Tag Archives: isolation

Leave your characters alone

Yeah, it's a play on words. This is a writing tip, of sorts. It wants to become a several thousand word post, but I'm going to try to focus.

Where do you feel safe? Most folks choose their home or room. Others might choose a crowd somewhere. This is because humans have an instinct for personal safety.

Even children will crawl into bed with parents to feel safe. Now let's turn this on its head.

We see characters who meet the villain in a crowded place. This is to eliminate some perceived danger the villain poses. We take away the villain's power – temporarily.

Now place your heroine deep in the desert. It's nighttime. She has her rape whistle in one hand, and a keychain pepper spray in the other. It's only 50 miles from the nearest person who can hear the whistle. Add in a two headed werewolf and you're golden.

The environment adds an underlying stress of its own. This also plays to human instinct, and you don't even have to explain it. Your heroine doesn't have any water in this desert. It's going to be scorching tomorrow- if she lives that long. Maybe there are rattlesnakes around too.

Think about one you've all seen before. Sheriff Brody and friends are in a small boat on the ocean. Captain Quint smashed the radio, and there is a killer shark with a powerful hunger.

If you've never been in a rat bag old boat and out of sight of land, you've missed out. (I've been in that situation.) I felt cheated when they swam to shore at the end. Until that point, they were out to sea.

You can't swim all that far. Even lovely water is still colder than your body temperature. Eventually, you're going to tire out, and the warmth is going to get sucked from your body. People instinctively know this. It adds stress to the story without losing focus on the killer shark.

If the shark gets bored and leaves, hypothermia and drowning are still real possibilities.

I like to move my characters around. Even leaving town adds a subtle smolder to the story. Wrong turn in the big city. Apple Maps that can't be trusted. There are all kinds of possibilities.

I like to plan these things out ahead of time. Last Saturday, I watched two NPCs running behind Dr. Who to escape a monster. They're all together, and within touching distance. One woman made a hard left and hid inside a room. She actually watched the others run the other way. The monster killed her.

Nobody wants this. This is bad. Your character shouldn't ask to be excused at the dinner table like this. “Great dinner, Mom. I'm going into the creepy cornfield now to confront the monster with a paper clip and a Swiss Army knife.”

To avoid this you should have a plan that both moves into isolation, and a logical escape plan. It hasn't been acceptable for the cavalry to arrive at the last second for decades.

Isolation can be used at any point in the story, but it nearly must be used at the end. This is where the hero faces the villain on the villain's turf. This is the part where I want to stretch this into a huge post, but I'll resist. In books, everything ties together but I'll focus.

Note that Sheriff Brody didn't lock the shark in an interview room. It all went down at sea.

This isolation can be physical, like Sandra Bullock drifting through space, but there is an opportunity for it to be more spiritual too. Maybe your heroine refuses a marriage proposal from the most eligible bachelor in front of everyone at her daddy's country club. They all want something she simply does not. She follows her heart and becomes a sponge diver in Florida. She was isolated in a crowd.

Unfamiliar settings and isolation are powerful things. The bad guy has an advantage, and skewing the odds adds that delicious tension a good story needs. Many times you get the advantage of an inbred fear to underly the main points.

So how about it? Do you ever think about this writing tool? Do you plan for it? Possibly outline around it? I do, but I know there are many seat of the pants writers who may have different methods.

Let me hear it in the comments. (I used copy and paste to set this up. It all looks great. If it comes out as one big paragraph, I won't be able to edit it for hours. I'm busy at work when this posts.)

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Something to consider

I slacked off on my Wednesday post. I had a tough week at work, and even took tomorrow off to recover. At least I had a couple of awesome reblogs for everyone.

I snapped this photo while camping last weekend. I sat under the awning and watched the lake for about an hour. There wasn't a boat around anywhere. When this happened, I snapped a quick photo.

So, I ask you, what caused that swirl in the middle of the lake? It stayed like that for about twenty minutes. Everyone seemed to have fun with my conspiracy theory about my camping neighbor. Let's hear your theories.

Waterborne monsters are scary, because humans are so helpless in the water. In fact, a big part of monsters involves isolation and difficult environments. Authors have to sell the sizzle and not the steak here. We rarely see an author place a scary monster in a crowd during broad daylight. That's because we are at our best under those circumstances. Most monsters appear miles from help, where there isn't a cellular signal, and mostly at night.

So here we have a bizarre swirl on the surface of Brownlee Reservoir. Is it jet wash from a cloaked spaceship? Maybe it's caused by something underneath the water. Let me hear it. Maybe it's the mothership come to retrieve my erie camping neighbor.

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