Freewrite: You Can’t Leave Them Trapped

(Blogger’s note: Let’s just say this one got a little weird.)

They don’t codify this as a writer—a bit as a GM, perhaps—but it’s something we all learn eventually. You can’t leave them trapped.

…and really, this applies to everyone your words might touch.

You can’t leave your main characters trapped in a situation that will never, ever improve. The audience has a limited tolerance for that sort of thing. They get sick of it, they start rooting for the villains, they hurl your writing across the room or tear it to pieces with their own words, and then they lash out all the more at the unexpected sound of the key in the door.

You can’t leave your PCs trapped too long in the same place. They give up IC, and nothing happens. They give up OOC, and the game ends. It’s not a matter of time for the characters, mind, but for the players. Ten days that go by in the blink of an eye? Not a problem. One hour in which there is supposed freedom to act but no course that will actually lead to escape?

…for that matter, just because there aren’t walls and locks doesn’t mean you aren’t doing it. If all that your players do is the same thing, over and over, and what they want is not the same thing over and over, how is that any different?

You can’t leave your villains trapped. Either they break out again to remind us of why we feared them, or in their restriction they become pitiable things, their wrongs fading away compared to what is left behind. They might disappear from the narrative, but you cannot count on people’s attention spans to fail.

People who see no exit cease to try. They may not care—or they may just feel that care will only lead to backlash. But why would they put any more effort into something that is already lost?

You can’t leave them trapped. Those who can will leave. Those who cannot will withdraw. Nothing improves.

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