It’s time for the sixth part of our series on K.M. Weiland’s theme template. So, what do we have so far?

We have a protagonist, who is a selfless and skillful person, trapped inside a town where he and other prisoners have to participate in a series of challenges, either to win or to survive, in order to maintain their families, to earn their food. Failing to do so means they must die, but a participant has the opportunity of choosing a family member to die for them, this will keep them in the game.

The winner of the challenge can opt to become the new warden of this prison town and can even choose to free all of the participants. Our antagonist is the warden of the town, a former prisoner who feels the need to punish criminals and who’s comfortable with his power position.

In our last session, we established the second major element of the first act, our story’s small introductory truth. Which it’s comprised of the following elements:

  • An unsolvable puzzle challenge.
  • The almost certain possibility of dying for most of the participants.
  • The need for this to happen for the warden’s program to have a great start.
  • The protagonist skillfully solving this puzzle and the saving of many.

We’ll also retrieve the first major element of the first act, the manifestation of the big lie:

  • Hope makes people suffer and waste their lives.

Which in our story is comprised of our setting, the prison town, and our antagonist, the warden, who offers false hope in the shape of a sick challenge.

Now, we need to design our unsolvable puzzle and the grand scheme of the prison challenge. But, to do so, we first need to understand our protagonist, because if he’s going to be able to skillfully solve this challenge, we need to give him the tools and abilities to do so.

So the question is… Who is our protagonist?

As always, let’s start our development by bringing forth all of the information we have available. We know that he believes that hope can make you suffer and get you killed and that this belief comes from witnessing the death of his mother and sisters. We also know that his wound is fear of change, with the following traits:

  • Chooses to not get involved emotionally.
  • Doesn’t have an opinion on things that can cause backlash.
  • Prefers enclosure.
  • Doesn’t trust others.

Lastly, we know he’s skillful and selfless and that these character traits are his primary weapons.

Now, let’s think for a moment. What type of person, who by the way is an orphan, develops the ability to show talent or adeptness (which is the definition of skillful)? I want to detain myself in the word adeptness, which means to gain an ability without difficulty. This means that our protagonist can learn and execute new abilities, perform learned abilities and overall learn at a staggering speed.

If we consider the fact that he’s an orphan, this means he has had to be competing with other kids from an early age. So, let’s say that after losing his family in a war situation (you can check that part here) he had to survive on his own, effectively escaping from enemy lines. Not only that, but being an orphan, our protagonist had to enlist in the army and return to fight the war. Imagine our hero coming back home, to the place where enemy soldiers killed his family, just because they had the hope of their father to come back. This has to be an iconic image in his mind.

So, what happens after the war? We have an orphan killing machine, a person who has learned to gain new abilities fast to survive. Let’s say that, because of exemplary achievements during the war, he was awarded higher education. He chooses a medical career as he feels guilty for killing so many people. Yet, something strange happens, he gains fame for being “coldhearted” as he approaches cases with a clear mindset, “if a person is beyond saving it’s better not to attempt a procedure“. You see what is happening? here we have the manifestation of the lie the character believes, that in hope there’s only pain and death.

Now, let’s toss our protagonist into the story.

How? Let’s choose our inciting incident!

How about this?

Our doctor protagonist, who has a coldhearted reputation, gets accused of letting a patient die in the operating room. Why? because this patient is actually one of the enemy soldiers that attacked his family in the past. Did he do it? Did our protagonist let his enemy die to take revenge for the death of his loved ones? We don’t know yet, what we do know is that a court finds him guilty and sentences him to prison. Yet, he doesn’t go to a regular prison, he goes into this prison town. This means that for the small introduction of the truth to be established successfully, we have to design the draft of participants blindly. What do I mean by this? the persons in charge of choosing which prisoners go to prison town can’t have the information about our protagonist being a former soldier. They only know that he’s a coldhearted doctor who left a patient to die.

And so, we already have plenty to design our unsolvable puzzle and the setting of the challenge, right?

We know that, in order to defeat the first stage we need:

  • To learn a new ability really fast.
  • Need to use some high military skills.
  • Need to be coldhearted.

We also know that our protagonist’s first objective is not only to win this challenge but also to save as many people as possible.

Military people usually learn abilities by procedure, this means that they mentally break a problem into small pieces and go about them in an orderly fashion. So maybe the challenge involves a series of steps. Taking into consideration that the overall objective of the story is to escape prison, let’s say the challenge objective is also to escape, this gives us the setting, this challenge is a maze.

So, what’s a maze?

There are two definitions we can use. A “network of paths” and  “dazed and confused“, in both cases the idea being “to find the way out“. Now, this is the interesting part, because of the word “path” which stands for “a course of action or way of achieving a specified result“.

So, the first challenge is…

A network of courses of actions (or ways to achieve a specific result), but they’re placed in a way that’s confusing and dazing and can only be surpassed using high military skills and/or gaining a new ability really fast, while being coldhearted.

But the thing is that being coldhearted to face the challenge ultimately means saving many. Do you feel some reminiscence now? Remember that our protagonist was accused of letting a patient die because of his coldhearted persona. What better way to test this idea in our first act than by making him face the same ordeal in our challenge! Not only to make him give us a clue as to what really happened in that operating room but also to state our main theme, that “hope gives people a reason to live” because he will become that hope by saving others.

Okay, let’s design our challenge!

As we already know, defeating the challenge gives the protagonist the possibility to save others. This means that solving the maze gives others the ability to do so themselves by understanding what needs to be done. We also know that you can die trying to solve the puzzle, but you can hope to survive because there’s a fixed time limit and that the objective of the challenge is to kill as many participants as possible to make the first round a successful one.

One key element that can help us now is the “being coldhearted”, which means that one has to pass on the initial impulsive feeling of doing something and wait, analyze and reflect, in doing so you find patterns that weren’t initially available.

These patterns reveal a course of action, meaning you find the rules, which are simple but are hidden.
So, there’s initial misleading information that makes people act without thinking, maybe some time limit.
Let’s say that there’s an overall 2 minutes count to finish the maze and each participant has a collar with a 10 points meter that activates once you’re inside the maze. The initial misleading information is that, if the prisoner can’t finish the maze in the 2 minutes, the person waiting on the other side of the maze, a loved one, will die.

There’s an urgency to act, but also that doing so is a mistake.

The 10 points collars are activated once you enter the maze, so the protagonist hesitates before entering, he takes the time to analyze the situation while others rush inside, he’s trying to find the hidden patterns. But his loved one on the other side of the maze thinks he’s going to stay there, him being cold-hearted and all, right? Let’s amp this idea further. If the prisoner abstains from entering the maze they can live, and the person on the other side dies.

Also, as long as you keep having points you can move, if points reach 0, the collar in your neck explodes and you die. Initially, no one understands what makes you lose or gain points, yet after a while, those who were looking instead of rushing see some patterns emerging.

This means that a good decision would be to find a way of keeping points while moving forward.
So, there’s a pattern to be found on the floor.

Stepping on certain terrain takes points from you while stepping on another type of terrain gives you points.

Now, there’s only one particular combination of steps that ensures getting to the end of the maze. But it’s so hard to accomplish that, in the event of someone doing so, every participant gets saved.

As such, all possible results are as follows:

• If the prisoner stays out of the maze, the familiar at the other end dies.
• If the prisoner runs out of points inside the maze, they die.
• If the prisoner reaches 1 point and stays put, he survives but the familiar dies.
• If a person gets to the other side before time finishes, all participants are saved. (This has never happened).

And so, as the other participants desperately rush inside the maze, activating the collars and impulsively stepping on the different terrains without understanding what’s making them lose points. While collars explode and people’s heads are severed, our protagonist stays put, he only watches in silence, focused on emerging patterns, learning.

Things are such that he can even listen to the voice of his loved one on the other side, as this person believes our protagonist has left them to die and lashes out by giving a hurtful speech against him. Yet he’s not deterred by this, with each passing moment things become clearer, and at the limit between the remaining time on the clock and the amount of time needed to solve the maze, he obtains the correct pattern of steps and rushes into the maze. As other participants, now without more than 1 point left get stuck before getting to the end and having to listen to the cries of their loved ones, he goes forward against time and odds, managing to get to the endpoint just as the clock reaches zero.

Effectively winning the first challenge and saving all the remaining participants.

Okay! man that was some difficult work! but it was worth it because now we understand the mechanics of our challenge in this prison town and we know a lot more about our protagonist. Next time we’re moving forward with the story and with K.M. Weiland’s theme template. This time, we’ll discover how the antagonistic forces respond to this incredible act of skills and guts, as our protagonist immerses himself fully into our plot.

Until that time comes… Good luck in writing!

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