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TV Tropes Monday: The Xanatos Gambit


Tweet of the Day: Writing Excuses 7.25: Writing Capers

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No Plan Survives Contact with the Enemy’s Plan.

Ana Maria Le Guin Saraya

I was going to write about Dieselpunk but…oooh shiny!

Wait, where was I, ah yes, Monday and Monday means TV Tropes. For other people it means Total Obliteration, but we avoid those people if we can and don’t use tweeter until Tuesdays I also avoid Wednesdays due to the unfortunate implications, hump indeed!. But this post is not about that but about plans:

A Xanatos Gambit is a plan whose multiple foreseen outcomes all benefit its creator. It’s a win-win situation for whoever plots it. At its most basic, the Xanatos Gambit assumes two possible outcomes for the one manipulated — success or failure. The plan is designed in such a way that either outcome will ultimately further the plotter’s goals.

I like this trope because it appeals to what I believe to be the basic quality of most villains (and not a few guile heroes), opportunism.  Most criminals (and not a few politicians, industry moguls and military tacticians) rely on exploiting opportunities to further their agenda. The truly intelligent ones not only have a Plan A, but are also prepared for and take advantage of that failure as well. If they are clever enough they can always reap a benefit of any situation. They might appear to be omniscient as in “I planned it all along” even if they didn’t. In fact I find it more realistic to have this happen than the omniscient character who can foresee all outcomes. It also makes figuring out the plan that much more difficult and encourages the hero to take his game up several notches by use of his noggin instead of just his muscles.

It does require the author to think three steps ahead, for she must foresee the outcomes that are unforeseen by the characters. As per the paragraph above, the plan itself may not an overly complicated one (always take Occam’s Razor with you when you write), but the planner (be he hero or villain or a little of both) maybe be savvy enough to adapt to any situation and either change the plan accordingly or create a plan on the go. Care must be taken that the solution to the problem doesn’t look (or smell like) an Ass Pull, that is, it appears to come out of nowhere. When it is done right, the character comes off as a Magnificent Bastard and one worthy to be brought down (if villain) or succeeded (if hero).

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