Breaking cliches: Damsels in Defiance

Years ago, Scarlett made two friends: Elena and Kirin. They are realm leapers who take it upon themselves to test how realistic fictional settings, tropes, and cliches are. I firmly believe they put themselves in this much danger solely to make fun of it once they escape. Not something I’d recommend, but today you get to benefit from their rashness. Mainly from Elena’s adventures.

My dear fellow women who have the misfortune of being cared about by someone deemed important,

Firstly, I want you to know you’re not bait. There may be some advantages to going along with all that nonsense and more on that in a bit. But I want you to know.

You’re important just the way you are, because of who you are. Not because some prince or soldier loves you. Definitely not because he’d abandon his nation and cause just to rescue you.

Also, word of advice. If you’re everything to this particular man, to the point he would give up the principles or values he claims to live his life by, then get out and get out fast. Major red flag there. You can’t be someone’s whole world; you just can’t. It’s an unfair expectation placed on you and you won’t be able to hold it up and still be happy and healthy and all the rest. This isn’t to say your love can’t rescue you, but there’s a proper way to go about these things.

As for rescues, have you ever been on the receiving end of one? Because you might notice they don’t always go as planned. Especially when you are being treated as bait so those annoying minor details crop up like an alert guard, a well-defended dragon lair, or a disguised cell. To read the stories, most escapes end with the captive in the grip of her captor, a dagger pressed against her throat.

Not a terribly comfortable position, especially if the man holding you is sweating and smells like yesterday’s dinner.

Of course, all rescues don’t go like this. There was the time the pompous prince of Athada arranged the capture of his betrothed (that part was supposed to stay a secret), then showed up in a scarlet cloak, accompanied by servants bearing crystals to record his gallant rescue.

He battled through a dozen apathetic guards before swinging open the door of the poor damsel’s chamber only to be splashed with several bucketfuls of tar rigged up on cleverly disguised ropes. The princess and I, concealed back at her father’s castle after our own casual escape, laughed over the transmission of the prince’s face for the rest of the night.

But, admittedly, not many captures are going to end this easily.

Avoiding capture in the first place is normally a good idea. Normally. Sometimes being viewed as bait is an advantage if that’s all we’re viewed as. Especially if we are able to overhear sensitive conversations or study war maps while being held prisoner. It’s a risky move, and ideally, you should trust whoever will be asked to rescue you enough that you discuss it with him beforehand. But war calls for risk from both sexes and sometimes this is one we are better equipped to handle.

Otherwise, we can and should take normal precautions. Like, you know, not disobeying a father or other authority and deciding to venture out into the dangerous dark alone. I’ve nothing against a bit of danger, but if you slip off on your own in some rash attempt to prove your skills instead of talking with someone and figuring out how to actually accomplish your goal, you are practically asking to be captured.

Capture doesn’t just happen around wars either, when evil (or desperate) generals want to pressure their enemy. (This sort of thing does happen, though. And it’s completely unfair to our friends, even if it’s not our fault. So we should avoid this sort of capture if possible, even if it means sacrificing some of our freedom to stay safe).

We women are also captured for other reasons unconnected to war. Sometimes we’re captured as messengers. As brides. As spies. As slaves.

Now, you can move straight to anger and defiance once this happens. But, due to the perceived weakness of women, there are a handful of actions you can follow to encourage your captor to underestimate you until you know exactly what is going on.

  1. Faint. At least several times.
  2. Huddle in a corner. Preferably while crying.
  3. Make no effort to move (actually, the dead-weight tactic is a great passive-aggressive technique for many situations).
  4. Refuse to tell your captor anything, while clearly showing your answer through facial expressions (another way to trick your captor, if you are good enough at it).
  5. When your rescuer comes and gets in the inevitable fight with your captor, keep out of the way but please do snatch up any weapons that are dropped and use them to help in your own rescue if needed.

Waiting around for rescue isn’t always a viable option, though. Especially in situations where women are captured simply because they are women and no one is coming. In this case, the sooner you get away, the better. (Even if someone is coming, getting out on your own will save them time and manpower).

The first thing to do is identify your value to your captor because your own safety and need for urgency depend strongly on this.

If you’re being held by a prospective suitor or for a ransom, you can have some fun. Pranks on guards. Riddles. Sarcasm and insults. Of course, plan these things yourself carefully. It would never do to be placed under stricter guard because you’re merely being annoying.

If you’re being held by a slave driver or as a spy, on the other hand, it’s probably a good idea to shut up and make the least noise you can. Or maybe the most noise. It depends a lot on your guards and your captor’s personality. Each situation is different.

Whatever the case, there are a handful of personalities one can choose to adapt to your situation:

  1. The tearful princess: basically acting as weak and helpless as you can while preparing for one sudden push. This can be quite fun to play, but the hard part is not laughing at everyone’s looks of disgust while you sob or pretend to be so delicate you can’t walk on rough ground.
  2. The steady maiden: take it all in stride. Keep informed. Don’t show much fear, but don’t show how much you know either. Act like everything is normal. The confusion this causes can be hilarious as well, though you will probably be watched fairly closely.
  3. The defiant damsel: insults, sarcasm, pranks, either with brazen triumph or practiced innocence. You can say what you want and demand what you want. This is also quite fun to act, though you’re likely to be kept under a fairly heavy guard. You’re also likely to get some of the things you need for an escape simply through force of personality.
  4. Using two or even three layers of personality can also give you some good results.

Remember that persistence pays off. Want a view of the courtyard or extra sheets to tie together for a rope? Ask and plead and cajole until your captors are so annoyed they give in. You can veil your reasons in foolish girlishness, guilt your captors, prey on their ignorance and squeamishness in regard to feminine needs, or use hard brazen logic.

Finally, anything can be used as a weapon, but the more you can do via stealth, the better.  Such as leaving behind clues or slipping away into the night.

And, if you do you happen to manage your own escape, tell others as soon as possible so your rescuer doesn’t fall into your captor’s clutches and the roles reverse.

It’s rather inconvenient when that happens because then you’re in the unenviable role of needing to rescue the one you love. Not to mention guards will be doubled and tripled.

Any questions about rescues you’ve seen, captures you’ve endured, or hostage situations you’ve heard about? Drop them in the comments below and I’ll address them to the best of my ability!

Fascinated by working with cliches as well as breaking them? Check out a free booklet laying out the history of cliches, how to write a cliche masterpiece (satire) and how to work with cliches to strengthen your writing!

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4 Comments

  1. This is seriously one of the best articles I have ever read. XD Would love some more like this!!

  2. An acquaintance of mine was kidnapped and briefly held hostage. Her captors released her when they realized she was pregnant—something unlikely to happen in the case of a male prisoner.

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