Ask GV: The Art of Whispering

Responding to last week’s riff on the plucky comic relief, satyre wondered, “How best to set [breaking the plucky comic relief] subtly?” After all, when you’re trying to introducing someone with that level of delusional perkiness to the way the world really works, you can’t just walk up and tell them things aren’t what they seem, particularly not when you’re The Enemy and therefore probably lying.

But there are more ways to argue than just arguing a point directly and trying to be right through direct logic, intensity, or force of personality. That’s hero-tactics, after all, and it only makes people oppositional and the conflict obvious. We in the business call that shouting. But there’s another way to get a point across—not introducing a point directly so much as making it a part of the atmosphere. Letting the opponent’s momentum lead him into our points. If the direct way of getting the point across is shouting, this form is whispering.

The first key to whispering is knowing your goal. This part is vital; since you’re having to get to the desired result by bits and pieces, you need to make sure that everything you do contributes to that goal. Keep that in mind; you’re going to need it.

The next phase is to learn about your target; instead of opposing him, after all, you’re trying to figure out which buttons to push and which strings to pull to get him seeing things the way you do. Surely you know someone who knew him in the past, or people who have seen him in action; ask around a little, but try to make sure he doesn’t know he’s being investigated, as that puts him on edge. If you can get in his head or slip in a few more divinations for more information, so much the better. And try thinking like him for a while, see if you can get the logic to work for you; if you understand it, you’ve got a better chance of figuring out how to poke holes in it.

Think you’re ready to go talk to the target now? Think again. You need to keep your direct influence on them as minimal as possible, and that means you have to make circumstance play in your favor. So start thinking about things that could happen that would help make your point, and how to make them happen. If you want to convince a person not to trust a companion, arrange something that looks like a betrayal; if you want someone to start doubting his morality, stick a choice between the lesser of two evils in his path.

Now you can start talking. In this case, what you need to do is focus on implications. The less you come out and say what you want to get across, the better. Instead, what you want is to hint towards it, setting up what you say so your goal is the only possible conclusion. Preferably, what you’re implying are things that your target already knows but just doesn’t want to admit; that way, you’ve got even more foundation for them to come to the right conclusion. And once they’ve come to it themselves, they’re less likely to want to deny it; people don’t like being wrong, after all, and are likelier to hold to their own conclusions than to be open to someone else’s. Besides, then you can maintain plausible deniability; “I never said that!” When you can say that truthfully, it makes the “Hand’s lies!” reaction that much harder to sustain.

But how’s this apply to the comic relief himself? I’ll come back to that next week.

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