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Thread: Why would they stay?

  1. #1
    Cantina's Official Doggy Poster Religion0's Avatar
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    Why would they stay?

    So I have a setting where there's this town which is under the domain of a very powerful witch. She can and do occasionally do a puppet master type control and kill people on a whim, and she's generally a villain. The question here is, why wouldn't the townspeople just up and leave? The time period isn't set in stone, but it's sometime after telephones and cars became ubiquitous, and it's not like the town is perfectly isolated from the outside world, although it is rural. The witch isn't even stopping anyone from coming or going. So here's the question, why wouldn't people just up and leave? I'd rather not make her keep the people captive.

    She's not a new addition to the town, she's been there long enough for people to just normalize it. "Yeah, she's the witch who rules over this town, except she let's us mostly do whatever we want unless it annoys her, then she makes people rip each other's faces off. Oh, and careful going into the woods! We've lost a lot of hikers to her pet bears. As you do."
    There is, in all likelihood, a small cuddly dog holding me hostage by virtue of lying on my foot. In a moment, she will clamber up my body and devour my brain through my nose. Please send help.

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    Making Einstein cry since 1994 Maggie Maxwell's Avatar
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    "Yeah, I mean, we gotta kill people every so often, but man, the cost of living here is just... it's just great, man. Roads're always paved, the schools are fantastic, and you should see how much house and property $100k can get."
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    keyboard crawler Diver's Avatar
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    Maybe living in the town is less dangerous than living somewhere else?

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    Tending bar by the litterbox. Thomas Vail's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Religion0 View Post
    So I have a setting where there's this town which is under the domain of a very powerful witch. She can and do occasionally do a puppet master type control and kill people on a whim, and she's generally a villain. The question here is, why wouldn't the townspeople just up and leave? The time period isn't set in stone, but it's sometime after telephones and cars became ubiquitous, and it's not like the town is perfectly isolated from the outside world, although it is rural. The witch isn't even stopping anyone from coming or going. So here's the question, why wouldn't people just up and leave? I'd rather not make her keep the people captive.

    She's not a new addition to the town, she's been there long enough for people to just normalize it. "Yeah, she's the witch who rules over this town, except she let's us mostly do whatever we want unless it annoys her, then she makes people rip each other's faces off. Oh, and careful going into the woods! We've lost a lot of hikers to her pet bears. As you do."
    Because the alternative is worse, one way or another.

    Reminds me of a post-apocalyptic idea I had where a band of survivors were ruled over by a rather unpleasant vampire. The vampire got the benefit of a stable food supply, and the benefits and protection of having a group of people around you who were invested in your safety. The humans got the benefit of the vampire and her resources/abilities to protect them from the threats of the wastelands (because losing her 'herd' would be very bad for her), giving them stability and safety that other groups didn't. The downside was that every now and then, someone became lunch, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time got you torn apart.

    But it was better than the alternative most of them had come from, where death and danger were even more constant and much less pleasant.

  5. #5
    Cantina's Official Doggy Poster Religion0's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maggie Maxwell View Post
    "Yeah, I mean, we gotta kill people every so often, but man, the cost of living here is just... it's just great, man. Roads're always paved, the schools are fantastic, and you should see how much house and property $100k can get."
    Hah! That fits with the tone, actually!

    Quote Originally Posted by Thomas Vail View Post
    Because the alternative is worse, one way or another.

    Reminds me of a post-apocalyptic idea I had where a band of survivors were ruled over by a rather unpleasant vampire. The vampire got the benefit of a stable food supply, and the benefits and protection of having a group of people around you who were invested in your safety. The humans got the benefit of the vampire and her resources/abilities to protect them from the threats of the wastelands (because losing her 'herd' would be very bad for her), giving them stability and safety that other groups didn't. The downside was that every now and then, someone became lunch, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time got you torn apart.

    But it was better than the alternative most of them had come from, where death and danger were even more constant and much less pleasant.
    That's a really interesting concept. I definitely want to read that.
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  6. #6
    Beastly Fido Roxxsmom's Avatar
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    A couple of options come to mind.

    1. People aren't aware that she's a witch and simply rationalize the things that happen as random stuff. Maybe a few suspect something, but they keep it to themselves or are considered eccentric. Maybe the town is really insular or something. People do sometimes adapt to bizarre situations if they've become normalized, sort of like an abusive relationship on a larger scale, where the whole community is complicit. Kind of like how someone can live in a house with some really dangerous and not at all up-to-code quirk, and they're so used to it that they blame people who forget to be careful if it causes an injury.

    2. They get something out of it, so the occasional sacrifice is worthwhile to most people. Or maybe she provides some service to the community directly as well, such as magical healing or protection from things the people regard as even more malign or dangerous. Better the bad witch you know than the demon you don't.

    3. She uses her magic, not to directly control, but to confound or befuddle people so they don't see what's happening. If she takes a child, say, the local people remember it as a tragic accident of some kind.
    Last edited by Roxxsmom; 04-26-2017 at 01:01 AM.
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    It's all symbolic. Night_Writer's Avatar
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    If she's a witch, then she can use her powers to hex people. Anyone who leaves town automatically gets turned into a cream-filled Twinkie.

    Or worse.
    Heretic.

  8. #8
    I aim to misbehave Myrealana's Avatar
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    There's always some reason why people think it can't happen to them.

    "The witch killed the Johnson boy."
    "I saw him toss a soda bottle into the storm drain once."
    "Well, I'm safe. I never litter."
    "True, true. Don't litter or the witch will get you."

    Or there's the "Sure, we have a witch, but you can leave your doors unlocked and women can walk alone downtown" argument.

    "My cousin got robbed at gunpoint in Chicago."
    "See, that's why you live in a nice place like this."

    If the town is fertile and prosperous outside of the witch problem, people will make up all sorts of post hoc arguments why they're fine.
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    Heckuva good sport frimble3's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maggie Maxwell View Post
    "Yeah, I mean, we gotta kill people every so often, but man, the cost of living here is just... it's just great, man. Roads're always paved, the schools are fantastic, and you should see how much house and property $100k can get."
    Yep. Sounds about right. Low crime rate (she 'takes care of' the criminals), safe environment, low taxes and expenses. It's Stepford Village! A wonderful place to live, provided you obey the rules, and don't come to the witch's attention in any negative way.
    Quote Originally Posted by Roxxsmom View Post
    A couple of options come to mind.

    1. People aren't aware that she's a witch and simply rationalize the things that happen as random stuff. Maybe a few suspect something, but they keep it to themselves or are considered eccentric. Maybe the town is really insular or something. People do sometimes adapt to bizarre situations if they've become normalized, sort of like an abusive relationship on a larger scale, where the whole community is complicit. Kind of like how someone can live in a house with some really dangerous and not at all up-to-code quirk, and they're so used to it that they blame people who forget to be careful if it causes an injury.

    2. They get something out of it, so the occasional sacrifice is worthwhile to most people. Or maybe she provides some service to the community directly as well, such as magical healing or protection from things the people regard as even more malign or dangerous. Better the bad witch you know than the demon you don't.

    3. She uses her magic, not to directly control, but to confound or befuddle people so they don't see what's happening. If she takes a child, say, the local people remember it as a tragic accident of some kind.
    Roxxsmom has good and useful points. Especially about the urge for normalization. People make excuses for the inexcusable all the time, unless it directly affects them. (see Shirley Jackson's short story 'The Lottery'.) If the witch doesn't kill a lot of people, and most folks have an expectation that if they keep their heads down and follow the rules, they're no more likely to be killed by the witch than by a drunk driver, no big worry. Sure, some people do stupid stuff and die for it, but us? We're safe, we don't make trouble.
    I especially like point 3. That people make up some rational explanation for the deaths that doesn't even involve the witch. Tragic accident, natural causes, someone's run away for personal reasons. People have an urge for explanations, for meanings to events, and the 'simplest' explanation is often seized on, even in the face of evidence or logic.
    Last edited by frimble3; 04-26-2017 at 02:48 AM.

  10. #10
    Did...did I do that? cmhbob's Avatar
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    Maybe people are generationally anchored to the town. "I grew up here. Pops lived here all his life, and his dad before him."

    Business ties are strong, too. Someone who's got a semi-successful business can't usually just throw it away.
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    I'm a cynical somewhat anarchist, so take this with a grain of salt:

    Everything you've described is literally within the limits of imagination for the (American) common citizen in relation to the police system. I haven't been to Denmark yet (I'm a horrible Sorenson lol, been all over Europe without ever visiting) but in France and Germany I got much the same vibe.

    As long as you establish some form of external "threat" that isn't caused by the witch herself, that the witch conceivably shields the people from, and they're used to this situation, they won't ever really question it enough to put an end to the arrangement. Sure, some people will be uncomfortable with the situation, and there will always be idealists who will demand that she at least stop with the casual murder, but most people want to maintain the status quo.
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    starting over Marian Perera's Avatar
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    Great Old One CameronJohnston's Avatar
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    The witch (or the town itself, holy healing well etc) has to offer them something, either protection from something worse outside, or something good inside. Or perhaps, people that leave have bad things happen to them. Even all three...

    The problem I see with the setting is easy communication and transport. Really need to justify why they don't all leave if it's not, say an isolated medieval village somewhere.
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    a demon for tea EMaree's Avatar
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    Bonus points if the witch has a soft spot for children and/or animals. Parents (and pet parents) will be more willing to turn a blind eye to the risk to themselves if they know their children are guaranteed safety, food and shelter no matter what.

    I mean, it's tough luck for these cherished kids when they hit adulthood and become fair game. But that's adulthood for you! Puberty's rough, kiddos.
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    professional dilettante Lakey's Avatar
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    I thought of Shirley Jackson's The Lottery too - funny it's the second time I've thought of it while posting here in the last few days. In that story, everyone in the town accepted the town's barbaric practice as a given, an ordinary part of life from time immemorial. It's also shown, though, that other towns (at least the immediate region) all have the same barbaric practice, so even if someone wanted to escape the practice, it isn't obvious where they could go. And anyway, it's tradition, it's how things have always been done. Indeed that's the point of the story - that people will do all kinds of atrocious things without question in the name of tradition and how things have always been done.

    The OP also made me think of the various reasons why people don't just up and leave abusive relationships. This relationship with the witch can be a metaphor for an abusive relationship. Often people don't leave abusive relationships because they fear the consequences of leaving are worse than the consequences of staying. Often they have nowhere else to go. Often they have financial dependence. Often they have internalized the abuse or been subject to gaslighting by the abuser, and have come to believe that the abuse is their fault, so if they only just try a little harder to be good the abuser will be satisfied and the abuse will stop. Often they have deep love and belief that the abuser is fundamentally good, and when the abuser promises the abuse will stop they cannot help but give the abuser another chance to make it right.

    I can think of some interesting ways that rationales like these might be adapted to a relationship between an entire town and its abuser.
    Last edited by Lakey; 04-26-2017 at 03:56 PM.

  16. #16
    Beastly Fido Roxxsmom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Marian Perera View Post
    Two words : Cowslip's warren.
    Ha! I was thinking of the same thing.

    And on a larger level, how can politicians so often get working-class people to vote for/support candidates and policies that are not in their best interest? How can tyrants (like Kim Jong Un) deprive and oppress their people and not have uprisings?

    I'm guessing that invoking a "larger" outside threat, or turning them against other groups within their society is a part of the formula. Maybe the witch drives "undesirables" out, or keeps them away.

    Or what if the people she kills are often from groups that the majority of good, upstanding citizens are uncomfortable with? Homeless, people with drug problems, the unemployed, juvenile delinquents, or even just people from marginalized social groups?
    Last edited by Roxxsmom; 04-26-2017 at 11:45 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Religion0 View Post
    So I have a setting where there's this town which is under the domain of a very powerful witch. She can and do occasionally do a puppet master type control and kill people on a whim, and she's generally a villain. The question here is, why wouldn't the townspeople just up and leave?
    To go . . . where? We have an immense current actual real refugee problem in the world today, involving a situation not unlike the fictional one you posit here. A completely failed country beset with a multi-sided war that seems unending, and people just wanting to leave . . . and not being accepted in a lot of places.* It's not easy, for a lot of reasons, just to pick up sticks and go somewhere else.

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  18. #18
    but appreciated anyway... Unimportant's Avatar
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    To add to blacbird's comments: relocating is expensive. Even in Ye Olde Village times, even if you have a job and home to move to, you need a way to transport your belongings, you need food and shelter along the way, etc. People who live harvest-to-harvest, or paycheck-to-paycheck, just don't have a cushion to allow for those 'luxuries'.

  19. #19
    Just Another Lazy Perfectionist Brightdreamer's Avatar
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    In Naomi Novik's Uprooted, a town lives on the edge of a cursed wood, and has for generations, but people pretty much have to be forced to leave despite the terrible things the woods do to people. They rationalize it with "ties to the land," or the stubborn "we were here before the curse on the woods," or other ways, but in truth the fact that they keep staying is part of the curse - they just don't think to leave unless they're removed from its influence long enough. Even if someone who away from the town came back to tell them, they wouldn't believe it; they mistrust people who have left as having gone "strange."

    Might be harder to rationalize that idea with telephones/lack of isolation, though - you're more likely to have people coming in and out of town as a matter of ordinary business and life.

    Personally, I like the idea that the witch offers some sort of protection or benefit to the townspeople - makes her a bit more complicated of a character, and the situation a little less black-and-white, if there's a valid reason people would stay and risk becoming the next victim. (Though if you wanted to make her pure evil, the "protection" could be so much snake oil; some vague idea that living there brings people luck, or keeps evil at bay. Maybe it was a farming town that wasn't hit so bad by the Depression or the Dust Bowl, or the flu pandemic of the early 1900's skipped them, etc. Little strokes of luck and coincidences that happen anywhere, but if you repeat them often enough they become magnified, and you couldn't really prove it wasn't because of magic. So common culture attributed the salvation to the witch in their midst, and the belief persisted through simple lack of bad things happening there. "Heard there was another shooting in the city. Good thing we have the witch - that'll never happen here." Might take on a new dimension in more modern times, with rural areas that feel left behind and threatened by progress that they don't understand and that doesn't necessarily reach them, a nebulous "monster" they don't know how to fight - the witch will keep everything right, like it's always been, with just the occasional small sacrifice.)
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  20. #20
    Not as sweet as you think Aggy B.'s Avatar
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    Also, folks who were born there may not realize that any other place is any different. We tend to assume that whatever we're born with/into is *normal*. So, for all they know, every village has a witch or some other problem that would negate the benefit of trying to move elsewhere.
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  21. #21
    practical experience, FTW ManInBlack's Avatar
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    People stay in abusive relationships because it's a familiar pattern, and it provides comforts that they wouldn't have on their own. These comforts are usually very commonplace ones: shelter, a full refrigerator, human contact. Things that are sometimes stressful to get and that the abuser sometimes exaggerates how difficult it will be for the abused party to get them on their own.

    You're talking about a village, not a couple, but the same principle applies. "Hey man, I'm scared every day, but there's nowhere else with ground this fertile. If we leave this witch's village, we'll starve." "I want to move, but without the witch's aura, I hear people have to pay to have needles stuck in them and hope they don't get diseases."

  22. #22
    Tending bar by the litterbox. Thomas Vail's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Religion0 View Post
    Hah! That fits with the tone, actually!


    That's a really interesting concept. I definitely want to read that.
    I'm glad it struck a chord. It initially grew out of examination of the 'this group is too good to be true, there must be some dark secret!/We have slain the monster, you are all free!/The writer's didn't really put much thought into the aftermath once the heroes depart, did they?' vs 'that evil monster ruler is going to be in big trouble if everyone bands together because they're sick of your crap.' kind of tropes, and how that kind of society would function in an adverse environment.

    Quote Originally Posted by Aggy B. View Post
    Also, folks who were born there may not realize that any other place is any different. We tend to assume that whatever we're born with/into is *normal*. So, for all they know, every village has a witch or some other problem that would negate the benefit of trying to move elsewhere.
    The old, 'normal is what you grew up with.' I think the thread has pretty much covered all the generic bases - the witch is bad, but not _that_ bad compared to the alternatives, there's some benefit to having her around as well, and other reasons to justify why they put up with the situation.

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aggy B. View Post
    Also, folks who were born there may not realize that any other place is any different. We tend to assume that whatever we're born with/into is *normal*. So, for all they know, every village has a witch or some other problem that would negate the benefit of trying to move elsewhere.
    There have been a lot of good points made on this post. I agree with Abby, one generations exception becomes the next generation norm.
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    Writer/Artist DrewSpence's Avatar
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    I like the ones that suggest no one leaves because this is the only place they've known.
    What you also do is make outsiders strange and foreign and any arrival a very big deal that shakes up the entire community.

    It explains that no really moves around much..
    Villages could be VERY FAR from each other and trade is at a minimum.
    Maybe there was an elder that used to travel. Told wild stories of how dangerous it was to explore and eventually met his demise from the road.
    Would be a powerful lesson if one of their greatest couldn't handle the outer world.

    I don't like the idea of a greater external threat unless it's passive, like a toxic region or such.
    Anything that can be defined as a character(s) might be more exciting to face than the witch or central baddie that you'll focus on.
    Tell me THE WILD WOLVES patrol the forest walks so no one ventures out - and THAT instantly becomes my interest for an adventure.

  25. #25
    Re-NaNoing AnnieColleen's Avatar
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    Some people did leave, and ran into perfectly mundane misfortunes, and that's been gossiped and confirmation-biased into a curse. Or into "that's just how things are out there".

    Some people left, and were fine, but those stories are ignored (confirmation bias again).
    ...or they're regarded as doomed but just don't know it yet.
    ...or they're regarded as betrayers (why would the witch spare them? why would they leave the community/elderly parents/whoever that need them? That last could refer to leaving others to face the witch, or the usual small-town struggles, or some conflation of the two).
    ...or they're regarded as being judgmental towards those who stayed (she said I'm a fool for staying on my family's land; he implied I'm endangering my children...)
    ...with the last few possibilities, there starts to be a stigma towards those who left, and other who might leave don't want to be regarded as 'one of those people' or damage relationships with others who stay.
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