Have you ever been trapped?
Not just physically, like in a prison cell, but also emotionally or mentally, where someone, or something, imposed control over you. You wanted to get out, but those handcuffs were too tight, that chain too short.
Being trapped is among the recurring themes in Young Adult literature. While it pops up often in general fiction, the theme hits hard and low in teenage fiction, probably because the teenage are often so full of this feeling of being trapped.
Across the Universe
For a fictional example, take Across the Universe by Beth Revis. The protagonist, Amy, gets trapped more than once. In the first chapter, she’s emotionally trapped by the decision to go to follow her parents to another planet. She’s reluctant, but feels obligated to stick with her parents.
On the journey, she’s physically trapped, locked into the vast prisonlike spaceship, but she’s also trapped by:
- Society (because she looks different, she can’t go out on the run without being seen as a freak)
- Love (romances are both binding and liberating!)
Constructing the Prison
We have all seen this a thousand times, and there are plenty of clichés around the entire concept of being trapped.
Put yourself in the shoes of the fairy tale princess trapped in a castle for sixteen years. All the other maidens are able to travel outside of the kingdom and see the world, but not you, You’re not allowed to roam the town, due to the risk of someone running up to you and stabbing you, And which suitor is going to want to marry someone who could fall into a deep sleep at any moment? All because of a spindle!
Hey, that’s A Kiss in Time by Alex Finn, an excellent adaptation of the Sleeping Beauty tale.
Here’s how you can construct the prison for your characters:
- Consider how exactly your character’s trapped. In what way (physically, mentally, emotionally, etc.) What are the circumstances? The obstacle course?
- In how many ways can they escape? Consider the plausible methods, choose one, and try patching up the blatantly obvious ones. Cardboard prisons can cause a person to slam a book shut.
- What prevents them from getting out easily? Are their physical barriers, or people who guilt them in or threaten death?
- How does your character feel about the situation? Why should they care that they’re trapped, and how that influences their actions? Do their emotions hamper their escape attempts?
- Is the situation similar in anyway to how you have been trapped?
Now, go be your character’s captor—and liberator.
Let’s design a cell. Write for fifteen minutes about a situation where a character is trapped.
What is their emotional state? What prevents them from just “opening the door” and escaping? What attempt do they make to escape?
When you’re finished, post your practice in the comments. And if you post, be sure to give feedback to a few other Practitioners.