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Intrigue and Scheming

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, July 3, 2021
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Who doesn't love a good intrigue, some scheming in the shadows, some low chuckling behind a curtain?

The author.

It's the author that doesn't love it. Or rather, the sheer background work that needs to go into writing a good scheming plot, counter plot, and the whole game of wits that goes with it.

Usually prevalent in whodunnits, whereupon the killer's scheming is what needs to unravel, intrigue and pulling strings from the sidelines is a very tough thing to write, in my opinion. And that is because scheming tends to be an invisible thing- it's supposed to happen ‘off camera’, in the sidelines, behind closed doors.

That means that narratively speaking, we work a see-saw: if we're watching the antagonist scheming, we can't be seeing what the protagonist is (potentially) doing to counter that. If we're seeing the protagonist working trying to anticipate the antagonist's moves, we can't be seeing what the antagonist is doing while this is happening.

The reason for this is suspense. You can't have intrigue or suspense if the audience knows exactly what both players are doing- that is, the audience shouldn't be able to discern who is playing the winning hand when it comes to a game of schemes.

Until the time comes for the game to be up, both sides need to have at least some chances to win, even if it's looking to be overwhelmingly in favor of one side rather than the other.

If there are no chances at all shown for one side, and that side surprisingly wins, we got a deus ex machina situation simply because the audience hasn't been shown that there is a possible way out (even if it's not apparent).

If there are no chances at all shown for the one side, and that side loses, then we don't have intrigue or suspense. What is foreseeable is exactly what happens.

Chinese and Korean dramas are really good in building up scheming and intrigue, especially in historical series taking place within palaces or aristocratic family clans, where the entire plot is one endless power struggle (complete with hidden villains, scheming kin, corrupted politicians, etc) where scheme dominoes into scheme, raising the stakes, until the protagonists (usually) win.

The successful ones manage to show hints of what all sides are doing. Sometimes the villain's scheme's intent is revealed as the main threat, like the bomb waiting to explode under the table, but we aren't quite shown what the heroes are doing to diffuse it (and sometimes they don't, if the stakes aren't totally lethal). Other times we're shown what the heroes are scheming to trap/contain the villain, but we aren't shown what (if anything) the villain is doing to counter that setup.

We are left to ruminate and think of what possibilities there are, which makes us engaged and eager to watch on and see how the scheming resolves itself.

Do you have scheming characters in your story? How do you handle them?

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comment

anonymous?

PaulEberhardt at 6:12PM, July 3, 2021

Being at the wrong end of scheming and plotting in real life is really bad. It has happened to me once or twice and that's probably why I've developed an intense dislike for this kind of thing and those pathetic people who do it. The worst thing about it is that it's such a staple in fiction that you never expect it happening to you for real and can't quite believe it when it does. The final realisation usually comes (a) too late and (b) with very dismal thoughts. In other words, it's the very stuff a nicely gritty story is made of, and I probably should try my hand at it one day if I can come up with a way that makes it neither too unrealistic nor too bleak.

Andreas_Helixfinger at 6:56AM, July 3, 2021

Well, in case of Molly Lusc I had the scheming villain of the comic's first story arc getting killed off not so long ago. His scheme's execution was complex, but his motivation was very simple. There was no seeing him chuckling in the shadows, but you do see him in the background at the beginning of the story and his presence there is acknowledged at the climax point when he reveals himself with the heroine at gunpoint. I wanted the first story arc in Molly Lusc to have a very basic whodunnit plot, just to establish the mystery solving theme of the series as well as introducing some of the more sinister aspects of the comic's setting. The mystery plots of the series will become more complex and more sinister as we go from episode to episode.

bravo1102 at 3:53AM, July 3, 2021

Ever found out about schemes about you in real life? Amazing stuff. Been plotted both for and against. Amazing how these things come together. People do scheme and it can be about really minor stuff but means a lot to them that they have to plot and plan to make certain what they want comes to pass. Often there is a victim even if the whole plot is to protect someone else. A plan can have the worst possible outcome that was gone into with the most righteous of intentions.

Ozoneocean at 2:01AM, July 3, 2021

It's such a universal trope tht I even blindly copied that for Pinky TA in the early pages @_@

Ozoneocean at 2:00AM, July 3, 2021

It's a really weird and tired old trope for animes for sme reason. I think that probablut about a good 70% of them do it and do it really badly! In the first episode they introduce the main concept and the characters and then at the end of that epsode or the end of the second one we will see two people in the shadows observing the action and saying "hmm, it's all going along to plan then.. how quaint." BOOM, end theme. They have a couple more breif scenes of the schemers at the ends of episodes, and then at episode 11 they'll be chalanged by the mysterious schemer which results in an excuse to end the season with a showdown in episode 12, or if it goes to 22 episodes it'll just become a minor climax. The schemers will go into the shadows again before emerging 5 episodes before the end to start the run up to the final climax in episode 22.


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