Do you know what awaits your hero in Room 101?
Room 101 is more than a person’s greatest fear. An allusion to a construct in George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, Room 101 represents the singular source capable of one’s undoing.
Because each personality has distinct limits, and taken beyond which will implode, Room 101 is custom-engineered to shatter the occupant’s constitution.
You asked me once, what was in Room 101. I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world.
When Winston, the protagonist of Nineteen Eighty-Four, is led inside, O’Brien straps him to a chair and secures his head so he can’t move. After reciting Winston’s worst nightmare, proving the Party’s omniscience, O’Brien picks up a cage of feral, starving rats and says that when he presses a lever, the cage will open and the rats will devour his face. With the vermin writhing to get at him, Winston cracks. He pleads for his release, offering up his lover, Julia, to suffer his fate in his place.
Room 101 proves successful, and Winston’s psychological DNA is aligned with the Party’s statutes, even the dictate to love Big Brother. Their final victory, conquering the story’s protagonist, is foreshadowed when the crystal paperweight Winston bought in an antique store—which represents his struggle to recover his dimmed memories and understand what has happened to the world—shatters in the hands of the Thought Police.
Orwell’s imagery of the paperweight plays on Freud’s metaphorical choice of crystal to illuminate the breakdown of the human psyche. Freud had said that if we throw a crystal to the floor it breaks, but not haphazardly. The psyche, like crystal, dissects along the lines of cleavage whose boundaries are conscripted by its structure.
Room 101 is Key To Story
Because Room 101 is a place where the individual is destroyed in a manner specific to his or her structure, the shattered paperweight reveals Winston’s greatest fear, the disintegration of his, of humankind’s spirit—the annihilation of everything that individualizes us.
Room 101 is a valuable concept for fiction writers, as it provides an approach to plot that encompasses its three major components—Character Emotional Development, Dramatic Action, and Thematic Significance.
By identifying the singular source capable of eradicating your hero’s psychological existence—not that he will meet that end—you identify your story’s theme, the nature of its dramatic action, and the emotional arc in which your hero will travel.
Framing your vision accordingly, as the concept of Room 101 already exists in your story idea, will equip you with insights to unify and maintain the braid of character, action, and theme from start to finish.