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Writing Guile Heroes and Tricksters:
I've always found Guile Heroes and Tricksters to be my favorite protagonists, but every time I sit down to right one, I feel like I'm absolutely clueless on how to pull off their awesome schemes, manipulations, and all around mischief. Anyone have experience writing these characters who can give advice on how to pull it off without making their adversaries hold obvious idiot balls? Or even works with particularly well done examples that I could use for reference?
patience, young padawanWell, the thing with writing characters far smarter/craftier than you are is that you have the advantage of time to figure out what they would do. They don't.
Euo will do!Exactly. Also: reverse-engineer their crafty-ness. If you know exactly what they want out of this, and where the plot will end you, you can then work out what steps they could take to get there. Then add a bit of static.
Yeah, I just don't think my solutions are clever enough to really make the guile hero seem awesome. I think I just make other people seem stupid.
patience, young padawanIt's probably not exactly what you're looking for, but I saw this in one of Limyaael's fantasy rants about working with older protagonists, and gave a hypothetical situation wherein the hero is going to have to use his smarts to solve.
So your campaigner is on his way south for the winter, to a little town that will shelter him when the heavy snows fall that keep people pinned inside for months on end. He finds a roadblock on the path. He slows, taking the opportunity to rest and let another traveler get ahead of him, and listens. From his listening, he discerns that the soldiers are looking for any man carrying a sword, to impress into the king’s armies. They’re going north to fight in winter. Utter madness, but tell that to the king. He eyes the sides of the roadblock. They’re shallow declivities, raspberry bushes filling them. He’s not going to be able to scramble through them in agile silence, the way that a twenty-year-old might. He sits back to think about what he’s going to do, and have some raspberries while he waits. Is he going to be able to charge the roadblock and run over it? Probably not, thanks to the weight he’s carrying and his old wounds. Is he going to be able to hack through an enemy’s neck in a single swipe, then turn and kill the rest of them? Probably not, thanks to the same things. Is he going to challenge them all to single combat? Probably not; that he’s lived this long argues that he’s not rash. So what will he do?One suggestion from a commenter involved the hero backtracking to a secluded area; he straps his sword to his leg, folds one of his arms and inserts it back into his shirt sleeve so it looks like he lost half his arm, then heads back out. The guards look at him, think he lost his arm in war and and nearly lost his leg because of how stiff it is and all, and let him, a supposed war vet, pass through without incident. Does that help, even a little bit?
Euo will do!Larry Niven also gives advice about this, which is kind of replicated on this site, actually. Saves me trying to find the book, eh? Super Intelligence: enjoy!
I have a similar problem; I idolize schemers, yet despite being fairly book smart I'm a total chump at all that stuff. Deception goes against all my instincts, so it's not something I have any natural aptitude for. But having struggled with it and had some success, there's a couple of contributions I could make: one, the better you scheme, the better your characters scheme, and it's definitely a skill you can improve. I read mystery novels, learned magic tricks, solved puzzles, and played competitive strategy games. At first it just made me feel dumb but eventually I noticed patterns emerging, and now I'm that much better equipped, both as a writer and potential supervillain. Two, if your protagonist's opponents seem dumb, make them smarter. Play both sides of the chessboard to the best of your ability, switching back and forth as necessary. It's a slow and annoying process but like the others said, you have the advantage of no time limit, not to mention omniscience about what the other side is thinking. Just try not to import too much of that knowledge into your character, because improbable meta-knowledge is one of the surest ways to turn your guile hero into a mary sue, and there is no sue more annoying than a guile sue. Oh, and if you like manga you might want to check out Liar Game if you haven't already - it's rich in real-life psychology and loves explaining the trick almost to the point of spoiling it, but it's carefully constructed and makes a great case-study in realistic scheming.
edited 26th Apr '12 4:25:05 PM by Kesteven
Euo will do!Kurasosagi is also a good one to read: fraudsters trying to out-fraud each other. Much psychology, and an awful lot of economics. IQ required all around.
edited 26th Apr '12 5:50:02 PM by Euodiachloris
A cute short cut would simply be writing the characters in steps. Simpletons only think of 1 Step. Example: Thirsty. Go get water. A master mind can think of 10 Steps to achieve his goals, even going as far as Xanatos Gamibt. A Guile Hero or Trickster is just someone who knows what his opponents (likely) steps are and has planed one or two more steps farther.
I'm not sure that's correct - Complexity Addiction does not equal genius. A more accurate way to measure a "mastermind" is the number of possible steps they've thought of.
Its almost the same. The mastermind can be: 1) Go get water. 2) Tell my goon to get water. 3) Use my secret water stash under my chair. 4) Get grape jiuce instead. 5) Use a glass of ice, as it melts, it will be nice cold water...etc. A Guile Hero will have an easier time with a Simpleton unless its in Too Dumb to Fool territory because a Master Mind may have many plans and ways to achieve the plans at any time. A dim wit who has problem tying his shoes can reasonably only think of a small number of ways to do things.
It's not quite the same, really. The guy who has twenty possible ways to get a drink may be a mastermind; the guy who comes up with twenty steps for getting a drink is just a complexity addict.
Ok, you have a better point. There must be a distinction between having many Ways and many Steps to a Goal.
Thunder, Perfect MindA truly brilliant mastermind knows how to get what they want in as few steps as possible with as little effort as possible. How many steps they add to this basic plan depends upon any number of other factors, including the plan's relationship to other plans, how easily the basic plan may be foiled and how boring the basic plan is without extra steps to liven things up.
All Guns SparkingThis is just a theory of mine, so it may not necessarily hold true in all cases...but isn't the person to be outwitted just as important as the Guile Hero or Trickster? It's one thing to con an idiot out of his money. It's another thing to have a villain be outwitted (and detrimental if the villain's made out as an idiot compared to the OMGWT Fgenius hero). If the villain is just as crafty and clever as the hero, then their clash will prove their skills and make the game-winning move all the sweeter. So...basically, what Kesteven said. What I'm getting at is that a hero needs to be challenged — and in addition, have extreme awareness. In response to a challenge, it's important to have options. To put it in fighting game logic, you have to have a counter to virtually all your opponent's moves AND be ready to act on a moment's notice. If they jump, you use your anti-air. If they throw a fireball, jump in and attack. If they move in for a grab, get some space and punish them. Moreover, putting an enemy in a beneficial position — having them move exactly where you want them — is something to remember, too. Throw a fireball to force an opponent to jump, THEN hit them with an anti-air, for example. Creating a strategy based on tools at hand and preparation beforehand — I'd argue that's as good a place to start as any. ...Or you could just make Wesker.
edited 27th Apr '12 10:31:24 AM by Voltech44
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Thanks guys. I'll take another crack at this this weekend.
Oh, certainly. A character is only as good as his opponents.
The Joker is the only reason I find Batman even remotely interesting.
Tricksters are intimidating to write simply BECAUSE their schemes are so absolutely beyond that which the "normals" could even comprehend. Tricksters are famous for their almost supernatural ability to walk out of a technical loss with a net gain. If it isn't nigh-supernatural, your aspiring writer reasons, then it must not be a well-written trickster. In other words, if I can write it, then the trickster isn't tricky enough. That's false, of course - you only need a little bit of confidence. Tricksters are unexpectedly good at what they do, but they aren't magical. That's why I've found it easier to write a villain trickster than a protagonist trickster. The audience expects the villain to lose. The villain is supposed to lose, and nobody really looks at it from his point of view anyways, and so if he does something clever or logical, it comes as a bit of a surprise. Tricksters are never card-carrying villains - they always have a reason for what they do. Whenever I'm writing a villainous trickster, I use the following method: every time my villain gains a piece of information, I like to ask myself "given what he wants, what he knows, and what he has, what is the most absolute logical thing for my villain to do now?" Being a bit of a guile hero in real life, I can probably say with a certain amount of confidence that being a guile hero isn't about planning a complex plan and using the batman gambit whenever possible. It's about planning a relatively simple plan, and just having a series of contingency "plan b" things available on the off chance that something goes wrong. And of course, that's why it's so much fun to pit tricksters against one another. In the absence of opposition, the trickster's plan will be: get water. And they will get water. The enemy trickster, of course, would want the same water. Or something. So, our trickster tells the rival's crazy ex girlfriend where he is, and while the rival is distracted, steals the water glass... only the rival saw the way our trickster was eyeing his glass, and filled it with hydrogen peroxide. the real glass of water is hidden in the kitchen, which he accidentally lets slip, and then things get more complicated from there. Trickster versus trickster drives the plot through characterization, not events. Tricksters make events happen. It's best not to have a plot in mind when you pit two tricksters against one another, because they can and will ruin it. Think of this in turns: trickster 1 takes his turn - look at what he knows, what he has, and then think of the most logical choice, and a backup plan just in case. Then trickster 2 takes his turn. Based on the actions of trickster 1, he has some information to work with. Does that make sense? Bizarrely enough, Sun Tzu's The Art of War is great for this sort of thing, being itself a how-to for guile heroes.
ElvenkingI have a similar problem, but I tend to be very sneaky about solving it. I generally just have the character's intentions known, and then move to another POV, then from there show the result. (e.g. character wants to steal a case of money from a bank, move to the POV of whoever was moving that case, and have him find that the case is empty upon arrival with a tale some vague physical description of said trickster bumping into them along the way.) It won't work in the first person, but it can be a way to cheat your way out of working out the schemes yourself. Or similarly do what GRRM did with Varys (hardly a guile hero, but definitely a trickster); give a vague explanation of how the character does it, and then show the results (e.g. Varys knows about a conversation he couldn't possibly know about early in A Game Of Thrones. How? Only he knows.). Lampshade the mysteriousness if needed.
edited 19th Jul '13 1:20:22 AM by VincentQuill
Having my protagonist become a Guile Hero through character development has been the road I've taken. Physically, he's weaker than most antagonists (being a normal guy thrown headfirst into a not-so-mundane urban fantasy underbelly) so has to learn to use his wits to survive. Since it is a gradual process it helped me get the hang of my protagonist's quirks and habits so that when they have a plan, it sounds more in character. I also agree a lot with the above- build on your antagonists and take your time with the writing process; put the parts of the story that have the rest in a gridlock on the back burner and work on something else. For me, it was trying to figure out how my hero was to defeat the Big Bad- Said antagonist seemed to have everything in his favor, and I couldn't figure out a way out without writing myself into a corner, so to the back burner it went- instead I focused on world building, developing the supporting cast, developing the Monsters of the Weeks- through all those things I was able to come up with a solution to that big problem. But that's just method I am comfortable with- if that's not for you that's okay. Every storyteller has their preferred methods, and finding them is part of improving as a writer. Good luck on your project!
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