1. aimlessgun
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    aimlessgun Member

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    Stealth and Sneaking Cliches and Misconceptions?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by aimlessgun, Mar 7, 2011.

    The story I'm writing ended up having a lot of people sneaking around being all stealthy like, but I'm sort of afraid I might be writing unrealistic or cliche stuff in this regard. Googling around didn't turn up any rants about stealth in literature.

    So, what do think are overused, dumb or unrealistic conventions when writing about sneaking around and stealthy characters?
     
  2. Unit7
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    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

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    The snapping of the twig...

    Actually I can't honestly think of anything.
     
  3. guamyankee
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    guamyankee Contributing Member

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    Take a close look at your -ly words, and see if they really add anything to the sentence.

    He walked stealthily across the yard.

    could be said better as:

    He stepped into the yard. The full moon lit up the damp grass like a search beam, but he kept to the shadows along the bushes.

    Maybe "crept" is clique?
     
  4. KP Williams
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    KP Williams Contributing Member

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    Assassins, ninjas and the like do not wear any sort of uniform. The reason? They don't want to get caught. If you're wearing something that says "I am a ninja," then you can forget about stealth. This is my one pet peeve with the Assassin's Creed series.

    Speaking of ninjas, if you're trying to avoid being detected at night, don't wear black. The environment around you is dark, but not black. You're more likely to blend in while wearing a really dark blue.

    I often see people being careful not to leave any DNA traces behind by wearing gloves. This is good for hiding fingerprints, but they leave their hair hanging freely and whatnot. Do they not realize how often strands of hair break off and fall out? But then again, in a story set in modern times, DNA tests would be nearly useless in catching an intruder. For a DNA test to be helpful in any sense, you'd need a database containing the genetic information of every person on the planet. Otherwise, let's say a random homeless guy breaks into your business and steals something of vital importance. He's left some strands of hair behind. Unless he appears in some database, or unless he's already a suspect in custody, the investigators will have nothing to compare it with, and so they won't be able to match it to anyone... I suppose that's really more of a cop show cliche, but whatever.

    Shooting security cameras during infiltration is among the less intelligent things to do while breaking into a place. Sure, it prevents your face from being caught on film, but there are other considerations. If there's a guy paid to watch the live feeds, how do you think he's going to react when camera A suddenly switches to a lovely view of static? He's going to raise an alarm. That tends to work against thieves and such.

    Silencers. Ever used one? They don't reduce the gun's noise to a soft phewt! sound. Sure, the sound of the explosion can be muffled at the muzzle, but the metal of the gun can still transfer sound. A silencer does nothing to silence that. Also, the gun itself makes a considerable amount of noise when the hammer or bolt slams forward. It's a rather violent act, and it's not easy to cover it up. If you use a silencer, it reduces how far the noise will carry, but anyone in the vicinity will have no trouble hearing it.

    Is that the sort of thing you're looking for?
     
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  5. aimlessgun
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    aimlessgun Member

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    Yup. Though my current story is fantasy.

    I guess I'm asking because it sort of feels like I'm making people as stealthy as the plot requires without much of an idea if makes much sense. Like the "kill a guard and steal their uniform" thing, how well would that actually work out? If your intrepid heroes are sneaking through the shadows in the enemy camp, is it ridiculous for them to get away with it? Stuff like that.
     
  6. KP Williams
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    KP Williams Contributing Member

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    Stealing a guard's uniform... I can't imagine it working out well, realistically. Guards are given posts and patrols, and if they're found outside of their designated areas, it would require lightning fast thinking, a poker face, and a fair understanding of how the organization in question operates with respect to guards. All of that only matters if the uniform fits the sneaky person in the first place... And if I were paranoid enough to employ guards, I would make it so that everyone's uniform was custom fitted. That way, if I saw someone whose uniform was a little loose/tight, I'd know right away that I had an intruder.

    However, if the enemies are overconfident and regulations are lax, a convincing disguise could work. But it would still require an understanding of how these enemies do things. Guards may not even be allowed to move freely without permission. Certainly, if someone is supposed to be standing watch in a certain spot, and he's not there, someone might get suspicious.

    I believe that the best form of stealth is to avoid interacting with as many people and objects and possible. If nothing is amiss and no one sees you, then no one would have reason to believe you're there.
     
  7. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Four cliches I can't abide:
    --Creeping up behind someone without being heard, and stunning them in a way that doesn't break their skull, only gives them a headache after they've been out for approx 2 hours.
    --Following someone on a deserted street or in a vehicle for hours without being noticed.
    --Seeing someone's face in a mirror right behind you, spinning round and they are not there.
    --magic potions of any sort, or invisibility, used simply to get the writer out of a tricky plot conundrum.
     
  8. Porcupine
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    Porcupine Contributing Member

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    Ok, some very nice posts above, but I would like to add one or two things.

    Snapping twigs... the twigs aren't the problem, branches are. The sound of a small twig snapping is so slight, animals in a forest make that sort of sound all the time. A twig snapping in a built-up area would be more likely to be noticed, but then you'd avoid the twig, right? :) Moving almost silently across a forest floor, even at speed, is possible, but it requires a lot of concentration and physical fitness. Another thing to watch out for are patches of dry leaves. Probably the greatest giveaway is the rhythm of your footsteps. The human ear recognizes instantly when the rhythm corresponds to a human.

    Silencers - KP Williams is quite right. While there are silencers and silencers, the gun remains audible. Although some of the more advanced silenced guns (specially built to be silent with organic silencers) really are very quiet. You'd get away with firing them in a different room from your enemy in a moderately noisy environment. You would not get away with firing them just behind somebody's back in the middle of a still night.

    Guards etc. KPW is partly right here. Some guards do operate on routine patrol paths etc. The more advanced guards, who are protecting something more valuable (think in terms of advanced weapons systems if you like) have random patrol times and random patrol routes in order to be unpredictable. A good security patrol patrols to see, not to be seen. They may also take random breaks and just stay still, in cover, observing, for a while.

    Sometimes, speed is more important than stealth, or just as important. Basically you can think of your probability of remaining undetected being the multiple of stealth and speed. If you have both high, you will go unnoticed. If you stay in a dangerous place for a long time, even if you are well-hidden, your chance of being discovered rises.
     
  9. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    ^^ forgot the snapping twig!
    Oh, and please don't have long, crucial conversations 'overheard' in great detail with our hero at an unconvincing distance or in an uncomfortable hiding place...
     
  10. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    *Snap*

    Guard A: "What was that?!"

    Sneaking hero: "MEOoooW!"

    Guard B: "Oh, it was just a cat. Got us all up in a panic, didn't it! Huh?"
    Guard A: "Yeah, how silly is that!"
     
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  11. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Time is your friend when you sneaking in forest terrain. Sneak. Stop. Wait 5 minutes. Sneak. Stop. Wait 5 minutes.Repeat endlessly. The forest got a lot of natural noices. As long as you don't keep moving continuously you sounds will blend in.

    Yet the forest is sort of a scilent place. You can often easily listen in on a conversation at least 100m /300f away if you own your own, sitting motionless.

    Roads and well trodden paths etc carry sound extremely well, for kilometer/miles if you put yous head down and listen,,, But if you walk on the softer grass/dirt one feet of the road softly you can cut it down dramatically. Hence giving you the opportunity to walk along the road and get a 20 minutes warning that someone is approaching if you stop to listen regularly. And since you moving on the soft grass on the side of the road you don't give the other part a warning at the same distance, giving you loads of time to step of the road/path and hide in the brushes next to it.

    The biggest security weakness is people, and that people generally trust the system and other people. And this is still true in a fantast setting.
    Take a look at this link. "No tech hacking" , where a guy talk about way to get into high security buildings and how to get secret information by simple tricks using peoples habits. Like standing at the back entrance, looking like an office guy and heading in with one of the other people who go there to smoke. It is an eye opener that will give you lot of ideas.
     
  12. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    A guy i know had two favorite tricks when it came to ambushes.

    The lantern trick.
    Get a lantern some kind. Place it a bit off some path or place people pass occasionally. Get a bunch a friends, and set up an ambush. Light the lantern.
    Sooner or later some poor bastard will notice the lone lantern just lying on the ground and head over to it. Stand over it, and look down at it. And be ambushed.

    The latrine trick.
    No one ever want to spend a lot of time there, but sooner or later people get to head over there. Ambush.

    Both tried and true on multiple occasions on people who really should know better.
     
  13. Porcupine
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    Porcupine Contributing Member

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    That's quite right. People (unless experienced or well trained in these things) typically fall for even the simplest of tricks. Another cliché that usually works is throwing a rock or a pine cone in some place away from you. Everybody will scramble in that direction to find out what made that noise.
     
  14. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    And a lot of people that really should know better do too.
     
  15. aimlessgun
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    aimlessgun Member

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    Awesome, great tips :)

    Thanks guys.
     
  16. Tesgah
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    Nice thread:)

    I want to say that I agree with most everyone here, especially the one who mentioned invisibility potions/spells. They often feel like cheap means of solving a difficult situation, and if used they should have clear weaknesses. An example is the invisibility cloak in Harry Potter. It has so many drawbacks, like hampering your mobility, and is used in such a way that it never feels cheap.
     
  17. Ellipse
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    Just adding to what everyone has already said. If your character(s) are simply trying to sneak into a building, not being seen is the best option to go with. I know that sounds like common sense, but if you knock out a guard or kill them, they will eventually be missed and someone (sometimes several someones) will come looking for them. If you just sneak around everyone without a trace, no one will ever know you were there.

    Also, no matter how well trained a guard is to look, if he has been guarding/patrolling the same building for weeks, months, or years, more often than not the guard just takes a quick look around the area because they're bored and won't bother to look in every nook and cranny.

    You would be surprised how easy it is to hide sometimes. On a moonless night, a person can hide in a darkened corner of a room and a guard won't see him because the guard's eyes are blinded from teh light of his torch or the hall lights.
     
  18. R-e-n-n-a-t
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    If you're even slightly camoflauged or among something that will serve to hide you, such as at night, or in a forest, or in a grassy field with quite tall grass, quick movements are your enemy. Remember all those movies or books where the bad guy is being followed, but he turns around and the protag ducks behind something really quick? It's a bad idea in a fantasy setting. In a forest or other cluttered natural area which may confuse an outline, the best advice is to stand still. Often when people search for something they scan for movement, especially if they're not sure who or what they're searching for.
     
  19. IfAnEchoDoesntAnswer
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    Actually, I once heard what I could have sworn were human footsteps, and wondered why someone was walking around in the pitch blackness outside without a light. I didn't realize it was a moose until it got spooked and galloped away, breaking branches as it went.

    At least I presume it was a moose. That's the only thing in the area (especially that large and heavy) that would have been galloping through the woods at night, unless something very strange was going on.

    But walking, it sounded the same as a human walk.
     
  20. Porcupine
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    Porcupine Contributing Member

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    Interesting story about that moose.

    I have occasionally encountered wild boars. Not sure how to describe them. They seem most similar to a bunch of bowling balls crashing through bushwork at 60 miles per hour. Wouldn't mistake them for humans, anyway. ;)
     
  21. Lothgar
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    Overused, dumb or unrealistic conventions:
    Overused:

    When a guard, soldier, sentry, etc. hears a sound, that they simply look around when they hear something and just dismiss it as "the wind". Professional security and military personnel DO NOT just dismiss things that could potentially kill them, they take it seriously.

    That you can silently "cut glass" out of a window pane to get access to a room.

    That no guards will notice a man, dressed in all black, hanging from a rope on the side of a well lit building, trying to cut the window glass.

    That security guards can be fast talked into just letting anyone past them.

    Dumb:

    That you can just "jiggle" a lock to pick it...especially modern locks. It takes a few minutes of picking and tinkering to get it open, and even then maybe, unless you are an experienced locksmith.

    That if you avoid their line of sight and stay in the shadows, you are STEALTHED, regardless of how much noise you make, or what you smell like (watch your step around the cow pies while sneaking through the pasture).

    That a professional jewel thief/ninja/spy whatever, can always enter a compound, bypass alarms and cameras, sneak by guards, disarm traps and sensors, crack a safe and escape without ever having to kill anyone. Sometimes the soldiers just don't give up and insist on chasing/fighting until they get you...or you finish them off first. You can't always "give them the slip", "knock them out" or "outsmart them", sometimes you're just going to have to fight your way out.

    Unrealistic:

    That you can "take out" a sentry with a single karate chop across the back of the neck, just like in the movies, and he instantly turns into a "rag doll".

    That a black night suit will still conceal you when you move into the light.

    That a ninja sword, throwing stars and a pair of hand claws will triumph over a marine with an assault rifle, in a stand up fight.

    That being a master of Kung Fu will somehow help you when your enemy stands 20 feet away pointing a submachine gun at you.

    That wearing a camo uniform makes you "invisible" in the woods.

    That the hero NEVER has embarrassing moments while trying to hide (such as having to pee, loudly grumbling stomach, getting the hiccups, or a guard "sniffed" him out because he had really bad gas).
     
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  22. Ellipse
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    You forgot ninjas that can dodge bullets. :D
     
  23. Thanshin
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    As most cliches and unreal assumtions have already been covered, I'll just add another point of view.

    Be sure your character actually has a real reason to be stealthy.

    Thiefs usually steal when there's nobody near to hear them.

    Killers don't go around in dark licra suits, they aproach their target in the street, stick a knife in a kidney or a paralyzing poison in a major vein and walk away. And that's excluding snipers and bombers.


    The first mistake is usaully creating a fake situation to justify the character's need to be sneaky.

    Essentially, the only people who actually need to sneak are assault teams (both police and military), and they're: A: not very stealthy and B: very noisy when they start shooting.
     
  24. jonathan hernandez13
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    Lol, best post so far IMO. Alot of what we see in the movies is recycled hollywood tricks, in terms of writing, you have the opportunity to put us inside the heads of the person doing all of the pussyfooting.

    I am very forgiving of cliches with some regards, even with stealth tricks, as long as they don't try some kind of "smoke pellet---ninja vanish!" BS on me. The only person who can try that and get away is Batman, and even when he does it it pisses me off. Oh, and the Shadow too, but he usues illusions that he "learned in the orient", more mumbo jumbo and a copout IMO of actual writing imagination.

    There are people out there right now crawling through jungle (to not leave footprints, shooting people from a mile away, and then sneaking back for miles stealthily to get extracted by helicopters. It's called special ops, but even the best trained people are not invisible, sometimes they get caught, killed, and tortured. Sad but true.
     
  25. Thanshin
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    Albeit not usually in that order.
     

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