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Over the last few months I have created a fictional character who is very rough and dominant. One of his specialities is to stare down rivals, and hide his own feelings.

I wanted to give him a special (maybe unique) psychological ability: He should be able to convince everybody to do whatever he likes with a high success rate. The people he convinces will most likely realize it too late and probably regret it.

Until yet, I had 7 ideas in my mind, but they are not optimal for me:

  1. Lie to them: In most situations, it might be enough to simply lie to them, so they have no idea what they were in for. Of course, lying without anybody noticing it, is an ability, too. But I think it might not work for some scenarios, so there needs to be a "Plan B".

  2. Frighten or threaten them: While this seems to be promising, the side effect is that they will recognize that they are being forced from the beginning, and would fight back and/or would try to flee at the next opportunity.

  3. Being an authority or the boss of someone: This doesn't work for this character, because he has no connection to the people he wants to convince.

  4. Blackmail them: This is not an universal tactic, because it only works if he knows the target very well.

  5. Set them on drugs: This does NOT count to my personal definition of "convince".

  6. Hypnosis: This solution is not unlogical, but I kinda don't like it.

  7. Provoking in combination with reverse psychology: The success of that tactic would be highly dependent on the situation.

I would be glad for every additional idea. The world is realistic (*) and things like a "convince-me" ray gun do not exist, so I do know that this setting does not allow a tactic with a 100% success rate. But it would be nice to find a solution which is mostly universal with a high success rate.

(*) Context: The setting of the world is nearly a clone of the real world, but with re-written history, different countries and different cultures. The prevailing species is human-like. The technological progress is similar to the real world's 1980s. Although everything should be logical and rational, there can be still fantasy elements included, as long as they are explainable, feasible and not unlogical.

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    $\begingroup$ On the one hand, you say "fantasy character" with a "super power". On the other hand, you describe this as a "realistic" world where everything is "explainable, feasible and not unlogical". Perhaps this distinction is clear to you. It's still not clear to me what you want. If you replace fantasy with science fiction or replaced realistic with consistent, I could make sense of this. As it is, your language is too contradictory for me to parse. $\endgroup$ – Brythan Dec 12 '15 at 21:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Brythan Probably I am using the wrong vocabulary (English is not my mother's tongue). With "fantasy character" I mean a human-like character who is not living on our Earth. As his species is not existing in our real life, he is "fantasy" for me - an imaginary product. However, the world as well as the character follow mostly the same rules as our real world. Would "science fiction" be more fitting? I can imagine that the word "fantasy" actually reminds of fabulous creatures. But when I hear "science fiction", I keep thinking about spaceships and hi-tech. $\endgroup$ – Daniel Marschall Dec 12 '15 at 22:26
  • $\begingroup$ About "super power": I put it into quotes to show that I intentionally made an exaggeration. I called it "super power" because it will probably be a very effective psychological ability, which can only be done by very few people. ---- If you have improvement suggestions for my wordings/vocabulary, please feel free to edit the question or give me the advices which vocabulary I should use. Thanks. $\endgroup$ – Daniel Marschall Dec 12 '15 at 22:26
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I would recommend that you read Robert Cialdini's Influence in which he describes the six key principles of influencing people. To quote:

  • Reciprocity
  • Commitment and Consistency
  • Social Proof
  • Authority
  • Liking
  • Scarcity

Your character could be very good at faking these signs, like making people believe he has power over them (authority) or that he can be implicitely trusted (social proof).

Regarding trust, I would also recommend that you look at this question that has a lot in common with yours: Trust Magic and combat

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for this reference. I am currently reading some summaries of parts this book. One question about "social proof": You mention that he can fake that he can be implicitly trusted -- but this would require that other people are involved, correct? What I read about "social proof" is, that when many people do something, others will do. For example, if he wants to convince people to buy something, he would need helpers who buy the stuff in front of other people, so they get animated. Then, it would not be an ability of himself, but more a work of a group of people working together. $\endgroup$ – Daniel Marschall Dec 13 '15 at 0:05
  • $\begingroup$ Social proof also exist in the form of implied status and trust: that's why banks (used to) use expensive and gaudy materials, because we associate them with wealth and durability. At the individual level, this can be as simple as mimicking expertise or confidence, for instance by carrying a clipboard or wearing the proper attire. $\endgroup$ – Stephane Dec 13 '15 at 0:13
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you very much for all these ideas. I think I can work out something nice with them :-) $\endgroup$ – Daniel Marschall Dec 14 '15 at 20:15
  • $\begingroup$ My pleasure :) Be inspired! $\endgroup$ – Stephane Dec 14 '15 at 20:18
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I find this question interesting, but not sure if it is squarely about worldbuilding and not character development. I'm not sure what you have in mind, but it seems to me the intrigue of your story is in how the character manipulates other characters.

So we are more or less defining your character here. He's a master manipulator. Well, if he was human we have plenty of information to imitate. Those willing to manipulate are usually a bit psychopathic. They care little for the needs and feelings of others and readily hurt other people if it gets them what they want.

Psychological manipulation can be defined as the exercise of undue influence through mental distortion and emotional exploitation, with the intention to seize power, control, benefits, and privileges at the victim's expense. 1

I would adapt the end to "without consideration for the victim" because manipulation need not harm the victim, but may also not benefit them.

Common traits and techniques of manipulators:

  • Easily detect weaknesses in others
  • Uses weaknesses against others
  • Will use faux friendship or love
  • Easily change behaviors depending on audience and circumstance
  • Rarely (or even never) assumes personal responsibility
  • Avoids personal reflection
  • Creates a sense of urgency so victims lose power of time
  • Convince others to give up something to serve their interests
  • Likely to repeat exploitation against victims
  • Often resorts to physical tactics if psychological tactics fail (bullying, threats, abuse, etc.)

Unfortunately, if this character is supposed to be a noble hero, you will alienate your readers once he starts manipulating others. There's also an issue of time frames. The set up takes time. Manipulators sometimes spend a very long time convincing people to do things they otherwise wouldn't

There are a few ideas that lend more to worldbuilding.

You said this was an alien, so we can make up a biological benefit. You don't like the idea of drugs, but secreting a pheromone when around targets is not only believable but real in humans. It is well known that different human secreted chemicals can affect the behavior of those around them. Your character could have an advanced version of this. However, if your character has this ability, then so does his species, leaving one wondering why there is no defense against it. Optionally, the drug can be synthetic and absorbs quickly through the skin.

Beyond this, you've hit on a lot of the points, saying you'd rather not use them, but there's not much else.


Sources

  1. Preston Ni. How to Spot and Stop Manipulators. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/communication-success/201406/how-spot-and-stop-manipulators
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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for this reference. I am currently reading the article and think about these points. About "world building" and "character development": For me, it is nearly the same, because I develop the world together with its citizens, and out of these citizens, there are remarkable characters. They are all an union and inextricable. At least for me. By the way, the character we are talking about, is rather a villain. Not directly evil, but exploiting others a lot. $\endgroup$ – Daniel Marschall Dec 13 '15 at 0:12
  • $\begingroup$ @DanielMarschall Google "traits" or "characteristics" of "manipulators" or "psychopaths" and you'll find tons of info. $\endgroup$ – fredsbend Dec 13 '15 at 1:05

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