The Locked Room – A Simple Way To Test Your Plot

The Locked Room – A Simple Way To Test Your Plot

In this post, we discuss why the locked room test is a great way to interrogate your plot.

A trapped character comes alive on the page or screen because he has to fight his way out a corner. This is a great plotting device. The character has to push back against the predicament placed there by the plot—giving us conflict, intensity, and barriers we can define.

The locked room is a way to interrogate your plot.

The Locked Room – A Simple Way To Test Your Plot

The character can be someone accused of murder who is trapped in a witness box by a dogged prosecutor. It can be a woman trapped in a loveless marriage and career, with no window or door to help her escape. It can be someone stuck in a deep depression or illness—the locked room is an inner demon or addiction.

It doesn’t matter. The idea is to put your character in a room. Lock the door, bar the windows, take away food and comfort— and see what happens.

As a writer, you have to get him or her out of the locked room.

5 Questions To Ask About The Locked Room

  1. Who locked them in the room?
  2. Why did they lock them in the room?
  3. Why do they need to get out the room? What will happen if they don’t get out the room?
  4. Is there anyone else or anything else in the room with them?
  5. How are they going to get out of the locked room? With force? Words?
A naïve young heiress is persuaded into an engagement with a wealthier older man. This is the 1920s—so the locked room is the morals, pressures and expectations of the period. She needs to get out of the relationship because she fears she will end up a miserable uptight snob like her mother. The only person who can understand, and help her, is a free-spirited and rebellious female journalist—who encourages her to break from her rich family and find her own identity.

When we’re writing or planning our stories, we sometimes wander off course. We have interesting characters doing things in great settings with some lovely description—but there’s no suspense or conflict or consequence.

The locked room test is a great way to get back inside the plot.

As the writer Luke Short once said: ‘First I write myself onto a corner. Then I write myself out.’

by Anthony Ehlers

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Posted on: 17th April 2014

0 thoughts on “The Locked Room – A Simple Way To Test Your Plot”

  1. Excellent writers’ tool. I’ve recently started using this basic method. Just write the character into a situation, look at all the parameters an ask them what they are going to do next. It works surprising well. Good article. The May work shop sounds tempting – but Alberta, Canada is a bit too far away.

  2. Jennifer McGinnis

    This is a great post. But something about it bugged me. I realize we want to get rid of extraneous words as writers. And that the word “of” can be over used. But “out the room” sounds like either A) a toddler or B) a hip hop rapper. “Out of the room” sounds like an adult American or European or…well, this seems to be from South Africa, but I’m still going to say “out of” probably sounds better there, too.

    But don’t let me take away from the quality of the content – I have a character that I’m going to try this for right now!

  3. I need to come to this blog more. I wrote a character into a room, but I gave him the easy way out before the room got too intense. Trapped with someone who frightened him who stood between him and the door.

    Now I want to go back and write the full scene that I started writing and see where it goes.

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  5. I have found that the best stories involve a box so solid and bleak that, even with my most imaginative foresight, is all but impenetrable. When I read about a character who seemingly has no escape from insurmountable odds, I’m captivated. Way to put that into perspective, Anthony.

  6. My most popular short story involved the East Mojave Desert as “the locked room,” as a law enforcement officer found himself following an armed robber across one of the most hostile deserts in the USA Southwest.

  7. Anthony Ehlers

    Sounds like a great story, Desertphile. A great example of the locked room scenario.