1. Sleepy Aardvark
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    Sleepy Aardvark New Member

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    How to make a non-challenging setting interesting?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Sleepy Aardvark, Nov 8, 2014.

    Is it possible to have a (interesting) survival story about people who can't actually die, or be harmed in any conventional way? For example if the story is set in some kind of afterlife (which isn't heaven, more like limbo) where the people are already dead. I want the characters to make a long journey so they can escape this limbo kind of world so they can go to heaven. But it is a gloomy and almost empty world, so I can't come up with any actual challenges for my characters to overcome. It is supposed to be a harsh environment to live in (cold, no food, no shelter, etc.), but since the characters are already dead, it can't actually harm them.
    Any advice or ideas? Thanks.


    (By the way this is my first post, so if I hope I didn't put this in the wrong section or did anything wrong)
     
  2. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, it sounds like you haven't figured out a story yet. How do they qualify for heaven? What do they have to do? If the answer is, "They have to be cold and hungry and bored for sixteen years," then that's probably not going to work. It could work if they're cold and hungry and bored for fifteen years and eleven months, and then something happens, maybe something where what they see as the right thing violates the prerequisite for heaven, so that they'd have to start over. But then those fifteen years should probably go away in a paragraph or so.
     
  3. Sleepy Aardvark
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    Sleepy Aardvark New Member

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    Thanks for your reply.
    The way I imagined the story would go is that at first, when the characters arrive in this afterlife, they don't know where they are, and what their purpose is in this world. They just start traveling and gradually learn about the world they are currently in. They discover a way to cheat themselves into heaven. So it is not like they have to qualify or anything. They just have to find a kind of portal. I was just wondering what kind of obstacles I can put on their path to make it interesting.
     
  4. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wouldn't start with obstacles, I would start with motivations. Dorothy wanted to get home. Arthur Dent wanted a cup of tea. Harry Potter wanted friends. Joe Miller in The Hidden Room (a TV miniseries) wanted to find his lost child. The Fugitive wanted to find the man who murdered his wife.

    I realize that the motivation in the end may be to get into heaven, but what is it when they start there?
     
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  5. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with Chicken Freak.

    Also, the obstacles may not come from the setting, they may come from the group itself. Maybe there's infighting, or one of the characters doesn't want to keep going and the others have to decide what to do about it, maybe the monotony of the setting makes them lose touch with reality, maybe, maybe, maybe.

    What kind of story do you want to tell? What ideas do you have beyond this initial set-up?
     
  6. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm seeing Dorothy, the Tin Man (who wants a heart), the Lion (who wants courage) and the ???...damn, I don't know the story well enough! But you get my point? Motivation and obstacle neatly packaged - buy one, get one free.
     
  7. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    Read through Philip Jose Farmer's Riverworld books.
     
  8. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    The Scarecrow-- who wanted a brain.

    You're welcome.
     
  9. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    C. S. Lewis did something of the sort in The Great Divorce. In that case the conflict came from the fact that a lot of the people/souls involved thought they were in heaven already, or that they were just sight-seeing in the limbo world and could go back to what they thought was normal life (but was really a very dull gray hell), or they refused to see or give up what they needed to to get on to heaven. The core question is would the narrator-- and therefore the reader-- make the same mistake.

    In your case, I'm not sure you're doing your potential story any good by saying the environment "can't harm them." Maybe not in itself. But there has to be some stake or peril involved for them to go to the trouble of achieving "heaven." Do they face some sort of damnation if they don't? Would they be doomed to wander around in the desolate waste forever? What's in this heaven that they would make any effort to go there? All questions you'll have to consider.
     
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  10. J Faceless
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    J Faceless Active Member

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    It shouldn't be physical obstacles then, but personal ones. IF their in Limbo then they did or didn't do something right to get to Hell or Heaven. They could work together to get over their personal flaws. It could be them admitting some sort of sin they got away with, that'd be interesting.
     
  11. !ndigo
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    !ndigo Member

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    Since everyone is already dead maybe you shouldn't think of it as a survival story but as a quest instead.

    It sounds like there's other people there as well right? You could easily have some sort of conflict between your group and another. Maybe your group has a key or a map and another group steals it because they want to be the ones to get to heaven. Maybe they wander into unfriendly territory and get taken hostage. Maybe there is a weird cults that believes in some alternate way to get to heaven (digging through the center of the earth, cannibalism, building a tower, lucid dreaming, gaining followers, etc.) and forces them to help. Maybe there are guards from heaven sent to try and stop them.

    Even in the environment can't kill or seriously injure them it can still pose a challenge. You could have huge mountain ranges to climb over. Sand storms that sweep members of the group away and the others have to find them again. Maybe there are psychological traps along the way where people can get "stuck" (imagine the doldrums from The Phantom Tollbooth). I could also see some sort of physical representation of emotions like darkness that could only be overcome by determination/faith/hope/courage/whatever.
     
  12. karmazon
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    karmazon Member

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    Just because they're dead, that doesn't mean they can't still feel pain. They're not in heaven yet.
     
  13. kburns421
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    kburns421 Member

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    I agree with this.

    In addition to motivation, they need something to lose, and something personal. Simply staying stuck there isn't enough though, at least not for me. I just recently read a book in which the protagonist was already dead and living in limbo. His goals were impersonal and distant (e.g. kill this bad guy so he won't murder anyone else), and I knew that he couldn't really die and would still end up in limbo regardless of what happened. Yeah limbo sucked, but he never had anything to lose. Because of that, I just didn't care what happened to him. Once you know what they have to lose, it might help you figure out obstacles.
     
  14. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think there is alternate definitions non challenging. Not being able to be hurt can detract but not in the way I think your thinking.
    Stories need conflict, but that conflict doesn't need to be about surviving or finding food or shelter. It can be internal about the will to continue in this bored situation or against another immortal. Or saving another. They are immortal but is everyone around them? You do need a challenge but that challenge doesn't mean you have to change these ideas. If there is no sense that they can fail at the goal they have then as a reader I don't care.
    Kind of like imagine a sport game. If you tune in half way through and the score is 200-0. Do you really have a doubt about who is gonna win? Since there is no doubt, there is no suspense, nothing that happens seems to matter then. A story works in a similiar manner if you ask me. You need a conflict, you need a challenge but this is just them having a goal and a feeling that they can fail. What that goal is, is up to you.
    Does that help?
     
  15. SwampDog
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    SwampDog Contributing Member

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    If by 'Heaven' you mean some sort of eternal paradise, then it won't work. It wouldn't be any sort of Heaven if you could cheat your way in.

    And I'm not sure where you're coming from with this:
    You may have to deal with intellectual challenges and quests in some unrelated fantasy realm, rather than try and relate it to and usurp the conventional perception of a limbo or other heavenly place.
     
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  16. Leviathan
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    Leviathan Active Member

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    Reminds me a little of Elantris from Brandon Sanderson. In the book, some people in a closed-off city are immortal, but every wound they receive never stops hurting and they still feel hunger. After a few years, that's enough pain and hunger for people to just lie down and shut off.

    With that image in mind, even if the people in your story don't suffer the same way, it doesn't matter if the escape leads to heaven or whatever so long as it lead to anywhere but the limbo. It is the only hope they have of escape keeps them from just lying down and give up.
     
  17. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    Some ideas: -
    • They have to cross some sort of a plain of desolation, or something, which gradually drains their cognitive functions and memories through exposure; with the risk that they will forget why they are crossing it.
    • There are areas devoid of the flow of time or causality where they might end up exactly where they started after many miles of hiking.
    Generally speaking the biggest fear is becoming separated or lost and losing the ability to leave.
     
  18. maskedhero
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    maskedhero Active Member

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    Sounds like your characters may need to overcome sheer boredom. That's not an insult, but limbo, forever, unfeeling, might cause someone to lose their mind a bit.
     
  19. Void
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    Void Contributing Member

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    It seems like this type of setting warrants a more philosophical focus, rather than the standard mode of danger.
     
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  20. Megalith
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    Megalith Contributing Member Contributor

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    May I refer you to, "Death Parade"
    It's an anime which is about limbo, and people can't get hurt per se. It's a new series and only a few episodes have aired but you can see your idea really taken out of the mold in it. And that type of set up is fine as long as you can make strife and motivation all the same. Another anime which people can't get hurt in is "No Game No Life." Which is funny, interesting, and slightly clever at the same time.
     
  21. kfmiller
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    kfmiller Active Member

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    Supernatural the tv show has dealt with Purgatory in the past. In the show, purgatory is where monsters go when they die. I thought it was pretty creative.
     
  22. CedricMiddorick
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    CedricMiddorick Member

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    Make limbo be similar to the waiting room at the dentist's. While the people are waiting, they're thinking about all the stuff they've done when they were alive and they're at war with themselves about whether or not they lived a good life. Every now and then people start breaking down due to all this inner-turmoil, while some people become envious when they see people being accepted into Heaven.
     
  23. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    You can't have a 'survival' story if their survival is assured by their very nature. This sounds like an escape story.
     

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