Writing stories I’ve found myself having a hard time preventing my characters from having access to outside help who would solve their problems for them far too easily (cops, armed forces, figures of authorities, or just reveling everything outright to the people…), especially in modern and futuristic settings (damn you WiFi and cellphones!).
Do you have any tips or general guidelines to help me make my character’s lives a lot more complicated?
Thanks in an advance.
Hey Thomas, thanks for writing in!
This is something that writers struggle with constantly, even the pros. How do you make sure your characters are the one who have to solve the problem, instead of just handing it over to someone else? I’ve already written a post about how cellphones and other tech can apply to RPGs, but let’s see if we can brainstorm something for prose.
When it comes to authority figures stepping in, there are two places to address this: in worldbuilding, or in plotting.
If you decide to address the issue in worldbuilding, then you’ll construct a setting that either doesn’t have a lot of central authority, or that central authority is antagonistic. Basically, either Mad Max or Star Wars. If your world is a bunch of isolated villages, then there’s no greater authority who can sweep in to save the day. Or if your setting has an evil king, then no one will appeal to him because he’s evil and wouldn’t help anyway!
These states can always be limited to parts of your world, depending on the kind of setting you need. Maybe most of the galaxy is well governed, but the frontier planets where your story takes place are fairly lawless.
Of course, if your story is set in the modern day, that ties your hands a bit on the worldbuilding. There are certainly arguments to be made about how benevolent our real-life authorities are, but that may not be something you’re ready to dive into. So unless your story takes place in a magical world behind a masquerade, the modern day mostly rules this option out.
If you decide to address the issue in plotting, then you’ll need to create exceptional situations. Sure, in most cases the police would solve this serial-killer problem, but they can’t because the killer is a cyborg and only your hero has anti-cyborg training. Or maybe the villain is a corrupt politician with the local authorities in their pocket. You can even have a story take place in such a short time frame that calling the authorities isn’t really feasible.
The other option is for your characters to be the authority themselves. You can’t ask the king for help if you are the king. This works pretty well, but it also limits the kind of stories you can have. Leaders make great characters in grand political dramas, less so in gritty murder-investigation stories.
As for modern tech like mobile phones, that’s a tricky problem too. You can always create situations where the tech doesn’t work, like signal dead-zones and the like, but if you do that too often, it’ll start to feel contrived. My go-to solution is to craft plots where such tech isn’t that useful, either because there’s no relevant info online or because it’s hidden in a sea of junk.
Of course, if you’re referring to people using their phones to snap picks of the supernatural, thus breaking the masquerade, that’s a whole other can of worms. For that, I recommend two posts by Chris:
Hope that answers your questions!