1. mashers
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    mashers Senior Member

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    Plausibility check on a plot facet

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by mashers, Jun 22, 2016.

    Hi all

    Part of my WIP novel takes place on Jersey (Channel Islands in Britain, not America). The character lives in an abandoned bar on the edge of one of the bays and loots resources from a neighbouring hotel. He doesn't live in the hotel because it has been commandeered by an aggressive group who won't allow anybody else in. He is only able to sneak in and grab a few resources when needed.

    Most of the rest of the island is uninhabitable and most of the residents are dead. This is because the island was targeted by a terrorist attack which consisted of a dirty bomb being detonated which contaminated most of the island, leaving only a few coastal regions habitable.

    I just want to check whether this plot line is believable. There will be very limited detail about the situation other than a description of the above in order to provide context and an explanation of why the character is in this situation. The character's subplot takes place within the building he lives in and the immediate area.
     
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  2. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    The details you mention sound plausible in a dystopian/post-apocalyptic context. If it happened in current society I doubt the island would be left in the control of gangs/outlaws/whatever you'd call the hotel group and your character.

    Your character's motivations for staying on the island in those circumstances would probably be a bigger plausibility issue.
     
  3. mashers
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    mashers Senior Member

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    Thank you @Tenderiser for your feedback! I'll give some more context of it helps to establish whether the scenario is believable.

    The scenario is not post apocalyptic (the attack was specifically targeted to this region) and although I wouldn't say dystopian, the feel is of a future very much less stable than our present. The whole island is not under the control of the group in the hotel - they just live there. The island had to be abandoned as the ground and buildings have been poisoned and cleanup is not possible at this time, and it was presumed by aerial reconnaissance that the entire population was dead. Only pockets of survivors remain and they are stranded.

    The reason for this device is to create a situation where this character, who plays a central role, has to find a way of carrying out a particular task while extremely isolated and in a situation with very limited resources. His choices are stay where he is and try to muddle through with what he's got, venture further into the island and risk toxic exposure, or traverse the coastline of the island to try to find a vessel to get back to the mainland.

    Hopefully this helps... Do his motives seem plausible?

    Thanks again for your help :)
     
  4. ashurbanipal
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    ashurbanipal Member

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    I would imagine even small groups of survivors would be quite obvious on such a small island. with the UK and France's technological capabilities, any reconnaissance would surely pick this up quickly, and most survivors would probably be trying to leave the island. I think there would need to be a better motivation for the isolation of Jersey.
     
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2016
  5. mashers
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    mashers Senior Member

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    @ashurbanipal
    Do you mean you think it would have to be a deliberate decision not to rescue the survivors? I could definitely write this in, or at least have the character muse upon it to highlight that it doesn't make sense, perhaps have him consider a range of reasons while he doesn't actually know due to his isolation.

    The reason I chose jersey is because I have been there many times and the location has always inspired me. I can describe it richly where appropriate, and because I wanted an isolated character I decided to use it as his setting.
     
  6. ashurbanipal
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    ashurbanipal Member

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    Yeah, I think the UK and France would have to have a strong reason for abandoning the remaining survivors and it would probably help plausibility if this was written in. At least, I would probably want to know why they had been left stranded when both countries should have the means to rescue them. Using places that inspire you and that you know well is definitely good.
     
  7. mashers
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    mashers Senior Member

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    Ok, I can definitely write in a reason for abandoning the survivors. I'm thinking something along the lines of:

    1. The entire island was contaminated but the coastal areas less so. Those in coastal regions when the bomb was detonated were insufficiently exposed to cause death
    2. The survivors are 'carriers' of the contamination so would be a high risk if brought back to the mainland.
    3. The UK government claims to be researching a decontamination strategy when in fact they have abandoned the island as to clean it up and rescue the few survivors remaining would be too costly

    I think that's sufficiently plausible given how corrupt the government is in the novel, but I'm not sure how to explain it to the reader. None of my characters would have access to any of this information. Could they hypothesise, and let the reader decide if it's correct?
     
  8. ashurbanipal
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    ashurbanipal Member

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    I think that could work. Maybe emphasise how the UK, France and neighbouring countries have closed their borders/tightened controls so people can't just get on a vessel and sail over? If there were a scene where a character tries to escape but fails, this could help explain why they are abandoned? I am assuming corruption was present before the attack, so characters' attitudes should be able to convey this when talking about or dealing with officials and government policy, etc.
     
  9. mashers
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    mashers Senior Member

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    I think a scene where somebody tries to escape would be a great idea. I could couple their POV report of what happens with a news report of a fabricated story viewed by a character on the mainland to highlight the discrepancy.

    Thanks guys! :)
     
  10. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    People being abandoned by the government is a bit of a stretch if you're using today's modern governments in the story, I would find that hard to believe.
    In the OP you mention a dirty bomb, that implies a device which explodes and spreads radioactive material around without causing a nuclear detonation. Having radioactive material tossed on your skin does not make you a "carrier" like a disease.
    Think of it like getting mud on you. You have some on your hands & if you touch something else it may get some on whatever you touch. If some gets inside my body I won't "spread" it to other people. I WILL be emanating radiation if people stand near me but it won't spread it if they walk away. (distance depends on which material we're talking about.) I've heard of bombs being made using Iodine-131 as "shrapnel". The material will emit dangerous levels of radiation about thirty feet and the area will be toxic for a month or two (depending on how concentrated.) Simple lead shielding would be easy to use to transport survivors.
    Another problem you have is how do these people walking around the island know what is contaminated and what isn't. It doesn't glow like on the Simpson's. There's nothing to see. The first time it rains, it's going to spread more.
     
  11. newjerseyrunner
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    newjerseyrunner Contributing Member

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    I'm having trouble with the coastline thing. Why would the coastline be unaffected? Things travel from the inside of an island out, not the other way around. Every time it rains, the toxins from the inside of the island would be pushed down hill, towards the coast.

    How are the gang members in the hotel resupplying themselves. If they have enough to steal without being noticed, they'll have to have some sort of sustainability.
     
  12. mashers
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    mashers Senior Member

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    @doggiedude
    Thanks for your thoughts. I agree it's far-fetched for today's governments. But this novel is set in a future with a government even more unscrupulous than today's. I can make the decision to abandon the survivors work.

    As for the mechanism of the weapon, it's not nuclear. It's an unknown toxin which is why the government doesn't know how to decontaminate. I'll need to think more about this if I'm going to make it work, especially in light of the feedback from @newjerseyrunner.

    As for the gang members in the hotel, well they're making the best of a bad situation too. The attack was fairly recent and they're just holed up.

    I think this may be becoming over-complicated now. The main thing I wanted to do was isolate the character in a situation with intrinsic peril (the toxic environment, lack of resources, hostile others nearby). In order to support this I feel I've created a scenario which is untenable :(
     
  13. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    If you're using a made-up world, it's still doable with a few adjustments. I would avoid using the term "dirty bomb" since that is specific in our world, meaning radioactive "shrapnel." You need to be more specific with what it actually is.
    Do we have a chemical that burns the skin on contact & the lungs when breathed?
    Is it a gas? Liquid? Maybe a biological, giving the people a contagious infection? If it's an infection, how is it spread? Even if the government doesn't know the answers, you need to. There need to be realistic rules to how it spreads. And how these people know (or not know) what is happening around them.
    I'm not a big fan of the mysterious evil government trope in fiction. Most governments seem to do what they believe to be right at the time, even if it turns out to be group stupidity.
     
  14. mashers
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    mashers Senior Member

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    I can definitely be specific. I can also invent a chemical to do whatever I want. I just still don't feel I have sufficient reason for the survivors to be abandoned. You guys have certainly given me a lot to think about though. I'll keep mulling it over, but I have a feeling I'll be abandoning this plot line.
     
  15. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    How long of a timeframe does the story require? If it's only a short time, the government could be overwhelmed by attacks in other locations, making this island a lower priority.
     
  16. mashers
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    mashers Senior Member

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    The timescale is one month, but the attacks are not part of the main plot. It was more of a device to keep this character where he is.

    I think this is too unbelievable. I had this image of the character holed up in a particular location and wrote some description I was really pleased with, but I don't see it working without considerable plot holes. I considered changing the situation completely and making the character autistic and isolating himself, but that's not really the image of autism I would want to portray.
     
  17. ashurbanipal
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    ashurbanipal Member

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    There are other ways of working this into a plot so I don't necessarily think you'd have to abandon it if you really want to work with it, but it might have to involve some supernatural/fantasy-ish elements, or maybe a completely different location. It might be more plausible if it happened on a remote island out in the pacific (even a fictional one) which a government had decided to destroy for whatever reason, or maybe a freak accident happened, etc.
     
  18. mashers
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    mashers Senior Member

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    I want to avoid the fantasy element as this is more towards the hard sci fi genre. I did consider making it a remote island, but I don't know anything about any of those locations whereas I know Jersey very well. I think my options at this point are:
    1. The government doesn't know about the survivors. As others have said, it's unrealistic for them to have searched and found none, so I think the only way it would work would be if they assumed everyone was dead. Edit - also, the character in question does have some communication with the mainland, so it would be unrealistic for him to be unknown unless he wanted to be, as he could make his presence on the island known
    2. The government knows they are there, but due to the mechanism of the weapon used they are either unable or unwilling to rescue them. This is tricky from a technical perspective
    3. The government offered to rescue them but some chose to stay. This is questionable in terms of their motive to do so.
    4. Move the character to a totally different location with a different reason for him to be isolated. This is my least favourite option, but I fear it is the most practical and will result I thermoset believable situation

    I really appreciate all the feedback I'm getting here. It's great to bounce ideas off others and I have no idea how people write without this kind of community!
     
  19. mashers
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    mashers Senior Member

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    Ok I think I've got a plausible scenario for the character choosing to stay. In the story he's an ethical hacker who will ultimately be responsible for the (justified) destruction of the tech at the heart of the story. Now, because of his previous hacking exploits he is highly wanted by, and very recognisable to, the British government. He fled to the country to escape arrest. After the attack on the island, the survivors were evacuated, but he chose to stay as his actions would incur a severe penalty. His intention is to attempt to leave the island and get to mainland Europe, but for now he is stranded. This also explains the position of the group who have commandeered the hotel - they too have chosen to remain in order to avoid prosecution on the mainland.

    The mechanism of the weapon is a gaseous toxin. It contaminated the environment on most of the island. Entering those areas would cause sickness but not immediate death. The character's attempt to move inland to obtain resources resulted in him becoming sick, but able to recover after retreating to the coast. Those who were in the centre of the island came into direct contact with the toxin so died before they were able to evacuate (plus they did not know what was happening so would not have known to attempt to get to the edge of the island).

    Gradual leeching of the toxin to the coastline could actually be a great device to impose a time pressure on the character - do what he has to do to get off the island before the contamination reaches him.


    Any feedback on this would be appreciated :)
     
  20. A lake.
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    A lake. Member

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    Honestly I have to say you should think about a different location and reason to isolate him. The island idea seems forced.
     
  21. KPMay
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    Maybe he just thinks the government abandoned them, but when he actually gets to the mainland he finds out they were attacked as well and so they just didn't have the resources to rescue them. Or you could go a bit darker, it ends with him getting to the mainland everything is destroyed so there was never any hope of rescue. I like dark endings >:)
     
  22. mashers
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    mashers Senior Member

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    @A lake.
    I'm going to keep the explanation subtle and low key. I'm hoping this will avoid it feeling forced. Point taken though.

    @KPMay
    I haven't decided yet whether he makes it back ;)
     
  23. Iain Aschendale
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    Iain Aschendale Contributed Member Contributor

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    I was working on something very vaguely similar to this in which my characters were isolated soldiers in the remains of South Korea. The reason they hadn't been rescued was that the peninsula had been hit with an airborne version of HIV/AIDS. If your island is where a disease outbreak is contained, you've got a reason for a cautious/under-resourced/evil government to leave the people there for a while. As for parts of the island being "no-go" zones... I'm at a bit of a loss.

    But consider the biological quarantine angle.

    ETA: Forgot to mention that the MC and some of the bandits could be asymptomatic carriers. Perhaps that connects to the no-go zones? They don't realize that their immune, and are staying away from where a lot of people died for fear of catching something that they've already got? Dunno, but I like the basic idea of the story.
     
  24. BC Barry
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    BC Barry Member

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    Could the island be a privately owned island, where the owner has a small hotel in which he allows friends and families to take extended vacations? The gang could be the staff of the hotel and people he pays to live on the island in a small town in the center to maintain it, etc. The gang are those who were on duty at the time of the blast. Maybe one of the guests is some someone who needs to be killed, or terrorists chose that island as practice for their biological weapon. And it could still be a remote island yet be exactly like Jersey since that's what you know.
     
  25. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Is there a reason why he can't, say, be living in a cabin in the wilds of Alaska or some other more-normal isolated situation? I can certainly believe that there is a reason, but in case you hadn't though of it....
     

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