A Writer’s Guide to…Escaping a Hostage Situation!

Writers can get people into and out of trouble with a handful of eloquent words and some convenient coincidences. It’s no wonder then that we are the first people you turn to for advice on how not to die and stuff. With this in mind, I have decided to take on the heavy burden of writing some guides for that very purpose – to save lives!

Disclaimer: Following these guidelines may result in death.

Next up on the list of things you, the Hero, may get into trouble with is being taken hostage.

Tied Wrists

Problem: Being taken hostage
Goal: To not be a hostage
Description: Rope. People with guns. Clock’s ticking!
Difficulty: Depends how well they tie knots

It’s that time of year again. You always forget, and when you hear that scream echoing along the alleyway, you set off running to save the damsel in distress. There’s a van. A woman. Men with balaclavas. You charge into the nearest kidnapper, knocking him to the ground. Then it hits you: this isn’t an ’80s film, so what’s a damsel doing in distress?! Then something else hits you: something hard. The world turns black and screams at you like a tiny metal banshee. When you wake up, your wrists are tied together and you have a bag over your head. It smells like potatoes. Without thinking, you fell for the trap and ran headlong into the kidnappers’ hands. And now you’re a hostage. It’s that time of year again.

Note 1: Had you not been bonked on the bonce, you could have done something to draw attention to yourself, like screaming. Screaming like a little girl watching Halloween while home alone might result in the police being called, the van’s description being taken note of, and rescue. But you were cracked on the coconut, so you’re on your own.

Note 2: The first thing you need to do is calm down. Try to reduce your heart rate and the flow of adrenaline. Like those mystical Wing Chun monks taught you that time in Shambhala. Now use your Hero senses to observe your surroundings. What other sounds do you hear? What do you smell, past the potatoes? Are you moving? Are you dumped in the van or have you since been moved? How many kidnappers do you hear talking? How many do you remember seeing, including the fake abductee? Your Hero experience will allow you to take this further: did they move like professionals or amateurs; did they seem tough and capable; what is their emotional state?

Now add to this information possible reasons for your abduction. If you’re a rich Hero like Bruce Wayne or Lara Croft, it’s probably for ransom and they’ll need you alive as long as possible (and you also don’t need to be reading this). If not, the reasons are probably more killy. Additionally, as every Hero knows, if they allow you to see their faces, they are almost certainly going to kill you. It’s probably the brother of that terrorist you dropped off a multi-storey car park a few years ago. Escape is vital.

Note 3: If you find that you have been transferred to the boot/trunk of a car, you may be able to escape right away. Newer American cars, and some others, will have a release on the inside. Any competent kidnapper will have thought of this, but it’s worth a try. If there isn’t one, you still might be able to get at the cable release that runs to the front of the car, where the driver pulls a lever to open it. Though this could very well be a car with a simple electric button to open it. Either way, if you get it open, you’ll probably throw yourself out the back, get hurt, shake off the hood, and find that there’s no one around to help. The kidnappers will quickly chase you down and throw you back in the car.

Kidnap Van

Note 4: For now, be cooperative with your kidnappers. There’s no point headbutting the first person who lays a hand on you and running blindfolded into a wall. Be patient and wait. Give them cause to relax a little. Apologise for trying to escape earlier; you don’t know what you were thinking.

Whenever you get the chance, talk to the kidnappers. If you can, pick the weakest one and try to befriend him or her. Remain as human as possible in their eyes, talk to them about things you might share in common. People have been known to make themselves so likable to a bottom-of-the-food-chain kidnapper that he lets them escape. But these are probably some kind of ex-military mercenary type people too afraid of their fearsome benefactor to even consider that. At the very least, being cooperative and pleasant might mean they let you go to the bathroom now and then.

Note 5: Keep track of the time of day as best you can. Make sure to take note of routines your captors have, such as change of guard and when they bring food. You need to start working out when the best time to escape will be. Do you ever hear or see any signs that others are being held there too? You wouldn’t be a Hero if you saved yourself and left other people behind.

What kinds of weapons do your guards have? If you are guarded all the time, you will have to fight him. Tailor this part of your plan to what weapon he carries, and remember that the others will likely have the same. If he has a gun, expect to get shot at by the others if you’re spotted escaping.

Note 6: If you are somewhere with windows, try to get a look outside. If you turn out to be on an oil rig in the middle of the sea, it’s going to negatively impact your chances of escape. If you need to, and if you can, talk the guard into allowing you to walk about the room a bit. This will give a chance to get a better look outside, and will ensure you don’t cramp up 10 seconds into your escape.

Note 7: Keep a close eye on what kind of bindings they use on you. Different types will require different methods of escape. Plain rope will need a loose knot or perhaps a weak wooden chair to break. Neither of these is likely, but take a deep breath and tense all your muscles when being tied up in order to give yourself as much slack as possible Breaking Zip Tieswhen you relax. Handcuffs will be even harder to get out of, but slightly less restrictive.

Zip ties are a cheap and easy replacement for cuffs, and could be useful for you. If possible – perhaps after being released to use the bathroom – hold your wrists out to be bound again, but turn your palms up or down. This will mean even when they tighten the zip tie, rotating your wrists, palms together, will make it looser. Now to break the tie, ensure the ratchet bit is situated halfway between your hands and on the side furthest from your body, then drive your elbows forcefully and smoothly backwards so that your torso forces your hands apart (or forwards, obviously, if your wrists are bound behind you). This will also work for most tape.

Of course, if you are being released to use the bathroom, you could just take that as your opportunity to escape. But consider that your captors will be a lot more on guard while you are free, and they may even call another in to help keep watch on you. Getting yourself free while they think you are tied up could give you a much needed advantage. It might depend on whether you are left alone or not – slamming your wrists into your stomach isn’t particularly subtle.

Note 8: Your main villain will probably show himself after a while. Don’t taunt him or otherwise aggravate him. Show weakness and a degree of submission, which will be easier to do if they don’t feel you well or have beaten you. This will make it easier for him to underestimate you and think you’ve given up. Alternatively, he might only be there to execute you. In all likelihood, though, he has some evil master plan for nuking the western hemisphere or something and will keep you around to watch. And he’ll monologue a lot.

Note 9: It’s time. They’ve stopped feeding you. They’ve taken their masks off. They are treating you more inhumanly. The signs are there: they are preparing to kill you. Or just, you know, the nukes are a thing.

It’s about half an hour until the end of your guard’s shift. He’s getting tired and losing concentration. Casually take one of your walks around the room, maybe make a little conversation, even if it’s one-sided. If there is a door you need to coax him through, do so – perhaps with a request for the bathroom or perhaps by using your feminine wiles (damn it, man, don’t argue: just do it!). Again, if this isn’t necessary, it’s best to leave him in his relaxed state.

Headbutt! Break the bindings as he falls. Give him a Hero’s one-punch knockout and take his gun. Search him for any keys and anything else useful, like a radio. Depending on where you are and how long it’s likely to take to escape, you could tie him up and gag him, but it’s probably not worth wasting time on.

Note 10: If there are other hostages, they are your first port of call. They will probably be military, taken hostage because of their knowledge of nuclear codes or some such. This means they’ll be able to shoot, even though they’ve somehow been unable to free themselves.

Now they’re free, leave them to shoot their way out (not so much an option if they aren’t military types – maybe get them to the van and point the way out), and head after the villain. Have a heroic one-liner ready for when they inevitably ask ‘But what about you?’ Something like ‘I have a score to settle’, delivered in a gravelly voice and accompanied by a narrow eyed look up at the villain’s control tower will suffice, even though technically he has a score to settle. Also note how they make no effort to help prevent nuclear annihilation. Probably because they know you’re a proper Hero.

Now go and make a citizen’s arrest or whatever and press the ‘Abort’ button just as the nuclear launch counter reaches six seconds (one second is too cliché).

Nuclear Blast

Congratulations: You have successfully returned to being a not hostage and the world is relatively safe from nuclear apocalypse, assuming some kind of dimwitted Oompa Loompa escaped from Willy Wonka’s Asylum for the Criminally Insane isn’t elected president.

Next time on A Writer’s Guide…some other thing!