It’s no secret that in the world there are several stories consisting of large portions of safety for the protagonist and his or her chums. Take the original Pride & Prejudice for example. It could be argued that none of the characters are at any mortal danger at any point in the story, something which might render it unpopular to younger and readers of a “newer generation”, the kind who can’t go five minutes without a character in their favourite film or such dying. While considered a masterpiece amongst those that consider it such, there’s not as much displacement to the protagonist’s comfort zones. Elizabeth spends most of the book worrying about her feelings for a Mr Darcy, and the only slight hint of trouble is when one of her daughters disappears – but turns out to be completely safe the entire time and ends up happily married.
Think of a character that you have created yourself. Heck, use a fictional version of yourself if you must. Now consider their normal “home” life. Is it safe? Sunday nights with the family playing board games? Sat upon a ship sailing across endless ocean after ocean, calm but dull? You could write a novel based entirely on that, but it wouldn’t be very interesting. No, the name of the game is conflict.
The longer your character remains in their personal comfort zone, the higher the risk of the story becoming uninteresting. Comfort zones can be inserted as temporary respite for the character at certain points in the novel (such as the infamous Christmas Morning sections of the Harry Potter books) but mainly to build a set-up for later conflict. It goes without saying that the further a character falls from grace and comfort, the more there is to be said by the author and the more potential there is for entertainment.
However, there’s always the risk of complete displacement, and going so far out of their comfort zone that they end up in a situation that shouldn’t actually happen. If, for no reason other than personal cruelty to the protagonist aboard the earlier mentioned ship, he disappeared and appeared at the North Pole for no good reason, that’d be an example of displacement. What would you write about? How confused he was? How cold it suddenly was? The prospect that he’ll probably die shortly from hypothermia, end of the novel? Displacement is an extreme for knocking a character out of their comfort zone: while it can work, it’s at a great risk. The initial shock factor that the reader receives won’t hold them over for long.
Another example is the “best-seller” Pride & Prejudice & Zombies. The addition of zombies into the original story would be a risk, if not for the lazy copy and paste method of writing. Suddenly, there are zombies. Yes, they’re eating people. No, the characters don’t care. This is the opposite spectrum of displacement where something impossible has happened and there’s very little to be said. What If situations can be interesting but only if you give them a little bit of heart and soul.
Remember, if you want to try something so far out of the box that it’s in another box, be very careful about how you go. Displacement can be fun, but is it entertaining? You decide.