up the conflict in your tale or if something feels off, examine the emotional layer. Is the conflict personal? Can you revise and dig deeper? Don't be afraid to try.

Remember: If Dumas can benefit from a revision, we all can ;)