To put this in a little context, at the moment I'm working on a scene in which the hero is imprisoned/tortured and she needs to escape.
Somehow in action stories/movies, the hero comes up with some daring and usually pretty stupid plan to escape from the impenetrable prison fortress. The trouble is, I don't buy it in this situation. (And often not in the situations in which it is used, but that's their problem, not mine!)
In the sort of story I'm writing right now, the typical method of plotting is to have the hero's choices/actions move the plot. And she is moving it forward -- the initial setup has forces acting on her to get things rolling but since then she's investigating, piecing together clues, shaking off stalkers, and getting herself into trouble. Sometimes she takes help to get out of trouble.
There are forces at work that are bigger than her and she's only starting to understand them. At the moment, those forces are fighting over her (something I do establish prior to her capture). To me, it makes the most sense for that to turn into a sort of rescue (although she may have to escape from her rescuers, too ), but I'm wondering if it would look bad that she doesn't get out of this completely on her own...say, with the "ace up her sleeve" approach. (Which would be difficult to pull off since they're stripping her naked and dunking her into cold water.)
So, with that in mind....
1. How much help can a hero accept? (Note: I'm talking about help that has some kind of setup or foreshadowing in the story, not god dropping down from heaven.)
2. What kind of help can a hero accept? (For example, being rescued from a prison is a big deal. Meanwhile, some guy she was flirting with lying to her stalker to make him think she's gone the other way may not be such a big deal.)
3. Is there a point in the story (say the climax) in which the hero's actions need to more completely rule the story?
Good questions. I'm struggling with something similar.
1) I think the help you described seems okay to me. It has a reason to be there in the story (not some guard just feeling sympathetic or whatnot). I think it would work especially well if you foreshadow there's going to be some price to pay later on, or that not all is that it seems. However, this borders on cliche as well, though it can work.
2) The type of help a hero can accept in this situation should be proportional to the importance the hero has on the rescuing party, and the problems that are going to arise out of it. So, if she's getting help out of jail, I think there's got to be pretty big fall out from that. And I think she has to work for the rescue. Maybe the rescuing party is not entirely sure about her or something. Or they can only do so much--like unlock the door. The rest of it is up to her and her savvy.
3) Not sure what you mean by "rule the story". Drive the story? I don't think you want your character to rule the story. I think you'd lose some suspense. Rather, the character should struggle against events and people to try to achieve his or her goal.
As for the climax, I think there's got to be something the hero does that directly results in the climax. Take Harry Potter. In the second book, the climax scene is triggered by his wanting to enter the chamber of secrets. Though he's guided to the chamber by a combo of events and his own actions, ultimately it's his decision to take matters into his own hand and go in (if I'm remembering the plot correctly--it's been a long time!).
This is an interesting question. I chose in a novel I recently sold to put the female hero in a position where she had to be saved. However, she made the decision to sacrifice herself because that was the only way they could weaken the enemy enough to defeat them. It was a complicated "blood sacrifice" situation a bit to hard to explain.
I worried that having her not taking part in the last big battle (since she was unconscious and a secondary character was standing over her defending her) might be a deal breaker. But it had been an act of extreme courage to knowingly go into that situation so I guess it didn't make her seem passive.
I think the important part is that your main character/hero may need help but they can't seem passive. They have to work toward the escape and not just sit there. And I would skip the "Meanwhile, some guy she was flirting with lying to her stalker to make him think she's gone the other way..." part. As a reader, that would probably have me rolling my eyes.
Actually, the stalker thing didn't play out that way, but I was having trouble explaining any of my little rescues in a few words so I used a quick cliche to try to describe the smallness of the help, not the actual situation.
[This message has been edited by Christine (edited January 19, 2008).]
Obviously I haven't read your story, but what if you were to present it as a change in captors rather then a rescue? I don't think too many readers would object to another obstacle in the hero's path.
Even if you decide against that approach the hero can certainly accept help. Consider the Lord of The Rings, Frodo is the hero, but Sam, Merry and Pippin each are allowed to star, but the climax is about Frodo.
If your absolutely sure she needs to remain in the spotlight you might consider having her work with a fellow prisoner. They could provide the resources neccesary to make the escape seem somewhat plausible, while the hero can provide the brain/brawn neccesary to pull the thing off.
[This message has been edited by smncameron (edited January 19, 2008).]
One could have the one of the sides "lawyer up" the hero, getting her out on a technicality or posting bond. Now I don't know of many modern, civilized-world prisons dunking people in water like what you describe. If that is normal practice in the world you have created, then you can adjust the rules a bit. One of the groups trying to get to her might be involved with someone higher in government who pulls some strings in an attempt to get her. strings can be pulled fairly easily without any trace in a beauracracy. She might be taken out of the cell for questioning or meeting with a judge or official, and be directed out the door instead. Paperwork can be made to make it look legal.
Thanks, guys! I think I'm feeling better about this situation.
rickfisher: I like your point about the hero never giving up! I never really thought of it before, but there's a huge difference between the protagonist who has just decided to die when her knight in shining armor comes and the one who's kicking and fighting so hard she punches her rescuer in the nose when he breaks down the door.
Christine - your last post said a mouthful! She needs to be a fighter, even if her own fighting doesn't get her out of THIS particular scrape.
I like the escape of Robin Hood and his friends from the prison in Jerusalem (I think that's where it was) in "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" which we caught on TV recently. They had to fight to get out, and Robin instigated a lot of the action, but he didn't manage it ALONE - and he lost his best friend (and gained a new companion) in the attempt. So he's grieving for his friend as well as distrustful of the new "sidekick" (Morgan Freeman) and trying to get back home to England. LOTS of complications all in one scene made it much more interesting than the average "escape" scene.
Also, if the two opposing forces are fighting over the MC it makes sense that Bad Guys #2 (BG2) would try to rescue her from Bad Guys #1 (BG1). In this way BG2 earn a bit of trust/indebtedness and mess with BG1.
Everyone has to accept help sometime. If not, they become superheros and boring to read about. Even Superman needs help when kyrptonite is involved.
I dislike the the MC is in an impossible situation and escapes with using a paper clip, string and ball approach. McGuyver was fun TV but would be less so (for me) as a novel (Sorry Richard Dean Anderson!). I'd rather see a believeable failure on the part of the MC and a believable rescue by cohorts or others.
So for me:
1) The Hero needs to accept the help he/she reasonably needs. If she's wounded and needs medical treatment, she better darned well get it.
2) All sorts depending on the story. Could Superman have the Hulk help him lift a building? Probably not, Superman can do it alone. Can Superman have Hulk throw the kryptonite a hundred miles away? Yes, because Superman can't do it. Can your MC have a "prisioner" help pick the lock - sure if she doesn't know how or have the tools. Where you have her (naked and tortured), someone is going to have to do almost all of that rescue for her to be believable.
3) Again, this is a depends. I agree that the hero needs to ACT during the climax. Think about The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - Aslan's act - the self sacrfice - is somewhat passive. Sure he makes the decision to do it but then sits is passive while he's tourtured and killed. That contrast made him more heroic. He didn't surrender. He gave himself over to evil as the only way to save his people.
I would say the IMPACT of the hero's decisions need to rule the story more than the action itself.
Keeping her a fighter works especially well if there is some sort of information the captors need to get out of her. Not giving in is a victory too.
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I think they can lose. Sometimes those are my favorite stories---but I guess on second thought they usually have some kind of personal inner victory even in those.
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My contribution (a bit late): I have a story where the main character (female) performs a decisive manouver in a huge conflict but gets imprisoned by the other side. She was aware of the risk and took it. The other side decides to use her for a bargaining chip since her family is in command of the opposing forces. Then she actually gets executed which rouses her family to do what they hesitated to do. So despite the fact that the main character is not there at the end of the story her actions including her death were in fact decisive to achieve victory.
The point that I wanted to make was that despite her death she won - the goal that was driving her whole life was in fact achieved. To achieve this was the only purpose of her life. If she would survive, the rest of her life would be meaningless.
Maybe this is a little off of the main question, but:
If the hero gets help, it works best for me if he pays a cost for that help. Especially with a hero--as opposed to just a protagonist--he/she should suffer some cost for putting the other at risk. The bigger the help; the higher the cost.