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Monday, May 23, 2016

Writing About: A Hostage


NOTE: This post describes things for a character whose perspective readers experience. Some of these things won't qualify for a character whose POV we aren’t in. For example: your MC is a detective and is searching for the kidnapped person.


When a person is taken hostage, they go through physical and mental welfare. Before we get into that, though, a few things need to be made clear such as who is being taken hostage (the MC or a major character whose perspective we can experience), and who the hostage taker is even if his/her name isn’t known. You can mention a few distinct facial features (crooked nose, bushy eyebrows) or body traits (wide shoulders).

You can hint at why your character was kidnapped before he/she is taken, such as signs of a stalker or threats. After your character is taken hostage, you can let him/her piece together the “why” on their own, or you can have the hostage taker reveal it to them.

The final thing you need to mention is where your character is when he/she is snatched. At home? Walking to school? In the park at sundown? Along with this is how he/she is grabbed. (Hit in the back of the head, thrown into the back of a vehicle.)



Now let’s go a little deeper:

1. Physical Pain

Usually when someone is a hostage they are tortured in some way and the level can range from punches to deformity. It can really get scary and morbid. Think: Criminal Minds. Of course you don’t have to go that far, but if your character tries to escape at all, he/she will get hurt in some fashion.

If your character does get a wound (stab/gunshot) or injury (broken bone) make sure to do your research so you can make it realistic. Your character will be disabled in some way from such a wound, and in pain. You have to describe that pain so your readers can feel it, too. You also need to keep all of their injuries in mind in whatever else he/she does. And you have to know what will happen to the wound as well as your character as time goes on. I cannot stress the importance of this. Research hard and research a lot!

Image from Youtube
2. Mental Pain

Someone who is held hostage goes through as much (or even more) mental trauma than physical trauma. Being locked in a cramped, dark space can really play on a person’s mind. They will be left alone most of the time with only their thoughts to keep them company. They will be terrified of the hostage taker and scared for their life. This fear can really do a number on a person’s mental state.

If he/she is losing blood or gets an infection, hallucinations can be possible. And if he/she escapes or is rescued, they will surely experience PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) that could include nightmares, anxiety, depression, and more. It could take months, even years, until he/she can live normally again. Most likely he/she would have to get medical and psychological help to get better.

Writing about a hostage situation takes a lot of research. You also have to be willing to put your mind into a dark place. What would you do if you were your character? How would you feel in this situation, and how do you think you’d heal?



QUESTION: What hostage movie(s)/book(s) do you like?


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80 comments:

  1. Too bad no shows ever keep such injuries in mind. One moment they get tortured a ton, then they are back to being super man, i.e. Jack Bauer lol

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    1. TV shows are good like that. The people in them magically heal. lol

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  2. I can't say I'm a big hostage reader... But with hostages I generally think politically (verses kidnapping for sex or ransom). Although many hostages are ill treated, that may not always be the case as they are often held to be exchanged for some gain. Or, even more terrifying are hostages used as shields--ie, to keep an enemy from attacking or making them make a tough moral decision as happened with British POWs held by Japan in Thailand and Burma where they were marched out on railroad trestles when enemy (British or American) planes approached.

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    1. That's why I said "usually." ;) Not all hostages are physically hurt. And there are many reasons why someone is taken hostage. What the reason is depends on the story.

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  3. I'm not into torture porn, so lighter hostage situations like bank hostages are more my style.
    I did have a very brief hostage scene in my third book.

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    1. I wouldn't call what I write "torture porn." Torture definitely shouldn't be in a story just to have it in a story. It has to be done right and for the right reason.

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  4. Research, research, research! So important!

    I've written a couple of kidnapping scenes. They're hard to do well, and I have no idea if I'm succeeding.

    I've seen quite a few TV shows that have done a bank hostage episode. But I recall that movie, Argo, had some intense hostage scenes...and that wasn't even the central focus of the movie.

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    1. They are hard to do well. A good beta reader who writes in the same genre or has written something similar could help a lot in pointing out if it's realistic or not.

      I've never seen Argo. I'll have to watch it some time.

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  5. I wrote one kidnapping scene in a book I shelved. I may pull it back out one day. I'll keep these tips in mind.

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    1. Great. I hope these tips help if you do work on it again. :)

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  6. Marvelous tips! So many things going on different levels in a hostage taking.

    It's wonderful to be hosting you today! :)

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    1. Yes, there are so many things going on and so many things to think about.

      Thank you so much, Christine! I always love being on your blog. :)

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  7. Good tips. the mental trauma is probably a lot harder to capture, but possibly more important.

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  8. I think this would be a hard thing to write about through their perspective, but great tips you listed here!

    betty

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    1. It is hard to write about in their perspective. That's why it's important to remember these things.

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  9. These are all great tips. I can't think of any hostage stories I've read, though I do like Criminal Minds. I must confess that I fast-forward through a lot of their torture scenes though; even though I like crime dramas, even those scenes are too scary for me.

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    1. Those scenes can be scary. I can't watch Criminal Minds if the episodes are too cruel or disturbing.

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  10. I think the trauma of what happened to them would be with them for the rest of their lives. Some handle it better than others. Think of the girl who escaped and had a child with her kidnapper/torturer? She seems to be a better t stronger than the other 2 women who were with her. This doesn't mean she has not been experiencing PTSD but she seems to be doing a little better. Each person is different.

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    1. I would think so, too. Always there beneath the surface. And you're right that people handle things different, and can heal faster than others.

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  11. Hostage movies can be a little scary. I'd pick Ruthless People. That was a funny hostage movie.

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    1. They can be scary. I haven't seen Ruthless People.

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  12. Hard to choose a favorite hostage movie - or episode. Probably Panic Room though.

    It is tough to write a hostage scene, and do it well. Yes, I agree, lots of research.

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  13. I think the only time I've watched films with hostage scenes has been when my family made me watch modern stuff with them, I personally am more into classic films, foreign films, and historical dramas, instead of suspense, psychological thrillers, and the other genres associated with hostage stories.

    I think my only hostage character is Levon Kevorkian, who's held hostage in Vietnam for many years by a crazed general (one of his own people), and shot each time he tries to escape to get home to his wife and kids. He finally finds his own escape with the help of another general, who's stayed there so long to monitor the situation and make sure the villain doesn't abuse his power even further.

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    1. Those types of hostage situations (POWs) are even harder to write about.

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  14. I like the idea of breaking down the different ways hostages are affected. The one hostage book that still sticks with me is The Collector. I'll never recover completely from that story.

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    1. Oh wow. I'm interested in learning more about The Collector after you said that.

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  15. This was an excellent post Chrys. Enjoyed very much.
    Yvonne.

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  16. My favorite hostage movie has definitely got to be The Last King of Scotland. And I do have a character who is going to be held hostage but she's not your typical character, to say the least. I actually can't wait to write about it to see how I'm going to have her get out.

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    1. I actually felt the same way about the hostage situation in my one book. I couldn't wait to write it and see what would happen.

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  17. I love how television series Law and Order:SVU handled Benson nearly getting raped while undercover in a prison. She had a lot of issues for multiple seasons after and had to see a counselor for a long time. She even got too hard on some perps and her superior called her into his office and sent her home.

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    1. Law & Order: SVU is probably one show to do it right.

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  18. I'm not into stories with hostages. Guess it's mostly because I like paranormal stories and those don't dip into the crime or mystery genre much.

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    1. I actually read a paranormal erotica where a female cat (she could turn humam) was taken hostage by a werewolf.

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  19. Very good advice, Chrys. So far I haven't written any hostage scenes and my works-in-progress don't have any, but one never knows. It's good to know how to write them. Thanks.

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  20. I <3 Criminal Minds :P
    I used to write a lot of hostage scenarios. They always seem to happen whenever I write any type of fantasy (no idea why). I haven't written about one in quite some time, though.

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    1. I think it's cool that you've written a lot of hostage scenarios. Those may come in handy for future writing projects.

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  21. There was one story where I had a character kidnapped. I may have to get back to it eventually.

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  22. Die Hard, of course! The king of hostage movies. Great tips on writing hostages. And each character would respond to the situation and the stress differently (if there were multiple characters being kept hostage). A story I read in middle school that stuck with me was Ouida Sebestyen's "The Girl in the Box." She's kidnapped by a man she doesn't know and put into a cellar of some sort. He never comes back. She had her typewriter, so she's typing up her story.

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    1. Oh yes. Who could forget Die Hard? (Me. I did. haha) That sounds like an interesting story. If he never comes back though, I wonder if she found a way to escape.

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  23. Hi Chrys - these are some very salient points ... and just reading them bring back books I've read, tv or films I've seen etc ... the whole needs to be real to be believable. Cheers Hilary

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  24. Not sure that I'm planning any hostage situations - yet. But this is great research, thanks Chrys.

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  25. The one with Bruce Willis called of all things--Hostage. Loved it!

    Anna from elements of emaginette

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    1. I don't think I've seen that one. Or maybe I have....

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  26. Reading this the first thing that came to my mind was that I've become a metaphorical hostage--I've been taken hostage by blogging!

    I've seen so many movies about being taken hostage but none come immediately to mind. Some of my favorites have been where the person taken hostage gets the best on the hostage taker and the tables are turned. Kind of like O.Henry's "The Ransom of Red Chief".

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Tossing It Out

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    1. Ha! So have I. :P

      I love it when the kidnapped person gets the best of the hostage taker.

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  27. I think it's one of those things that until you've been through it, it's almost impossible to truly do it justice, but just contemplating the ideas behind it is enough to make me shiver. I have one story with a hostage situation, but it's a half willing/half reluctant hostage. I tell you, that makes for a unique mental dialog.

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    1. Fortunately, not everyone will go through this, so as a writer you have to do the best you can to get it right.

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  28. My husband and I watched a western movie last night set in 1870s, Wyatt Earp Revenge, and they had plywood on the ceilings, and you could see the metal brackets holding up the rafters. Spoiled the experience. Research is essential to any work of art. It's all about authenticity. Too bad the director didn't remember that. Great post, Chrys.

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    1. Certain things can certain spoil the experience.

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  29. I guess I never thought about the research that goes into writing about hostages. To make anything completely realistic, requires research. Good post!

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  30. I love 'Criminal Minds'! But the movie that stands out is 'Misery'. Of course in the book, Stephen King superbly describes the hostage's dilemma, whereas the movie engulfs the viewer in supreme anxiety visually. Gads, it gives me chills to think about it ;-)
    Being a hostage is certainly one of the most difficult situations to convey in writing, but what a terrific challenge! Good luck with yours and thanks for sharing some great tips :-)

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    1. Oh gosh. "Misery" is such a creepy movie. I can't even watch it anymore after the first time.

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  31. Hi human, Chrys,

    Yes, finally, your eagerly anticipated comment from me has arrived.

    Okay, my illustrious human friend, your thinking process, your pawspective, your research, is exuded within this pawst. I'm impressed with your details. Some of what you wrote got me a bit tied up, but nonetheless, most intriguing.

    My human quite liked, "From Dusk til Dawn." I mean, Cheech Marin, from Cheech and Chong, is in it.

    Pawsitive wishes,

    Penny

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    1. I'm happy I could insure you, Penny. "From Dusk til Dawn" is a good one.

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  32. I've written characters that were in captive for a short while and it was torture for them. Great post to make these sorts of scenes pop out.

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    1. I really do think it would be torturous. Even if torture isn't used.

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  33. Thanks for the writing tips, Chrys. I'll come back to them when I'm writing a scene/story about taken hostage. As for your question, Hostages -- the Toni Collette miniseries.

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  34. Thanks for contributing your important time to post such an interesting & useful collection of knowledgeable resources, that are always of great need to everyone. Please keep continue sharing.

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  35. Don't need to watch a hostage film, my sister and I were almost taken hostage in Mexico. So I know a lot of the feelings. I recently incorporated some of those thoughts into a section of the story I'm writing, even though the character is telling it as a dream.

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    1. Oh my! You and your sister were almost taken hostage in Mexico? How did the two of you escape that?

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    2. Let me preface this by saying we 'thought' we were about to get taken hostage or abducted. But when I tell you, you will understand. Then I'd like to hear your thoughts if you think we were almost abducted.
      We were staying at a resort when we decided to go visit the city. The resort had several buses that go into and out of town. It simply wasn't 'safe' they said to arrange travel on our own. So we took their bus, but there was some miscommunication about the fare, which was soon sorted out. But the driver didn't seem to happy about. Once in town we shopped at a Wal-Mart that was burning down. (No joke, another story for another time), and we eventually found our way to what we really wanted, the local town shops. After we were done, we went to the prearranged spot with the rest of the group. As everyone climbed aboard, he asked us to hold off. He put the rest on the bus and told us another bus was coming. We thought it was strange so we waited. When it came, shortly after, we were the only ones on this bus. Instead of going directly to the freeway leading to the resort, we noticed we were going through some really shady parts of the town. All the while he was talking on his phone in Spanish. Suddenly he asks if we were alone. If there was anyone we were with at the resort. My sister without thinking said no. At this time we were already getting scared because the area really looked, let's say, not good for white Americans. We even passed a house where it looked like men in bats were coming out. But the second after my sister told him we were alone, my brain kicked in and I quickly said, "She means, no one came to town with us. We have to meet her husband as soon as we get back to the resort. I mentioned how her husband is Mexican and she even speaks a little of the language. Which she does and proceeded to say a little in Spanish. It was not soon after that, we were suddenly on the freeway and heading back to the resort. So I'll leave it to you, what do you think?
      My sister and I are dead certain we were close to being kidnapped or who knows what. It put us off for the rest of the day. It was frightening to say the least.

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    3. Well, it does sound like they were doing something shady. Maybe bringing you somewhere for human trafficking. They separated you from the group, was bringing you where those types of deals likely go down, and they wanted to know if anyone would be expecting you (calling the cops in case you didn't return). So yeah...I think you guys had a very close call. Good for you for making up the lie about her husband waiting for you and how he was Mexican. I think that saved your butts.

      Now about that Wal-Mart...it was burning down while you were in it? Shopping?

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    4. Since you asked, I'm going to relate that story as well. Like a good teaser, perhaps saying while "burning down" is a bit much. But again, you'll get the point. You see we were in the Wal-Mart and for certain we smelled something burning. Suddenly she spied some smoke but employees were still standing around like nothing was going on. We kind of shrugged it off because we thought maybe they had some kind of kitchen and the hood unit was backing up. We didn't think much of it. If no one else thought it was out of control, then it must be okay. Suddenly, one of the employee doors burst open and two employees RAN OUT CARRYING AXES! It was then we realized something more dramatic was going on. We quickly decided to leave but noticed the aisles for check out were still open. Yes, it was ridiculous, but I decided I had to buy what I had, it was some kind of sunblock and sunglasses and I was NOT going to get ripped off in town buying this. Still, it could not have been so big a fire if the store was still open. After we checked out, we noticed where all the smoke was coming from. It was indeed on FIRE. They were in there with axes because a cigar table caught fire right next to the news stand. They were smaller shops inside of the Wal-Mart. We quickly made our exit thinking we'd see tons of fire trucks and such. Nope, nothing. Well, a few but..... here is a link to the photos I took. I was unable to take any inside. Or rather, I was too embarrassed to photograph their fire inside.

      http://jeffreyascott.blogspot.com/2010/12/mexico-day-3.html

      Now is that CRAZY or what?

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    5. The two of you certainly had an eventful time in Mexico. I can picture the employees running out with axes. That's just funny. If something like that happened in the US, there would be panic. haha

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