So, in order to indulge my own (enormous) sadistic tendency, I'm going to hand this post over to the worst of the worst - the cowards, egotists, sadists and million different breeds of general git. Rotten tomatoes will also be handed out at the end of the presentation for pelting of author or persons portrayed here, depending on your preference.
Now then, dear readers, let's find out ... which one of these wonderful people would make the perfect turncoat?
Suspect Number One: Administration, Advice and Anarchy.
We begin our investigation into traitors with one of the simplest and most well-known archetypes - the backstabbing advisor or second-in-command. Common haunts include high fantasy, political thriller and some murder mysteries. Motives vary depending on the situation - it could be anything from an inferiority complex, thwarted or jealousy of love, a stupidly low salary, the boss' annoying habit of ruffling their hair and calling them "boy-o", or the usual warmongering, power-hungriness or mental instability.
Known aliases: Grima Wormtongue, Iago.
Pros: Politics is a brutal business, so it's hardly implausible that, sooner or later, the Head Honcho's backup might turn nasty. Motives are easy to concoct, and there's plenty of variety to be had to spice things up. They've also got the added advantage of being perfect catalysts for civil wars and mad campaigns of genocide and opression, or alternately being used as puppets by some darker Big Bad Overlord, due to their flexibility of nature and drive.
Cons: Face it, we've all seen these guys too many times to be surprised when they whip out the knives. Especially if they're portrayed in that awfully cliche'd fashion (greasy hair, pasty skin, suspicious twitch) and walk around muttering about world domination like Kreacher on crack. There's no point in having a traitor character at all if we know who it's going to be!
Final Verdicit: Easy to find, useful, but not terribly bright. More interesting candidates available.
Suspect Number Two: HE WAS THEIR FRIEND!
A close cousin of Suspect Number One, we have the backstabber who lives a little closer to home. Has been sighted on multiple occasions in almost every genre, and most motives seem to involve some incarnation of jealousy against the hero(ine) of the tale, or a feeling that working for the "other side" will fulfill the gaping hole in their lives that tells them they must be something bigger and better than everyone else.
Known aliases: Peter Pettigrew.
Pros: There's no way to break the heart of your central character (and the readership that loves them) like having them turned on by someone they thought the could trust. Unlike snaky advisors, friends are not the people we'd expect to turn traitor, so the element of surprise factor is very much in their favour. Making the readership watch a well-loved character slowly nurse their festering wounds against the hero for the big moment is also a greatly under-appreciated technique. Treacherous friends also have brilliant potential to become "grey-area" villains later in the plot and - you guessed it - their dual nature as friend and foe is yet another pointy weapon with which to torture the readers!
Cons: If the motive isn't credible for the character, the whole charade falls to pieces. Friends are harder to turn against other characters, and - sometimes - the fact that the hero(ine) refuses to take a swing at them for old time's sake can get a little grating. This sort of character is also a lot more prone to irritating "superiority" monologues than "professional" villains.
Final Verdict: Read the contract carefully before you hire this one.
Suspect Number Three: Whose Side Are You On Again?
Ah, the double agent. Both protagonist and arch-nemesis in many a spy-based thriller (or any book involving intrigue, really), working out where this lot stand is one of the most entertaining pursuits of any reader. No matter what you see them doing - chatting with Mr Nice, helping Mr Nasty pin up the blueprints of his doomsday machine or singing to Britney Spears in the shower - nothing they do will tell you anything more about them. To trust .... or not to trust?
Known aliases: Severus Snape, Varys the Spider.
Pros: The sheer ambuguity and lack of certainty with a double agent character is their greatest attraction. Who knows if they're double-crossing, or even triple-crossing, the hero? Are they bluffing? Are they lying? What is the hidden meaning behind those glittering eyes? What's that shiny thing lurking up their sleeve? Red herrings are a double agent's best friend, and sometimes you don't even need to tell the reader definitively who's side they're on at all, but let their actions eventually show their loyalties ... or lack of them.
Cons: Too many signs in a short space of time may confuse your reader more than intrigue them, but the absolute worst thing about a double agent is how easy it is to make them contrived. Their motives can be incredibly hard to fathom and gradually show to the readers without exposition, and there's nothing worse than setting a character up beautifully and then, suddenly "Oh, it turns out they're on OUR side all along!" and then rattle off some very tenuous links to one side or another. They're complex people who require incredibly careful planning - probably more so than any other sort of traitor.
Final Verdict: Spectacular agents, but watch your back. You never know when you might find something sticking out of it ...
Suspect Number Four: The Voices Are Telling Me To Kill You...
Ooer, anybody got a straight-jacket? It's always the crazy ones who'll bite you in the butt at the last minute. And they needn't even be that crazy - in fact, the majority of "mad" traitors aren't the types who run around with chickens on their heads claiming to the the Queen of The Math Fairies. You'll find them just about everywhere, living normal, or next to normal, lives, looking just like you or me ... until you scratch beneath the surface. Deluded, desperate or downtrodden ... and, maybe, just a tiny bit doolally.
Known Aliases: Murtagh Morzansson, Petyr Littlefinger, Jaime Lannister.
Pros: Though it may sound a little strange, the damaged traitors are often the most likely to be the ones the readers will feel sorry for. Come on, wouldn't your heart ache if you knew the only reason this character was doing the horrible things they do was because they honestly believed it would be for the best, or because they've become to utterly broken by their lives that, to them, this is the only logical course of action? Villains are clever, rememeber, and they find nothing more enjoyable than finding weaknesses and twisting or forcing people into their service. In the case of Murtagh up there, he didn't have any choice when he was forced to betray his half-brother and fight for an evil king. Can you really call him a traitor for that? As for Jaime, well, wouldn't you finish of Mad King Aerys in those circumstances, too?
Cons: One word: angst. If your traitor spends more time bewailing what has become of them than acting on their orders / beliefs / crazed desires, you know they've been drinking too much coffee. Using this approach simply to get your character a sympathy vote does NOT count as complete justification for what they do - odds are they DO have an alternative, if they're really that noble. Even if it does involve death.
Final Verdict: As long as they take their meds, and you don't let them read the newspaper, they ought to operate just fine.
Of course, there are a multitude of other variants and degrees of treachery that this world of thugs and thieves can throw at us, but it's good to have an idea of alternatives. No matter how iffy their morals, remember that even sneaks like these are people too, and their motives will be different depending on their character, circumstances, and whatever horrors you plan to inflict on them in the course of the story.
Mixing and matching different aspects of villain models can also create a more dynamic character - what about a supposedly treacherous advisor acting as a double agent? What about the hero(ine)'s best friend being exploited and twisted by the villain until they're tricked into betraying their friend?
Much like methods of assassination, the possibilities really are endless.
- Charley R