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Writing psychological combat vs physical combat

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by ShadeZ, Dec 29, 2020.

  1. ShadeZ

    ShadeZ Maester

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    "I'll look through his eyes and see what he sees and then improvise until I learn what will put him at ease. I'll walk in his shoes as long as it takes till I am sure he is one and the same as the me who is playing his game."
    Death Note Musical, Playing His Game

    Looking for advice on how to write a psychological fight between characters. I have a number of physical combat characters but amongst their enemies are spies deeply rooted in human society. And among the mcs is an mc who uses an intricate amount of psychological manipulation, intimidation, seduction, charm and all manner of other things to hunt these spies. However, I'm trying to figure out how to write his thought processing and that of his enemies for that matter. The majority of these spies are female or young men and he is a male who appears about 18 but he has been around a while.
     
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  2. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    Ah, I love intrigue like this though I'm probably better reading it than writing it.

    My first question is what your primary type of combat is. You mentioned having characters capable of physical combat. Well, if the primary focus of the story is on them then you don't need to go as in depth with the intrigue.

    I'd recommend Full Metal Alchemist as an example. In particular either the manga or Brotherhood. In it moments of intrigue such as Maes Hughes death or the sabotage of the big circle at the end serve primarily to facilitate more physical confrontation than standing on their own. The first serves as a major character motivator and the second gives the good guys a chance to take out the bad guys.
     
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  3. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    Hmm, for some reason I envision the old Michael Ironside movie Scanners, heh heh. Pop goes the head... but anyhow, these sorts of characters can be tricky unless you have an affinity for such things yourself. But, you do have the advantage of setting up the scenarios the character has to crack. It’s like watching The Mentalist, he does things at a level impossible without having read the script, and he always has that little explanation to make us feel good about the story.

    One really good way to convey characters like this is to NOT be in their POV, Watson to Sherlock Holmes. The masterminds are dangerous to write. In Sundering the Gods I have one chapter that follows a character (but through the eyes of his targets, rather than through his vantage) as he manipulates and murders his way to a position of leverage over an entire kingdom. Written from his POV? The reader would know too much. So, transitioning POVs to tell another character’s story was what worked. It’s also important to consider this as well when these masterminds make things work without a hitch. If we knew the totality of Holmes’ or Jane’s plans, watching them unfold isn’t as interesting. This is a strength of the sidekick POV.

    Every situation has a best potential answer, the trouble is finding it. My best guess without knowing your tale is that you need to work backwards, meaning you need to know exactly what the character needs to do in order to find out how they’re going to achieve it. From there, beat yourself up trying to figure out how best to tell the story.
     
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  4. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Troubadour

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    You can do this when writing in their point of view, but the trick is not to give away too much of their thought processes. Think of characters like Sam Spade or the Continental Op (both by Dashiell Hammett), or maybe some of Gavin Lyall's characters. If you do it this way you need to strike a balance between revealing enough information for the reader to be able to follow (and maybe work out for themselves) what is going on whilst not revealing everything your character thinks or does. Personally I'd have the character make mistakes, misjudge people and situations etc, so that the character doesn't appear to be all-knowing.
     
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  5. ShadeZ

    ShadeZ Maester

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    There are two primarily physical fighters and two primarily psychological ones. The physical ones are
    Lol so in other words make it an episode of mentalist where instead of explaining it at the end you are left with s figure it out yourself?
     
  6. ShadeZ

    ShadeZ Maester

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    There are two primarily physical fighters and two primarily psychological ones. The physical ones are renowned warriors the other two are assassins. They fight a common enemy and this enemy both attacks outright in the form of wars and is insidious and has sleeper agents and followers EVERYWHERE. The psychological ones job is to befriend suspected individuals, manipulate them, befriend them, learn all about them and if they turn out to be the enemy kill them or arrange it so they run into the two warriors and if they are I innocent they leave them.

    Naturally as a result they are extremely suspicious of the most innocent seeming individuals. Usually they are right too but the other 2 and the mage who tells the story cant track their line of thought or observations. And they are good at making very abstract connections. At one point, the kid who tells the story introduces the group to his childhood friend and gf. One of the two instantly starts to watch her and tell the kid she is associated with the enemy. He calls him paranoid.

    Later on one of the assassins uses his predator form (his race polymorph to look human but have a semi cat like appearance naturally (cat eyes (his are red), cat fangs, pointed nails that help climb, a very strong and sleek body form) to intimidate her into confessing to the kid. She confesses her family have been allied with he enemy for many generations and that she isnt but is expected to swear loyalty in the future. The assassin mentions he normally would kill her and her family at this point but he wont for the kid's sake unless the kid tells him too. The kid forgives her and calls in a number of favors to get her a new life elsewhere free of the enemies influence.

    The assassin notes that the kid must really love her to invest so much in her. The kid cusses him out and accuses him of seeing humans like a cat sees mice, only having value as a source amusement. The assassin responds that if that were true he would never invest so much in a human (like the mage) who constantly harasses him about not having a soul.
     
  7. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    Not exactly, my answer is whatever works, heh heh. From what I read, I take it the assassins/psych characters are not POV? And the mage and others are suspicious of them. It sounds like a situation ripe for building that same distrust in the reader with only sporadic explanations. Maybe even make readers distrust their motivations or allegiances at some point. But, I don’t know enough for real suggestions, just enough to throw generalizations at the wall.

     
  8. ShadeZ

    ShadeZ Maester

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    Well while they would never side with the enemy some do not get along because they disagree with the others method. Neither warrior is fond of the male assassins methods because he targets female enemies usually or teenaged boys (huge reason for this but more on that later). The male assassin also tries to and makes no attempt to hide that he wants to kill the mage from the get go as to why no one is 100% sure. While neither are suspected of much regarding being one the side of the enemy they do conveniently know things or put seemingly random puzzle peices together. The female is also assigned to be a war strategist and is very good at predicting her enemy or even playing them into traps. Her fathers are both ages old generals you learn later and she picked up quite a bit of strategy from them and picked up being an assassin from her aunt who was a vídia a sort of battle mage assassin they use dark magic and traditional stealth and combat.
     
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  9. TJPoldervaart

    TJPoldervaart Scribe

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    If your goal is to create a highly intelligent character that can manipulate others while still being interesting to read, I'd suggest studying some similar characters in other literature and see if one of those methods works for you, or at least inspires you. One thing I think is important is to make clear the character doesn't know everything, but that they are always thinking about everything.

    Some examples I can think of:

    Tyrion Lannister from a song of Ice and Fire by George Martin. It's been a while since I've read this, so I'm not entirely sure how his viewpoint is written in the novel.

    Sand dan Glokta from the First Law books by Joe Abercrombie. He is a character that always studies the world around and his thoughts about his observations are written in italic. This gives him a distinct feel of being someone who thinks more than everyone else in the novels.
     
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2020
  10. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    ASoIaF, I’d also be thinking of Varys and Littlefinger, two guy always with their noses in everything, and always playing games.

     
  11. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Troubadour

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    I think you should perhaps read a couple of Dashiell Hammett's Continental Op short stories, specifically "The Big Knockover" and "$106,000 Blood Money". And read them in that order. They're an almost textbook example of how to show an intelligent character who manipulates people and situations based on observations and deductions, not all of which are shown or fully explained. If you want to see Dashiell Hammett pull the same trick at novel length, try reading "Red Harvest".
     
  12. ShadeZ

    ShadeZ Maester

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    The other two are not suspicious so much as it is that they hate that these two are always right. The other assassin is the groups leader and often acts with a cold and ruthless response toward enemies as a way to deter future violence. Heres a main character list so I dont have to keep confusing myself and likely you

    Keara(group leader, female, versed in manipulating the enemy)- Keara is the leader of the Mérgáz (goldens) an elite group of dragon slayers with unique mutations. Keara herself is the daughter of the divine dragon of time and as a result in addition to her normal dragon slaying powers she has her father's ability to use pure (unwritten) magic. No one not even Keara is sure how deep what she can do goes. Keara is normally a friendly social individual who is skilled at rallying everyone and coming up with tactics that benefit everyone's individual strengths. She has a rarely seen dark side that is known to be quite vicious and deadly.

    Zeke(warrior of the group)- Zeke is Keara older twin. Zeke is usually calm, introverted, and reserved his thoughts. Zeke is a famed warlord known for slaying more dragons than any dragon slayer in history as well as for using his ice and psychic magic he inherited from their father the divine dragon of time Mergatroid to freeze thousands of men alive, to torture them so that he can read their thoughts, and a great many other combat feats. Despite his terrifying reputation, Zeke is quite a kind and gentle guy who even slips off to care for orphans on his two days a year off because he can relate to them and he loves kids.

    Robin(Raudúr, King of Hearts. A bloodthirsty covert style assassin)- Robin is known for his highly unusual mutation for bloodlust. During the process to become a dragon slayer Robin's father and sister were murdered by a secret order of killers called Skörú. These trained killers use a special blade commonly called a skálnarí or soul reaping blade which has a scarlet hue. Shortly after this he was able to come to peace with it and even became engaged to his gf. One night he woke to find Jaris his fiancee trying to kill him with a skálnarí knife. During their fight she tells him she was the one to kill his father and daughter and after she kills him she will kill his mother and uncle and wipe his whole wretched race from the face of the Exodia. Out of anger he kills her by ripping her heart out (hence the nickname). As a result of all this happening during his mind and body becoming a dragon slayer he mutates to have a highly unusual bloodthirsty streak to him, he is weaker than a normal dragon slayer but is faster both physically and mentally. He develops a strong mistrust for women. Robin has the ability to charm almost anyone into doing what he wants with ease. Robin typically hunts Skörú assassins which are primarily made up of trained seductive women and innocent seeming teenaged boys who root themselves deep within human society as sleeper agents. Robin is well known for ripping the hearts out of Skörú that he catches as in intimidation tactic. Very few people know Robin, Raudúr and the King of Hearts are the same person because Robin is extremely careful with this secret as the Skörú could catch him and or threaten his family if they knew. Robin openly asks permission to kill Coleson when they first meet because he is too suspicious and knows far too much about the dragon slayers. Keara secretly allows him to investigate Coleson and if he is a Skörú or a spy to kill him. Robin is unable to prove any guilt on Coleson's end and pretends to befriend him as a way to get the mage to slip up. Overtime, he comes to accept the mage's innocence and even comes to care for the "mortal" as Coleson has become very dear to Zeke at this point. Robin and Keara have worked together before and both are psychological predators who hunt by getting in the enemy's head as opposed to outright fighting them. He admires Keara and Zeke greatly referring to them as his siblings usually. He admires Zeke for his "goodness" and naive but positive view of humanity. Robin protects Zeke in secret when Zeke puts his faith in unworthy individuals a few times.

    Vanya- Vanya is a ranger style warrior who is the youngest dragon slayer. Vanya is known as the "wildling" for her impulsive and often feral reactions to the enemy. Despite this she hero worships Zeke for his calm cool mannerisms and does her best to act simalar to him. Zeke often assures her she was just in her actions after she looses it and tears apart a group of raiders or such. And she reassures him he isnt a monster. She admires and respects Keara. She starts out hating Robin and refers to him as a womanizing jackal, eventually she gets to know Robin after he saves her from a vengeful Skörú assassin.

    Coleson(Mage)- Coleson is a 15 year old human mage who travel to the dangerous Savage Lands to the north to the region of Viigaris the home of dragon slayers to research this fearsome and predatory species. Upon first enter their hunting grounds he encounters Zeke who had been sent by his fathers to hunt and kill any intruders so the dragon slayers could meet in peace. Zeke talks to Coleson debating if the kid is a threat and eventually strikes a deal to protect him if Coleson tells the real story about what he thinks of the slayers.

    The story POV bounces between these five characters but typically relies heavily on Coleson's perception so you are tricked as the reader into seeing the lack of visual guilt and grief the dragon slayers feel for their actions (fighting and constantly killing the enemy to survive).
     
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  13. Spacebar

    Spacebar Scribe

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    Real espionage is probably like real computer hacking: far less esoteric than it is often portrayed. A lot of hacking is not so much about knowing 14 computer languages and being able to use two keyboards at once, as it is about calling a place, posing as John Smith who works there, and asking to reset his password.

    What I'm saying is, you can start simple. Preternatural abilities don't need to be introduced where mundane deceptions that even you could do would work. A lot of spying is probably about having the audacity to do stuff like rifling through someone's private belongings or telling simple lies over the phone.

    One of the ways that magicians deceive audiences is by putting more effort into an illusion than people would believe. The audience will have the pre-conscious thought that, "Yeah, there might be a way to do that trick if I put in 5000 hours of effort, but nobody would work that hard and sacrifice that much time on something so simple, so there must be an easier way." Nobody seriously considers that possibility, when that's how it really was done. Deception doesn't have to accomplish the impossible, it just has to accomplish the unbelievable.
     
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  14. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    So, the thing about highly intelligent characters is that the intelligence isn't magic.

    Well, no. It's actually pretty useful to think of intelligence as a magic system provided that you think through the limitations to intelligence like you would a system of magic. In short, just like it wouldn't be satisfying to a reader to have Gandalf just poof the Fellowship straight to Mount Doom it would be unsatisfying to have a highly intelligent person produce a solution that hasn't been earned.

    Sanderson's Laws of Magic can be useful here.

    1st law: An Author's ability to solve conflict with magic is directly proportional to how well the reader understands said magic.

    When applied to highly intelligent this means how well the reader understands the characters thought process AND the resources it provides them.

    Understanding the thought process is easiest when the highly intelligent character is the viewpoint character. Think of Sherlock in the 2009 movie. We get his internal monologue going over the moves he'll use in a fight, or when he uses a sherlock scan to identify someone's backstory from small clues across their bodies.

    When they're not the viewpoint character you need to be careful to avoid having that internal monologue become an external monologue to whatever poor Watson you've brought along, but it's vital that they don't come across as just pulling answers out of thin air.

    The resources provided would be, to keep using Sherlock as an example, establishing that he's fond and skilled at disguises early to justify using it later. Do they always have a knife hidden on them somewhere? Do they have their own network of informants even if it's something as informal as a gossipy bar matron?

    Frankly it's important for that the resources used to solve a conflict are understood for any kind of character but the resources available to a physically focused character (aka muscles and a sharpened piece of metal) or a mystically focused character (all the fireballs) are easier to understand than somebody that gets along on their wits.

    2nd Law: Limitations are more important than powers.

    If a character's plans always go off without a hitch then it should only be because they've got so many plans running at once that one of them is bound to succeed and they're enough of a bullshiter to ensure that you only see the ones that succeed while the rest get swept under the rug.

    They should be blindsided from time to time. They should have to hit the books to try to figure out what the monster hiding in the woods is. They should be wrong.

    They key point of psychological conflict is that it's conflict. The characters need to be challenged and they have to overcome it.

    If I was writing a story featuring Lex Luthor as a protagonist I'd find it a lot more interesting to have him lose all his money and be forced to use his wits to build it back up from nothing.

    More specifically, limitations can be things like a university trained mage not having the first clue about what sort of blacksmith techniques are needed to reforge the legendary magic sword, or having some witness with vital information you need killed by the baddies before you can get to them.

    3rd Law: Expand what you already have before you add something new.

    This just goes along with the first two. Don't whip out a new skill out of nowhere to solve a problem. It's more useful as a limitation. Try to build up on what you have had happened before where you can. Need to get into the castle? Maybe the gossipy bar matron that appeared earlier knows a girl whose sister works in the castle and can sneak you in. Did a previous book's villain have a magic neutralizing sword that nearly wiped the party? Well, why not take the shards of his sword and make a set of daggers from them.
     
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  15. sehsphare

    sehsphare Dreamer

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    I think the important thing to remember about psychological combat is that anything can happen inside the mind and because it's happening inside the mind everything has to be momentous, felt, and experienced. It's the same as tactile combat, except that there is a psychic perturbance in the way you execute showing, and not telling, someone that a psychological battle is ensuing.
     
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