I am back with another post about a specific cliché. This time, it’s what I called ‘The collapsing cave’ even though it’s definitely not limited to caves, as I’ll show through the post.
The typical situation looks like this: the hero(es) fight through the bad guy’s armies and finally corner him in the heart of his (often underground) fortress. A fight brings the antagonist on the verge of collapse/death. Using what power remains, the bad guy brings the place down, hoping that it’ll cause the hero’s demise in addition of his own. In case it does not, it then usually features a race against the structure, to escape before the place buries them alive – or at least getting close enough where they can be ‘unearthed’ by those who remained outside.
Despite the simple way I named this case, it’s not limited to caves and not even to closed structures. In fact, anything can serve as this kind of trap, including open space – but more on that later.
The very base of this cliché is the fact that most antagonists consider their minions as disposable grunts and will not face the heroes until the very end. Only then will they be willing to get their hands dirty. Thus, they’ll just watch the siege of their HQ somewhat detached, waiting for the ‘justice’s champions’ to reach them. Side note: this fact (and cliché) is the very base of most computer games – the ‘big bad’ is always the very last boss and you have to fight your way to the heart of the lair where he waits for you.
Just as the big bad’s minions are disposable, so might be their HQ. Hence, this situation does not even need to be the grand finale, merely one of the major showdowns. If the antagonist is cornered in a forward base and the situation would demand a retreat nonetheless, it might be worth sacrificing the place and try to bury the heroes there while making an escape.
The tools to cause the collapse will vary given the exact situation, though explosions will work in most cases – no matter if it’s by carefully planted bombs or powerful magic. As I said, there might be twists – which will then use different methods.
The way the heroes escape can likewise take many forms: imperfectly executed collapse leaving one of the corridors/caves open (even if it means taking a blind shot regarding the direction), having a C4 pack just in case, or just teleporting out (in case of SF/Fantasy).
Another aspect is that escaping does not mean leaving the place unscathed. There might be injuries – even serious – from shards caused by the explosions. There might be casualties (in case of group escape) or a different price to pay – such as severe exhaustion from using magic to get out (especially in case they can’t teleport and need to blast their way through the debris). The possibilities to explore are many.
As I said, it’s not limited to closed environments. A particuarly evil villain might decide to use some of their minions to block the progress of the encroaching enemies – and call for an air strike on their position (or a hail of arrows/spells in fantasy), something that’s not easy to run from even on an open field.
Another possible “open” trap might be a ship. As with the cave/building, it might be rigged to explode and, even if the heroes are on the deck, just jumping overboard is not enough if the ship’s explosion sends wreckage in all directions. Or if there are sharks in the water.
In the end, it’s up to the writer’s imagination to find a way to twist this cliché to some form that’s not seen as much – or give it some original twist. The options are there. It’s definitely about more than the place and the collapse/explosion. Exploring the price of the act (if it’s not the very final one) might be a possibility – did the heroes lose some possible clue in their escape? Is the villain’s escape (if this variant was used) a large setback for them? Was the escape so taxing it’ll set their plans back significantly?
This is where I’ll end it for today. As always, I’ll welcome your thoughts on this matter. Feel free to share your experience, whether it is from reading or writing such scenes.