Thursday, February 25, 2010


We need a way for our villains to seem dangerous, but give our hero plenty of time to find within himself a way to escape. This is where a deathtrap can be a very useful plot device.

In spite of its name, people rarely die in a deathtrap, unless it is a redshirt or the villain himself. A deathtrap is an, often, overly complicated device by which the villain attempts to kill the hero. Rather than just pulling the trigger, the villain might hang the hero over boiling oil and then place a candle under the rope, so that when the candle burns through the rope, the hero drops into the oil and dies. The idea seems to be that the villain will get more enjoyment out of killing the hero if he knows the hero has to face his own death knowing he can’t escape. The deathtrap can also serve another purpose. Haman, the villain of the story of Esther, hated Mordecai because Mordecai refused to bow to him. The king actually wants to honor Mordecai, rather than allow him to hang him on his 75 foot gallows. Only a deathtrap had any chance of working in his favor.

One way to make a death trap work is to give the villain a reason to keep the hero alive a little longer. Maybe the hero has information the villain needs, so he wants him to talk, but he can’t watch him all the time. If the villain can rig a device to kill the hero after the villain has boarded a plane, then the time of death will make it appear that the villain is free from blame.