As we discussed in last week’s blog post, there is going to be a time in a fantasy story (and often in a fiction one too) when the main character will find himself/herself in difficulty. Thus, you (as the writer) must come up with innovative ways to get your main character out of a sticky situation. For here, a ‘sticky situation’ is defined as:
- In some kind of prison;
- On the defensive (badly) in a skirmish or battle;
- When the authorities are closing in on the main character;
- In need of proving himself/herself worthy;
Indeed, once the main character is in difficulty, he/she needs to find a way out of it. Thus, this blog post will continue to look at some innovative ways to get your main character out of a sticky situation.
(Take note, though, that as a rule it has to be the POV Character that comes up with the idea to get himself/herself out of his/her predicament. This is because the POV Character is the one with the agency.)
Arguably, the most common problem that main characters have in stories is escaping from prison. In order to the narrative forward, you (the writer) will need to come up with some innovative ways to get your main character out of a sticky situation.
We discussed five last week. Below are the last two, with an exception.
F – Acquire A Magical Item Or Being
The beauty of the fantasy genre is that you can stretch (and even break) the laws of physics. To make the narrative fun and (in general but not necessarily) light-hearted, when the main character is stuck in a prison, you can give him/her a magical item or being to enable him/her to get out of the predicament.
This magical item or being can be in the form of a genie, a weapon, or whatever else you like. It really doesn’t matter, so long as the item or being has consequence to the plot.
Example 1 – Genie in Aladdin
When Abu touches the forbidden treasure in the Cave of Wonders, Aladdin finds himself stuck in the cave. All he has is Abu, a magic carpet, and a lamp. He rubs the lamp and Genie (voiced by Robin Williams) comes out. Subsequently, Genie helps Aladdin get out of the cave and get close to Princess Jasmine, through magic.
G – Have Someone Else Save The Main Character*
There are situations when the main character needs help, and a friend comes to save him/her. In theory, there is nothing wrong with this and it has been done many times in fiction and fantasy.
Example – Sam Saves Frodo
After Frodo enters Mordor through the Path of Cirith Ungol, he is stabbed by Shelob the Spider and then gets taken captive by orcs. His friend, Samwise Gamgee, comes to his rescue, killing all the orcs and releasing him from captivity.
Sam’s actions enable Frodo to continue on toward Mount Doom to destroy the Ring, and save the world from Sauron’s evil.
*Why Writers Should Avoid Having Someone Else Save The Main Character**
As a rule, the main character is the one with the agency i.e. he/she is the one who drives the plot forward. Writers should aim to give their main character as much agency as possible. Therefore, they should make the central protagonist come up with creative ideas ways to escape.
When another character saves the main character, he/she takes away agency from the main character. Thus, writers should try their best to avoid having a secondary character save the central protagonist when he/she is in jail.
There is, however, an exception to the above. Some books have multiple POV Characters, and in such a novel a POV Character can save another POV Character who is in captivity. That works.
This is not as easy to achieve in practice as it sounds. But it can be done. Indeed, it has been done.
Example – Jaime Saves Tyrion
In A Storm of Swords, Tyrion Lannister once again finds himself in jail. This time, though, he has been accused of murdering King Joffrey. After his gamble for a Trial by Combat fails, Lord Tywin Lannister (his father, no less) sentences him to death.
While waiting to be beheaded, Jaime, his older brother, comes to his cell to help him flee across the Narrow Sea. In A Storm of Swords, Jaime is a POV Character.
When The Authorities Want Your Main Character
For one reason or another in stories, those in power may want your main character for a crime that he/she may or may not have committed. When facing this predicament, you (the wtiter) must find innovative ways to get your main character out of a sticky situation. This can be done either by your central protagonist:
- Going on the run to find evidence to exonerate himself/herself; or
- Covering up his/her tracks.
Example for Going On The Run – Minority Report
The premise to the sci-fi Minority Report (2002) is that America has created a computer system that has found a way to prevent murders happening. The system names someone who is going to murder another, and the police come to lock him/her up.
However, one day, Captain John Anderton (Tom Cruise) is named as a ‘will be murderer’ to a man he doesn’t know. Rather than accept being locked up, John goes on the run and finds the ‘minority report.’ This enables him to provide alternative evidence that shows a different future for him, to exonerate himself.
Example for Cover Tracks – Insomnia
In Christopher Nolan’s noir crime thriller, Insomnia (2002), Detective Will Dormer (Al Pacino) is sent to Alaska with detectives Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan) and Ellie Burr (Hillary Swank) to investigate a murder.
Dormer and Eckhart attract the alleged murderer to the crime scene, but the alleged criminal runs away. The two detectives chase after him. Dormer shoots at him, but hits and kills Detective Eckhart instead. Fearing that Detective Ellie Burr will work out what happened, Dormer spends much of the rest of the movie tampering with the evidence to incriminate another local psychopath, Walter Finch (played scarily well by Robin Williams), to draw attention away from himself.
Skirmishes And Battles
Often in fantasy or historical fiction stories, the main character will face a situation whereby it’s backs against the wall in a fight, whether in a skirmish or a battle. There a number of innovative ways to get your main character of a sticky situation like these, as can be seen below.
A – Be Creative
Of all the ways to get out a troubling predicament, the creative ones are the most fun (and sometimes they are the most memorable too). Being creative means exactly that: the writer must use whatever means the main character has at his/her disposal in an inventive way. This is especially true for animation.
Example – Beauty & The Beast (1992)
Towards the end of the Disney classic, Beauty & The Beast, the villainous Gaston and his followers of village morons march upon the enchanted castle. With Beast feeling low after Belle left him, Lumiere takes control of battle arrangements.
Lumiere comes up with an ingenious (and hilarious) way to thwart Gaston’s men after they enter the castle. He uses the skills and attributes of himself and those around him to send the invaders packing (except for Gaston).
B – Use Magic
Magic should not be the go-to weapon for writers when thinking about innovative ways to get your main character out of a sticky situation. Doing that is a lazy trope that should be avoided. Nevertheless, magic can prove to be very handy for the central protagonist when used sparingly and correctly.
Example – Eragon Invokes Brisingr
Quite early on in Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle, Brom and Eragon are attacked by villainous urgals in the village of Yazuac on the way to the Varden. In a skirmish, when their backs are against the wall (figuratively-speaking), Eragon shouts “Brisingr!”.
This is the magical word for ‘fire’ in Paolini’s story. And with this single word, he kills all the urgals and saves Brom and himself from danger.
C – Have Friends Arrive In The Nick of Time
We will look at this and the remaining innovative ways to get your main character out of a sticky situation next time around. I hope you enjoyed this article and let me know what you think in the comments below.
PS: If you enjoyed this blog post and wish to be the first to receive the concluding piece on the innovative ways to get your main character out of a sticky situation, fill in the short form below now: