Playing with “Judas”

August 7, 2009

I’ve been looking forward to planning out this thread. I’ve known since one of the earliest story summaries that I wanted to turn up the heat on our hero Joe by creating a “Judas” — a trusted member of his team who eventually proves to be untrustworthy. Up until this morning, it was merely a sticky note reminder to test out the idea.

The goal is to create a character who, like Jesus’ disciple Judas, starts out as a follower or supporter, but ultimately reveals that he cannot be trusted. My dramaturgical motive is to increase the story tension by establishing that Joe doesn’t know who to trust anymore.

With each story thread I plan out, I look for opportunities to give them their own 3-act structure of sorts: to set up, nurture, and pay off the thread. This structural exercise helps me to weed out weaker story threads. If an idea for the story does not fit well into a rise-and-fall dramatic arc, it usually turns out that the element wasn’t worth developing: that it doesn’t do enough to thicken the plot, to move it forward, or to develop the main characters.

Happily, this thread is not only following a nice story arc, but it’s also proving useful in several unexpected places, answering questions I had about how to cause certain things to happen that, as yet, didn’t have the right setup or motive to justify them. 

The solutions presented themselves to me when I considered how a person would react when ousted from the group because his treachery has been revealed. How would he feel? Would he want revenge or to slink away in disgrace? Playing on the possibilities that would add the most tension to the story, I added an element that Joe, when he sees that he nearly lost an officer as a result of this character’s traitorous actions, goes ballistic, severely hurting the man.  Since we’ve already established that Joe is a passionate man who values loyalty, it’s a believable action. Now, I can use Joe’s harsh reaction; it comes back to bite him later in the story when the spurned traitor’s anger turns to revenge. In fact, this reaction allows the traitor to heighten the jeopardy for Joe in three critical plot points later in the story.

Exciting stuff.  Can’t wait to layer this in to the actual script.