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My story is simple (if it is any help, it is entirely in first person.) A man wakes up in an abandoned mineshaft, with no company other than the monsters that are there with him, and a few notes from other people who were there, vaguely describing the threats he faces. Adding any other characters would nullify the existential terror of being completely alone, but I have never worked with less than four characters.

Is such a setup doable, and if so, how is it done? If not, how is one to add multiple characters without abandoning the existential terror factor?

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    "Cast Away" is mostly a story with one character. There's probably more examples. In fact, here's a list that someone made earlier.
    – user54131
    Aug 12, 2022 at 7:18
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    What you describe is not a story with only one character. There are the monsters, and there are the off-stage characters who have left notes. The principal character has limited means of communication with the other characters, but there are other characters in the story. Aug 12, 2022 at 8:56
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    Depending on your definition of "character" the monster could be a character, specifically the antagonist, as it would have some agency and personality. A survivalist story may be more along this line as a lone man in the wilderness, especially if the danger is from a force of nature like a storm or a blizzard.
    – hszmv
    Aug 12, 2022 at 12:10
  • @towr Tom Hanks wasn't alone. He had Wilson for most of the journey. Too bad Wilson was lost at sea one scene before the ship rescued Hanks.
    – hszmv
    Aug 12, 2022 at 12:11

6 Answers 6

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There is a science fiction trope of "last man." Two versions of The Omega Man have been made, one with Charlton Heston and one with Will Smith. There have been a few Twilight Zone episodes.

There is a short story by Ray Bradbury. (Can't recall the name.) The hero got left on Mars after all the other humans went back to Earth. So he's set up hundreds of recorded relay messages on the phone system so it always seems to him that somebody is on the phone. Of course, there's a twist ending.

The BBC series Red Dwarf has David Lister as the last human alive. His companions are the senile ship's computer, a creature who evolved from the ship's cat, a hologram of his dead bunk mate, and a robot designed to clean toilets.

As mentioned, Castaway.

A monologue is usual. Efforts to stay sane that are maybe not 100 percent successful and are often comical or pathetic. Companions of some kind are usual. Will Smith had a dog. Tom Hanks had Wilson.

The monologue is a standard way for your hero to explain what he thinks is happening. And how he's feeling and what he's planning. Then you can show the events happening around your hero that he can't see, and thus show the reader how much trouble the hero is in. And how little of it he is aware of.

For your story, you could pick out one or two special monsters that keep coming back. Give them names. Puke Eyes or Knee Spikes or some such. Give them some characteristics that makes them stand out from the others. Show your hero and these monsters learning from each other. Maybe even showing respect while still getting ready to kill the other. Your hero could direct his monologue at them sometimes. You could even show these monsters doing stuff out of sight of the hero. Maybe sending their monster buddies in to get slaughtered so that the boss monsters can learn how not to get killed. Or maybe tending their little monster babies. Or maybe killing the other human that your hero didn't know about. Or closing off the escape route. And so on.

Another trope about "monsters in the dark" stories is to show the point of view of the monster. Here's this human slaughtering all your buddies. How frightening! You'd have to do something pretty interesting with that to not be thought cliché. It has been done many many times.

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Castaway was exactly what I was thinking, just like @Towr posted. Better explanation of my thoughts are make your character go through something like "The Last Man on Earth" or "Keep Breathing" on Netflix. There are plenty of movie experiences or books you can look at and get ideas from. Hope this helped in some way.

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Having one character can be difficult because it makes the entire story fall on the shoulders of one person. Also, if there is only one person, they have no one to interact with. That's another disadvantage for you. You can't fill the plot with witty banter or funny conversations because there's no one to talk to.

An easy way around the "having no one to talk to" issue is by having the character talk to themselves in an attempt to keep sane. Or the stress starts driving them into insanity and they start hearing things.

Maybe he scrounges up a bunch of rations and starts to hear his wife's voice, laughing at them for having food on their face. Maybe he hears the voice of his disapproving father scolding them for not being able to get out. Occasional flashbacks to a time before the MC got trapped here would help flesh out his character and make him more sympathetic.

The notes from the previous denizens provide interesting clues as well. It's a mystery for the MC to solve bit by bit, and each new note or clue tells them more about the people who used to be here, characterizing them further. The MC's reactions then characterize him further.

For example, let's say one of the denizens was named Clara. She has perfect handwriting that loops and curls and she writes tons of hearts on her notes, but she also has an oddly dark, almost mocking sense of humor. She's a trickster.

Example 1: "Make sure to feed Bob before you go out. Wouldn't want him to eat another friend, now would we?" the first note says.

Example 2: At the bottom of the stairs you see a note that says. "Watch your step. Remember, every even-numbered step is safe." After tripping over five trapped stairs and eventually making it to the top you see a note that says. "Whoops, did I say even numbered stairs? I meant every third step. My bad! I hope you enjoyed your trip!"

Then the MC's response could be. "I'm glad I never met her in real life. She'd probably stab me in the back with a smile on her face."

Lastly, you can characterize the monsters as well. I see no reason why monsters cannot talk. Perhaps they taunt the MC at every turn. It could be simple stuff like "We want to eat your flesh." Or something a little more complicated. "Come out, come out, wherever you are! We know a thousand ways I could tear you limb from limb, and we want to try them all!"

Or you could do both and have the twist be that the old inhabitants are the monsters and show their slow decline until they eventually got like that, hinting the MC could also become one of them. Or perhaps is even already a monster himself and does not realize it yet. He might have even been the one who started the mess in the first place.

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It is possible,

A good example is a man locked inside of a solitary confinement (prison), questioning the world, existence and environment. In his internal self talk, he can always refer to people by their characteristics and not with their attributes, this way no individual is ever addressed but only masses, affiliations, groups, types, political parties and so on. This however won't stop the protagonist from delving into the world, reaching conclusions, experiencing different emotions and incidents happening to him inside the cell or even back in time.

To make it easier for you, avoid individualism of the world, treat the people as groups, this way nothing is characterized, although will be very judgmental and broad generalizing everything.

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First Person, Wrong POV For This?

It is quite possible that first person is simply the wrong POV (Point Of View) for such a story.

3rd Person Close?

Imagine if you decided to switch it to 3rd person close POV. In that case you could describe all the things that the main character does while still allowing for internal monologues.

Sample

Ray groaned and lifted his head to look around. There was a sliver of light coming from above that illuminated a small area on the ground but his eyes couldn't make anything out.

Where am I? Ray sat up and rubbed the back of his head. Last thing I remember was I was in that bar on 22nd street. What was I--

He heard a scratching noise to his right and jerked his head in that direction trying hard to see.

In this case you can quickly see that the entire story could be brought off quite easily and realistically.

First Person Problem

However, using the first person POV you'll have to have your character either continually describing things out loud or ruminating over it and it will probably become a bit annoying to the reader. And, of course, you'll limit yourself entirely to the what the first person narrator knows and sees.

3rd Person Close Provides More Tools

If you change the POV to 3rd person close you'll gain far more tools for telling this story.

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Perhaps you could even have a world where he(the MC) is trapped in a dream. He goes through all kinds of adventures, then you can either have him wake up or stay there.

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  • I'm not sure this really goes into enough detail. What kind of adventures could he have without involving any other characters? How can OP write those adventures with just him?
    – F1Krazy
    Sep 10, 2022 at 20:46
  • The OP is asking how to develop an idea or situation into a story, your suggestion is another situation. While it is an intriguing idea, it isn't helping the OP understand how to bridge that gap between a premise and a story. The question is about process. If it had been about ideas, the question would have likely been closed as off-topic. You can improve your answer by sharing your ideas on how they can go about expanding their idea -- process-wise
    – EDL
    Sep 11, 2022 at 19:13

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