Where are you right now? In a room, in a vehicle, in a field? Imagine you were trapped there for a very long time.
> It’s home time at school. But, outside, a freak snow blizzard has struck! Ten feet of snow blocks all the exits. Nobody can leave or enter the classroom. You, your classmates and teacher are all trapped inside. The snow isn’t forecast to melt for another two weeks. How does everyone react? Over those two weeks, who gets on each other’s nerves? Who strikes up an unexpected friendship?
> We’re back in World War II. You are huddling in an air-raid shelter with a random group of neighbours. None of you have spoken to each other much before. How does six hours being terrified in the dark together change that? What surprising things do you learn about these people, and yourself?
> You’re with your dad and his girlfriend in the kitchen. Suddenly, you spot an army of zombies outside! Quickly, you slam and bolt shut all doors. The zombies can smell the brains within, and are going nowhere fast. You three are trapped in that kitchen for a year. What do you do to pass the time? How does it change the relationships between you?
It doesn’t have to be you in these stories. You can invent your own characters, then trap them somewhere together. Make up two or more people and trap them for two months. Perhaps it's a . . .
> Safari tour gone horribly wrong?
> Kidnapper holding someone hostage?
> Jail term for a crime they didn't commit?
> Rupture in the fabric of time itself?
Do your characters grow to love each other, or hate each other? What do they do, what do they learn?
For example, the other day I was in a train carriage. Other people were there too: two middle-aged women nattering about their holiday, a man on his own, and a young woman with her hair dyed green.
How can we trap them?
The train could detach from the front carriages, fly off the rails, and come skidding to a halt in the middle of nowhere. The very silly driver doesn’t realise he has lost a carriage. The electronic doors won’t open without a signal. The train remains abandoned for a week. The passengers are trapped inside!
My main character could be the woman with green hair, Green Gretel. Perhaps she is shy and doesn’t normally talk to people she doesn’t know. But the old man, alone, starts panicking. The two gossiping women so absorbed in their wittering they don’t notice. It’s up to Gretel to go and calm him down. They get talking, and Gretel finds out all about his life as a film stunt double.
Then the two women join the conversation. Gretel learns about their lives too, one as a TV cookery show presenter and one as a childminder.
Gretel realises all three of them are surrounded by people all day in their jobs. Over the days they are trapped together, sharing their small food supply and looking after each other, Gretel learns to not be afraid of new people and new challenges. Once they are rescued, Gretel has enough confidence to pursue her dream of being an actress, which she would never have dared to do before.
A situation where characters are trapped forces you to think about a story in a different way. It cannot be a physical adventure, where your character goes from A to B to C. In a confined space, the story instead has to go deeper into the characters’ heads.