Why Objects Are (Often) Easier to Find Than Sentients

In yesterday’s riff on search plotlines, I mentioned that search plotlines centered around sentient, motile targets (or attended objects) are generally more complicated than ones based around simple objects. It’s rather like my Things You Might Want To Know When riff on rescue missions versus heists; the organic angle adds a lot to the difficulty of finding and retrieving the goal.

Will you hold still already? The really nice thing about objects is that they don’t move; you can search an area, find nothing, and know with reasonable certainty that you won’t need to search that area again. Living creatures, on the other hand, move; even ones that don’t realize they’re being looked for are likely to wander all over the place while whoever’s looking for them is trying to figure out whether any place gone over with a fine-tooth comb will stay gone over.

Sentient things might not want to be found. Just plain things don’t generally care if you find them or not; caring is not in the nature of the inanimate. On the other hand, a motile intelligent item, a creature or a person might be entirely uninterested in being found, might only want to be found by a certain person or type of person, might not want to be found yet—regardless of the exact motivation, what this generally means is that such an entity is likely to be taking steps in order to stay hidden, further complicating the search.

For that matter, anything that can figure out who’s doing the searching can tailor the hiding accordingly. It might just be directly trying to counter the tactics that the people closest to them are using; on the other hand, if you’ve got multiple people searching for someone who doesn’t want to be found, the person hiding can play the searchers off against each other, using them as diversions and interference while making an escape. An inanimate object, on the other hand, will stay where it’s hidden unless picked up.

Something with a means of communication can ask for assistance. That gets you further complications: someone who isn’t a rival searcher might still be interfering with the hunt, because they’re being rewarded or because it seemed like the right thing to do.

To make matters worse, just because you’ve found a sentient target doesn’t mean they’re going to stay found. Objects don’t make a dash for it when your back is turned (or conk you upside the head to keep your back turned longer), and they certainly aren’t likely to play escape artist or trick their guards. Living creatures might—and it’s safest to assume that they will and plan accordingly.

Whether you’re writing, running or just running through a search plotline involving a living creature, keep these possibilities in mind; it’ll make the hunt a lot more interesting.

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