okay so my character is chained to a safe and the building is on fire and she has a chef’s knife; is cutting her foot off possible? if so how difficult? or option C go ask another blog?

That’s… very drastic.

Self-mutilation is not usually the first option in these kinds of situations, or ever unless we’re dealing with a Jack London type scenario where the foot has gone gangrenous and the character is trapped in the middle of nowhere with nothing around them for miles. When it’s a choice between certain death (gangrene in the foot spreading to the rest of the body, the foot is already dead, already useless) and almost certain death (they will probably die or freeze to death before they finish the twenty to fifty mile trek through the wilderness to the next town, but at least this way they’ve taken a chance to prolong their life.)

Either way, removing a limb takes time. A lot of time, depending on the tools available. With a fire coming, this is time your character just doesn’t have.

The fire will get to her before she can get through the ankle bone. A chef’s knife is not a bone saw. More importantly, she will probably need that foot to escape. If she cuts it off, she has to hop/drag herself away from the fire. She will die of blood loss before she gets out. The more she moves, the faster she will bleed out. Blood will make her grip slippery, the knife will slip, she has to go through a lot of bone and a lot of living tissue. The pain will be extraordinary. Her survival instincts (the desire to not do this) will kick in long before she even starts cutting and get in the way, slowing the process down. She’ll die of smoke inhalation before the fire ever reaches her and before she can get the limb off. She will die in agony.

I understand this sounds like a very dramatic solution, but it’s not a practical one and it’s certainly not sensible. Harming herself will only impede her goal. The goal is to escape before she is killed and be able to keep moving until she finds safe harbor to hide from the villain. You’re looking at the situation with the manacle or whatever is holding her as being insurmountable.

It’s not.

Locks can be picked.

Chains can be broken.

Safes can be carried.

The goal here, for your character, is to get out. It doesn’t matter if she’s got to do it with the manacle still attached, dragging the chain as she goes. All she has to do is find a way to break the lock or get the chain off the safe.

She just can use the knife to worry the lock or look for loose links in the chains and use the blade to pry them apart so she can escape. She can use the handle of the knife bash at the lock. Maybe she has a paper clip in her pocket, a little luck and that manacle might just pop loose. A solid metal desk lamp, a piece of re-bar, any sort of construction material can be used against the chain in an attempt to break it loose.

It’s a matter of finding the point of least resistance, the place in the construction where the object is weak, and then breaking it.

Safes don’t normally come with chains attached. (I mean, why is it even attached to the safe? Why not the wall? Or the floor?) Someone had to spot weld the thing on and you can bet it wasn’t done by a professional (because who does that really?). Bash it. The fire is rising. Bash it. The smoke is coming. Bash it. She’s coughing. Bash, bash, bash. She’s light headed, barely breathing. Keep bashing it until it gives.

You get a nice moment of tension and then she’s free. Intact too and actually capable of facing the villain if there’s more to this story than just the escape. Getting over smoke inhalation is going to be easier in the long run than losing your foot.

How You Could Use The Original Idea:

So, the thought of using the knife to cut off her foot is actually a good one. Given the options she has and the situation, it’s a perfectly reasonable place for her mind to go. However, it’s important to remember that this is the despair talking.

“You’re never going to get out. You might as well…”

You can use this moment of terror to give the audience a “gasp” moment in the narrative because just the thought of her doing that is sensational as hell. You tease them with the idea, just the idea, and then have her realize all the reasons why it’s terrible and move on to a more sensible solution.

The audience gets their scare moment where they connect to the character.

You get to prove your character is an intelligent, rational human being and capable of overcoming in the face of extreme terror. She does this without giving into panic or despair. You humanize her and then you show how she’s strong.

Everyone wins.

The knife:

If she can keep it in one piece, the knife is better long term as a self defense weapon. It’s a chef’s knife, it’s not meant for combat, but it’s what she has. Even if she escapes the fire, she may still be in danger. Using it against the lock or the chain will most likely destroy it. She can still use it, but if there’s anything else in the room she might want to use that instead. (Especially if there’s construction equipment. Always go with the construction equipment.)

The manacle:

Why the foot and not the hand? Clapping it to the foot will give her more mobility. The hand limits movement and makes short term escape much more difficult as it’s harder to get the chain taut and yourself into a position to pry at it.

Did they get a manacle specially made to hold someone of her size? These are not one size fits all. If it’s too large, she can slip out. If it’s too tight… it might be cutting off circulation.

Why didn’t he just kill her?

I don’t really want to know, just like I don’t want to know about why the safe and not the floor but it’s worth noting your villain could have killed her and then set fire to the building to cover the murder (though chaining her up sort of debunks that aspect and the chain linked to the safe will provide a clear trail of evidence for the Police). It ultimately takes less effort.

This is very much a “Before I kill you, Mr. Bond” moment. All it’s missing is the sharks and the lasers. Sure, it’s an elaborate death trap but why? Really, why?

I ask because it’s a question you’ll have to answer in your story.

These are all just me spit balling. Whatever you inevitably do, it’s all good.

-Michi

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