A character has an external goal. Come up with five reasons he cannot reach the goal.
Joe (dear old Joe) must escape from prison before he is taken to be hanged.
He cannot escape because he is chained by the wrists to the wall.
Because he is locked in the cell.
Because he weak from lack of food and because he has been tortured (whipped).
Because he has no tools to break free

So even though he is weak, if he had a tool, it is possible that he could break his chains and unlock the cell door. Or he could try to escape when they take him from the cell to be hanged.
Or he could rely on someone from the outside coming to set him free (a friend).
He could rely on his charm to get someone from the inside (a bad guy) to set him free.
He could rely on getting the chance to steal a key from the bad guy.

We know a few things about Joe the prisoner already.

  • He’s a prisoner, so he broke some rule.
  • He broke some rule enough that they want to hang him for it
  • He’s been tortured and not fed
  • He doesn’t have anything within reach or on his body that would work as a tool
  • He knows how to use a tool to break a chain or unlock a door
  • He might have a friend who is willing to break him out of prison
  • He thinks he’s charming enough to influence his captors
  • He thinks he’s quick enough and lucky enough to steal a key from a captor
  • Despite torture and imprisonment, he’s confident or at least determined

If Joe were an average guy, which he isn’t because average guys don’t usually wind up in a prison chained to a wall, he’d be out of luck. Average Joe might have to rely on the legal system (if there is one) to get him a chance at not being hanged. But the legal system probably put him there, so… Average Joe would probably end up being hanged despite his wishes.
But Captive Joe is not average. What about him makes him even think that he can escape?
He’s charming, has knowledge of locks, lucky, quick, has endurance (as illustrated by being tortured but still determined to escape). He doesn’t want to be hanged (which is somehow more terrible than being whipped). He has a great will to live.

Because Captive Joe is the hero, I imagine that the opposing forces (chains, locks, bad guys) will have to have some vulnerabilities – otherwise we have a short short story.
Guy in cell tries to break chains but fails; is taken out and hanged. End.

I guess we’re leaving Joe chained to the walls for the moment… Have a nice day 🙂