Nan Sweet is the author of the Dusky Hollow Series. Check out the first book in the series for free here.
Fantasy writers like to rescue their heroes. While every genre has mentors and rescuing heroes, fantasy writers are prone to make things a little too easy. Sometimes, we write ourselves into a corner. Instead of making our characters do the work, we rescue them. Why? Because we’re stuck, too. For example, if my heroine, Carrie is locked in a cage, and I don’t know how to get her out, one option is to send her best friend, Ivy to look for her. Yes, that gets her out of the cage, but is there a better way?
If your character is stuck in a situation, and you find yourself equally stuck, start at the end of the scene and work your way backward. Maybe your heroine escapes, or maybe she is taken into servitude. Maybe she spends the whole book trapped. Whatever you want the end result to be, challenge yourself to use your character’s wit and ability to escape. When wit and ability aren’t enough, empty her pockets and see what she’s carrying. If you have a group in a dire situation, then apply that challenge to the group as a whole.
Let’s say your character has been locked in a room with brick walls and high windows. Can she get herself out? Think of weaknesses in the room. Are there ledges on the window, a brick sticking out? What does the character have in her pockets or on-hand that can be used? The great thing about writing is that you can go back a couple of pages and give her a belt or a pocketknife, even if you didn’t know she needed it at the time. As long as the items make logical sense, give them to her. The escape should be hard to accomplish without jarring the reader’s sense of believability.
If there are no weaknesses, create the weakness that your heroine can exploit. Is the dungeon impenetrable? Maybe your character is a fast-talker. You can write a guard on the other side of the door. Is there a grate in the floor or a weakness in the wall? Maybe your character is a gymnast or magician.
What happens if your character is an underdog? What if you have a strong-willed character whose weaknesses won’t allow them to save themselves? One of my all-time favorite heroines is Mercy Thompson written by Patricia Briggs. Although Mercy has some ‘superpowers’, they are limited to changing into a coyote and talking to ghosts. That leaves her in some desperate situations.
Although Mercy has been rescued a few times, Patricia Briggs worked in some clever ways of bringing Mercy’s strengths to the rescue. Because of her loyalty, Mercy in her weakness is a defender of the weak. She finds unusual help from fae objects, one of them a wooden staff that follows her around. It is a plot device Briggs works perfectly. Before it could become a crutch where the reader groans and thinks, “Okay, now the staff will save her,” Briggs found a way to distance Mercy from the staff. (I won’t say too much because this is a series every fantasy lover should read.)
It’s okay to lapse from time to time and use a rescuer.
Even the greats, from J.R.R. Tolkien to C.S. Lewis have used heroes to rescue or advise their group. The point is to be aware when you’re taking the easy path and check for a better way. Thank you for reading.
Special thanks to Cady Hammer for allowing me to guest on her blog!