My neighbour, Buggeroff, has a habit of going to early Saturday movie sessions and then turning up on my doorstep mid-afternoon to give me one of his half-hour verbal reviews. He expects, because I'm a writer, that I'm interested. I'm not. (Buggeroff thinks that Police Academy 6 is one of the all-time movie greats.)
Last weekend Buggeroff went to see the new thriller movie, "Buried," and says it scared the pants off him. (Not a pretty sight.) He was mightliy impressed that the entire film was set in a box buried under the ground and that, regardless of that, he was rivetted to the screen for every single second.
I'm not going to admit it to Buggeroff any time soon, but I'm also in awe of films/books/stories-of-any-kind that have confined settings and yet keep readers/audiences hooked as suspense builds.
In the film, "Panic Room," the action is largely set in and around an actual -yep, you guessed it - "panic room," where Jodie Foster's character, and her daughter, are trapped by the bad guys. In Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window," the mystery is played out almost entiely at -yep - the rear window of an apartment occupied by a man in a wheelchair. A narrow view of facing apartments, and his own confinement, are sufficient to provide a harrowing plot.
Arthur Hailey's novel, "Airport," and the subsequent movie, take place within a major airport and plane over a 24 hour period. Tension builds as multiple characters are drawn into corporate crap (is there any other kind?) love affairs, family dramas, and a terrorist bomb threat aboard an airliner. Hailey explores similar themes in a confined scenario, with "Hotel."
There's much for readers to enjoy, and for writers to learn, from finely crafted stories that build momentum within limited spaces, where the setting itself becomes as much a part of the tale as do the characters and the plot.
There's an old saying, "If these walls could talk, imagine the tales they could tell," and it's something many authors have chosen to do - to imagine what those walls could tell them.
Thriller supremo David Morrell echoes this in his novel, "Creepers," set inside a condemned building, where the history of the building is ever-present alongside the isolation, darkness and decay.
In Ken Follett's "Whiteout," the action takes place on a country estate where family, friends and business associates have been stranded by a massive snowstorm. Drawn in by the narrative, you begin to feel the chill as you're reading.
Arguably, no-one has mastered the closed-room mystery, with death and detection inside a country manor, or a cross-country train trip, like the Queen Of Crime, Agatha Christie.
When it comes to going one better, and making a closed space even tighter, trust Stephen King to rub his hands in glee.
In the climactic sequence to "Cujo," a mother and child are trapped inside a broken-down car on an isolated farm, terrorised by a rabid St. Bernard that's viciously determined to break into the vehicle.
Confined spaces don't get much more confined than that, or the fear and suspense more palpable.
Great fiction can be set absolutely anywhere - or in just one single and confined space.
For writers, it's not a bad idea-starter.
Go somewhere. Anywhere. Look at the walls.
Some people may think you're crazy.
But the walls won't mind, they've got plenty to tell you, and sometimes a writer has to be both a little bit crazy...and a good listener.