Oh Terrible Chessmaster The Chessmaster is one of my most favorite character tropes in fiction. Maybe it's because I'm a bastard, but I really like the Chessmaster. I love characters that outwit and make fools of other characters by correctly guessing the odds or moving the right pieces into place. It's a matter of personal taste obviously, but one way or another, I love the Chessmaster. What I don't love, is the Chessmaster gone wrong. Alright, you're asking. What is the “Chessmaster” gone wrong? The Chessmaster gone wrong results when you have a manipulating character that just knows what should be impossible for him/her to know. Predicting the future is hard and even the most ingenious characters with towering IQs and phenomenal pattern recognition, will have difficulty predicting even simple events with any degree of accuracy. Too many writers (in my opinion) fall into the trap of having a smart character manipulate events down to the finest details, pulling the setting and characters within like strings. Unless this character is privy to some form of supernatural foresight (or a mathematical model capable of replicating such foresight like as Asimov's Psychohistory,) this concept is absurd. This makes for a bad Chessmaster and a canon sue character. What then, is a good Chessmaster? A good Chessmaster, is a character that doesn't base their plans around the fine details. A good Chessmaster, is a character that lays out their plans based on the events most likely to happen. They play the odds they believe will most likely result in a positive outcome. A Chessmaster never knows what is going to happen. They may believe that certain results will be more likely than others, but they will never truly know them. It is not dissimilar to counting cards because ultimately, the Chessmaster is a gambler, playing the odds. Even when events don't go their way, the true Chessmaster is adept at adapting. Making good use of a bad set of cards is what really shows a character's intelligence. So why do so many writers get it wrong? Because, writing a good Chessmaster is hard. The character trope presupposes that the Chessmaster is going to be a kind of strategic genius. How do you write a good Chessmaster then? Before you can create a Chessmaster, you have to know the variables. Chessmasters act in a logical fashion and ergo, they will know the variables that create the premises in their arguments. A Chessmaster makes mental arguments about what he/she believes will happen and bases their plans around them. As a writer, you have to develop your setting to such an extent, that you know and understand all the variables your character will be considering. This is hard, but a necessary condition. It gets worse though, because even after you identify all the variables, you have to figure out these variables will effect each other. If Character A does Action Z, what will Character C do in response and how will that effect the actions of Character D? If Character C does Action Y in response to Action Z, how will that effect Character D? What if Character D responds with Action X? How will that effect Characters A and C? What actions will they do? What if Character D's Action X had an effect on more than just Characters A and C? What if Character F gets involved due to Action X? What action will Character F take and how will that impact the actions of Characters A, C and D? See how complicated that was? And that was just the framework of causality (case and effect) within limited parameters. I did not include detailed profiles of Characters A, C or D and nor did I specify details of Actions Z, Y and X. The cause and effect is alone, a difficult thing to keep track of, regardless of the specific details. How do I keep track of Cause and Effect then? I imagine many writers have different ways of doing this, but for me, I use a whiteboard. I literally use a big whiteboard and cover it with lines, showing how one action results in another, like a flow chart. A lot of people will find that it helps to have a visual reference to look back to, so they can actually see what is happening. Now, we have two rules to follow: 1. Know the variables. 2. Know how the variables interact with each other. What is next then? Chessmasters have goals, be they the protagonist or antagonist. Therefore, they have to figure out which variables to use to achieve that goal. By knowing the variables and knowing how the variables interact with each other, they can know what would be the best action to take to achieve the most positive of results, or play the odds in the best way possible. Three rules then. 1. Know the variables. 2. Know how the variables interact with each other. 3. Understand the goal and what actions can most likely achieve the goal based on the prior two rules. By no means or any of those three rules easy, but they are the rules that I tend to follow when developing the plots of my Chessmaster characters. Naturally, this is just the technique I use and my opinion, but I figured I would share it. As a writer, you may not be as smart as the character you are writing about, but you do have a very powerful advantage, you know far more than any one character in your setting or story is going to know, ergo you can use that to develop realistic and satisfying characters that cleverly manipulate the odds. Also, this is by no means a comprehensive guide, this is just something I threw together as a kind of helpful a starter.