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
- Who locked them in the room?
- Why did they lock them in the room?
- Why do they need to get out the room? What will happen if they don’t get out the room?
- Is there anyone else or anything else in the room with them?
- How are they going to get out of the locked room? With force? Words?
This is what the locked room could look like on the page:
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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