Tuesday, February 14, 2017

An Overwhelming Lack of Exits

Let's talk about setting. The tale that's been rolling around in my head takes place in a bed and breakfast type deal on an island. They're cut off from the mainland. The last boat out has left. There will probably be a storm. (Hint: there will definitely be a storm.) The point is, it's a Closed Circle. Nobody comes in, and nobody gets out. That keeps characters from doing pesky little things like going for help.

"That is such an overused trope!" you might say.

And you might be right. If you look at the examples on the page I linked, there are a ton. Maybe that's because it's super convenient when you don't want your characters wandering off. Maybe it's because it's a lot of fun. You can decide for yourself. For me, it's a bit of both.

Because, see, if you have a way out, insisting you can't leave gives you a little thing called a false dilemma. Which is something I find irritating and try to avoid. Say my options were "try to find the killer and stop them" or "wait around until they kill us too" while there is a perfectly good way off the island. That's not going to work for me. In my case, the choice is more like "stay here" or "swim a few miles in the frigid Pacific."

I'm going to tell you a story, about a story, about a false dilemma. This was something I peer-reviewed back in my creative writing class. The gist of it was that there are some people driving along, in a storm, I think. It's pouring, visibility is minimal. They pull over, hoping for it to pass. It doesn't. There's an old house nearby. They present their choices as: "try to keep driving to the next town" or "go in the creepy, obviously haunted house for the night." As you might imagine, they go in the house and all die horribly. They fail to consider a third option: stay in the car. Sure, it's not the most comfortable place to spent the night, but it's better than being murdered, wouldn't you say?

So, thanks to that story, I always make sure that if I present only two choices, there really are only two.

But I feel like I've wandered way away from my original point: setting. You have to consider what you'll need in a given story, and place it accordingly. In this case, I needed somewhere that people could be stuck for an indeterminate amount of time without, you know, starving to death or whatever, though I doubt they'll be there that long. Anyway, a quaint little bed and breakfast provides all the comforts of home, while conceivably being isolated.

I'm sure you can spot a lot of problems with all this, and you wouldn't be wrong. What about cell phones? Or the internet? Isolation is a lot harder these days. Trust me, I'm working on it. I'll have it all figured out by the time I actually write the thing.

Do you have a favorite closed circle story (or movie, etc.)? Tell me about it!

I'll see you all Friday.

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