Character Motivation Entry: Escaping Confinement

What does your character want? This is an important question to answer because it determines what your protagonist hopes to achieve by the story’s end. If the goal, or outer motivation, is written well, readers will identify fairly quickly what the overall story goal’s going to be and they’ll know what to root for. But how do you know what outer motivation to choose?

confinementIf you read enough books, you’ll see the same goals being used for different characters in new scenarios. Through this thesaurus, we’d like to explore these common outer motivations so you can see your options and what those goals might look like on a deeper level.

Character’s Goal (Outer Motivation): Escape Confinement

Forms This Might Take:

  • Being locked in a trunk of a car during a kidnapping
  • Escaping one’s binds when being held against one’s will
  • To find the way out of a building where one is trapped
  • Getting out of a maze-like area (catacombs, a water and sewer system, underground tunnel system)
  • To escape a motel room that is being watched by police
  • Breaking out of a room one is trapped during a fire
  • To escape a jail cell and then the prison
  • Finding a way out of a locked room
  • Being trapped in an enemy’s city as a political prisoner
  • Escaping a buried casket
  • Breaking out of a vehicle after a car crash
  • Being trapped on an island and needing a way off
  • Escaping a sinking ship
  • To break out of a guarded psychiatric facility
  • Removing blockades and obstacles after a cave-in when underground
  • Escaping an elevator which has malfunctioned
  • Being trapped on a piece of property that is highly secure or guarded
  • To escape an apartment or penthouse if one is being held there against one’s will
  • To escape a damaged bunker or storm shelter after a violent natural or man made event
  • Finding the way out of a secured holding room at an airport, at a country’s border, or at some other government-protected access point
  • To escape a facility (above or below ground) when the power is out and all access points are on lock down

Human Need Driving the Goal (Inner Motivation): Physical Needs, Safety and Security

How the Character May Prepare for This Goal

  • Pay attention to sensory details (sounds, smells, movement, etc.) to determine where one is being taken to find one’s way out
  • Clock the movements of guards to determine the best time to try and escape
  • Study the area to look for possible access points
  • Take inventory of what one has to help with the problem of escape
  • Utilize items one can access Or make to get out
  • Pay off guards to look the other way (if one has resources to trade)
  • Brainstorm with other characters on how to get out and the possible risk factors
  • Research the location if one has access to a computer, files, blueprints, etc.
  • Create a weapon from what one has on hand to face possible threats
  • Find a portable light source
  • Collect necessary items before setting off (food, water, gear, etc.) if it is available
  • Rehearse what one must do and when before leaving if time is a factor
  • Make a list of possible obstacles one may encounter and work through how to handle them
  • Talk the plan over with others (if one isn’t alone) so everyone works in unison
  • Play the victim to appear as less of a threat to one’s captors
  • Check the room for air movement to ascertain the best place to try and dig or break through
  • Mark one’s direction in case one has to backtrack or just to avoid being lost

Possible Sacrifices or Costs Associated With This Goal

  • Being injured by broken glass or other debris
  • Having to give up shelter or temporary safety for the unknown
  • Having to take only the resources one can carry and leave the rest
  • Being forced to kill another
  • Risking an even worse scenario
  • Having to leave someone behind to escape and get help
  • Risking pain and torture if caught

Roadblocks Which Could Prevent This Goal from Being Achieved

  • Losing one’s way in the dark if one’s light source goes out
  • Reinforcements being called in to help (guards, police, trackers, etc.)
  • A guard whose loyalty can’t be bought
  • An injury that restricts movement or causes great pain
  • Sustaining a wound that must be addressed soon or one will die (ticking clock)
  • An injured member in one’s party that cannot be moved
  • Becoming ill or fatigued
  • Suffering from exposure because one doesn’t have appropriate clothing or gear
  • Having few resources at one’s disposal
  • Not knowing where one is
  • Being blinded or otherwise incapacitated in some way
  • Infrastructure instability (an explosion that has weakened building supports, a rotten staircase leading out, etc.)
  • A fire breaking out
  • Having the area being flooded with water
  • Human or animal predators
  • Being poisoned or drugged, and thereby partially incapacitated

Talents & Skills That Will Help the Character Achieve This Goal:

A Knack for Languages

A Way with Animals


Basic First Aid

Good Listening Skills

Blending In


Gaining the Trust of Others

Enhanced Hearing


Hot-Wiring a Car

High Pain Tolerance

Knife Throwing

Knowledge of Explosives


Mechanically Inclined



Photographic Memory

Reading People





Strategic Thinking

Survival Skills


Throwing One’s Voice

Wilderness Navigation


Possible Fallout For the Protagonist if This Goal Is Not Met:

  • Running out of a necessity if one cannot get free (food, water. air)
  • Being beaten, sexually assaulted, or tortured by one’s captors as punishment when caught
  • Being killed by others
  • Dying from one’s injuries
  • Having a loved one killed because one tried to escape
  • Having someone in one’s party die because help could not be obtained for them
  • Finding oneself in an even more dire predicament (if a roof collapses, if one gets wedged into a pipe and can’t move, etc.)

Clichés to Avoid: 

  • Guards who fall asleep on duty
  • Guards who try to interest the victim into having sex
  • Heroes or heroines who happen to have the exact extraordinary talents or items they need to defeat opposition and escape their circumstances

Click here for a list of our current entries for this thesaurus, along with a master post containing information on the individual fields.

Image: Unsplash @ Pixabay





Angela is an international speaker and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also enjoys dreaming up new tools and resources for One Stop For Writers, a library built to help writers elevate their storytelling.
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4 Responses to Character Motivation Entry: Escaping Confinement

  1. :Donna says:

    I have to tell you gals, this one could belong in a survival handbook 🙂 I’ve got a thing with any form of restriction or confinement—I’d say a phobia, so this one hits home, for sure!

  2. Wow – so many things I never even thought of to be worried about. Anxious just reading the list! As always, Angela, great ideas. As to Robin’s question, some crossover for a character who is not trapped physically but is an emotional victim living under threat of harm to self or loved one.

  3. what about escaping invisible barriers, that make you ‘feel’ trapped?

    • I guess it would depend on what they are–restrictions placed on the character because of their station or opportunities (self-actualization) a mental block (self-esteem based/self-actualization), or something else?

      An invisible type confinement is definitely valid, but likely is more based on the need of esteem or self actualization rather than physical needs or safety/security. Not always, but many scenarios. We’ll have to look at this in another entry 🙂

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