Tag Archives: tradecraft

by

Mrs. Hawking’s strengths and weaknesses as a covert operative

No comments yet

Categories: character, Tags: , , ,

IMG_0762.JPG
 

When devising challenges for my heroes to face, I like to choose those that will interact interestingly with the characters’ strengths and weaknesses. I want to display the things they’re good at to make for cool, clever moments, and challenge the things they’re bad at so as to maximize the drama. Mrs. Hawking in particular is an interesting combination of remarkable talents and glaring flaws that I want to affect the way she maneuvers in the stories.

As I see it, Mrs. Hawking’s strengths tend to fall into these general categories.

Combat. She is a truly dangerous warrior when it comes down to it. She is trained in a number of martial arts styles, mostly Asian ones, learned during her time living in the colonies. Her preferred weapon is the knife, both as a melee and a thrown weapon. She is extremely strong for her size, about five-foot-two in height and a hundred and fifteen pounds of pure lean, ropy muscle. Her pain tolerance is high, but because she is small she relies very much on speed and agility and her ability to dodge blows.

Infiltration. She is an experienced cat burglar and second story woman. She has been a skilled climber with excellent balance since she was a child. She is flexible in the extreme and can fit through very tiny spaces. She can pick locks and even pockets. She know how to remain completely silent and out of sight. This is perhaps her most honed and elevated skill set; there are more dangerous fighters or more astute detectives, but her stealth abilities are second to none.

Detection. Her keen senses and extreme intelligence have lent themselves well to developing an eye toward evaluating evidence and determining implications. While not on the level of a Sherlock Holmes, she is skilled at noticing small relevant details that may provide clues. When her attention is focused, she at times can absorb memories eidetically.

Tactics. Mrs. Hawking is skilled at masterminding plots to tackle problems. Her keenly analytical mind excels at evaluating challenges and devising creative, unexpected solutions to solve them. She makes a point of always attempting to think several moves ahead. She knows how to evaluate risk, utilize the circumstances and setting around her, and see her plans through to execution.

So she is a warrior, a spy, a detective, and a tactician. But she is not omnicompetent, and those gaps in her expertise are important, as they provide her with challenges and necessitate the help of the members of her team.

And so, her weaknesses.

Deception. Mrs. Hawking is not an actor. While capable of telling lies coolly and concealing truths, she cannot put on any façade more complicated than simply blanking her true feelings. She has no ability to chatter with or charm anyone. As Bare Bones actor Brad Smith once said, “She has no Bruce Wayne.” She can hold her tongue and project neutrality, but she cannot pretend that she is any person other than who she is.

Reading others. She often has difficulty evaluating people’s feelings and motives because she does not always relate to them. Her personal standards and judgmental harshness often make her less empathetic. It also leads to incorrect assessments of situations, which in turn can lead her to making the wrong move in response.

Leadership. She has become so accustomed to working alone that she is not good at acting as a leader and manager of other people. She has little idea how to teach or inspire those who look to her for guidance. This also means she doesn’t always know how to utilize the talents of her team members to maximum effect. Her issues trusting others also mean that she has difficulty relying on anyone other than herself.

Pride. Her personal preferences and baggage affect her work more than she thinks. She often chooses the path that she finds most comfortable to her preferences or vanity rather than truly the most efficient or sensible one. She would rather take an elaborate covert action if it means she can avoid talking to people, she makes choices to validate her worldview, and she dislikes admitting that someone else might know how to handle something better than she does.

I think those things make for an interesting combination. Those are the major things she uses or deals with in her work, but there’s a handful of smaller details as well. Among the miscellany:

In the manner of many highly dynamic and productive people, she rarely requires more than five hours of sleep a night.

She speaks a smattering of a number of different languages, but isn’t fluent in any of them.

She studied ballet seriously in her youth. She is partially self-taught, only intermittently tutored by anyone knowledgeable, and her style displayed some talent and a wild enthusiasm but a slight lack of precision. She has not attempted any ballet in many years.

She is very experienced in needlepoint and embroidery. Though she takes no enjoyment from it, she was obliged to spend a great deal of time on it in her youth, and practices it when working out a knotty thought problem because it helps her think.

Next I’ll have to break down Mary and Nathaniel in the same way. :-)

Related Post

by

The talent for finding talent

No comments yet

Categories: character, development, looking ahead, vivat regina, Tags: , , , ,

 

20140327-222148.jpg

One of the most central parts of the relationship between Mary and Mrs. Hawking is that they are better with each other. They can be and do things as a team that they never could before. While Mary’s major contribution is that she humanizes and challenges Mrs. Hawking, I always wanted her to add something of practical value to her mentor’s operations. So Mary’s unique skill set had to bring Mrs. Hawking’s work onto another level, as her protege, and the one who will carry on her work in the future.

She is never going to be as omni-competent as her mentor is, but she has things Mrs. Hawking never will. It’s Mary’s gift that if she cannot accomplish something herself, she can find the right person who can. She is an excellent judge of character, and she has a commanding, magnetic personality. She draws decent, competent people to her, and not only can she identify their strengths, she can convince them to make use of those strengths to good effect. We begin to see this clearly in Vivat Regina. She begins by encouraging Nathaniel to find his niche, and will make use of him once his specific talents become clear. She continues with Arthur Swann, a policeman whose bacon she saves before it occurs to her what value she might have of his acquaintance as well.

It’s actually a quality, or a variation thereof, I enjoy conferring on my young, up-and-coming heroes. When they are faced with opposition from other characters, it is a sign of their intrinsic personal value and powers that they convert those characters to their side and cause. Their way is not to destroy her enemies, but to turn them into allies and friends, which ultimately makes them stronger. People respond to them with, “I don’t know what else I might believe in… but I believe in you.” This is a trait I’ve also given to Tom Barrows, the protagonist of my screenplay The Tailor at Loring’s End, and to Josie Jenkins, the lead of the musical Puzzle House Blues.

You see, I want Mary’s destiny will ultimately be to form what I’m calling behind the scenes “the Hawk Family,” a team of society avengers that can take on even more and greater challenges than just the few of them could. This ability of hers, to seek out capable individuals and band them into an organization that makes the best use of their talents, will be what transforms Mrs. Hawking’s work into an even great force for good. That’s something Mrs. Hawking could never have done on without Mary.

Related Post

by

“Practicing” — scribbling about honing the craft

No comments yet

Categories: development, influences, scenes, Tags: , , , ,

I’ve mentioned that a major influence on the character of Mrs. Hawking is Batman. Mostly this manifests in her internal workings– the way she runs on anger, taking an eternal vengeance for the way the world crushes women. But it also inspires how I imagine she works.

I’ve always thought that the diegetic reason for why Batman is so good at everything he does is that in the time normal people screw around on the Internet and read books and have human relationships, he is studying and training and honing himself into the ultimate weapon against crime. I decided Mrs. Hawking works much the same way, as her work is the most important thing in her life, and she doesn’t see the value so much in doing things for pleasure or having connections to other people.

I think it would add a lot of texture and interest to the stories to demonstrate how almost all her free time is spent in studying and training. The following scribble is short and very rough, but it shows a little of the sort of thing I’m imagining for this. I also like the idea of keeping it a little playful, as I’m always on the lookout for places to add humor and humanity to lighten up the narrative.

Also it was somewhat inspired by the fabulous Zoe Keating song “Escape Artist,” whose cello sounds like how I would represent Mrs. Hawking musically.

20140307-111356.jpg
 

~~~

“Practicing”
by Phoebe Roberts

MRS. HAWKING, lady’s society avenger
NATHANIEL HAWKING, her gentleman nephew
~~~

(MRS. HAWKING is tied to a chair, her legs roped to its legs and hands in cuffs bound to the back. She is dressed only in her underclothes, corset, shift, and drawers, and her hair is in a braid.)

(She jerks her head to flip her braid over her shoulder. With her teeth she takes hold of a pin tucked into the braid and pulls it out. She considers a moment, then drops the pin on the seat of the chair beside her. She maneuvers herself to move her bound hands to grab it, then busily works it in the lock of her manacles. In a moment she has them undone.)

(She slips out of the cuffs and shakes them off. As she bends down to untie the ropes on her legs, enter a figure in shadow, running in towards her. She immediately rolls forward, the chair still attached to her ankles. She slams the chair down between her and the man approaching, stopping him dead in his tracks. As he cries out, we see the man is NATHANIEL.)

NATHANIEL: Good God!

MRS. HAWKING: Here already? I must be getting slow.

NATHANIEL: What are you– wait a tick, where are your clothes!?

(He turns away awkwardly.)

MRS. HAWKING: I’m practicing. Captors don’t always make it easy for you. Must keep in training, you know.

NATHANIEL: But madam–!

MRS. HAWKING: This is rather a children’s game, at any rate. Even though I chose to pretend I’d not been left my corset.

NATHANIEL: Thank Heaven you only chose to pretend!

Related Post

by

“Reading the Signs” — opening scene of Vivat Regina

No comments yet

Categories: development, looking ahead, scenes, vivat regina, Tags: , , ,

 

20131219-232438.jpg
Over the past year I’ve been working on the first sequel, which I’m currently referring to as Vivat Regina. I like the idea of opening the next Mrs. Hawking story by showing the women at work, specifically of Mrs. Hawking teaching Mary about how to use observation and deductive reasoning (well, technically inductive, but whatever) in the process of working on cases. I wanted to bang out a draft of this scene for August 18th, 2013 just for the purposes of catching up on 31 Plays in 31 Days.

One thing I’ve learned in the course of writing plays, or anything really, is that it’s better to get SOMETHING down on the page, to get some draft just written, so that the thing exists. Otherwise you get so wrapped up in how you’re not ready to write it in its current imperfect form that you never end up writing it at all. At least if you have a draft, you have something, and you can always improve it afterward.

~~~

Day #18 – “Reading the Signs”

(A fancy Victorian society party. Women glide around in gowns with men in white tie. Waiters carry around trays of champagne glasses and push around serving trolleys. After a moment some peel away from the center, revealing a tall, dark-haired young woman holding a fan to her face. When she moves it aside, we see that it is MARY. She flutters it and speaks seemingly to no one under her breath.)

MARY: The timing is too coincidental. It has to be someone here. But there’s no sign of them.

(MRS. HAWKING in her stealth suit pokes her head out from her hiding place behind a drapery.)

MRS. HAWKING: Nonsense. The signs are there, you just aren’t looking properly.

(People approach and MRS. HAWKING hides again. MARY walks quickly away and makes a loop around the party. When people move off again, she returns to the drapery.)

MRS. HAWKING: Consider the circumstances.

MARY: The gems are heavy, and there are a number of them. Difficult to secret about one’s person.

MRS. HAWKING: There’s a start.

MARY: But there hasn’t been time to go far. They have to still be here somewhere.

MRS. HAWKING: Sound so far.

(Other guests draw near. She ducks back behind the drapery and MARY acts casual until they leave.)

MARY: They must have been hidden somewhere nearby. Somewhere within easy reach, but not where others are likely to find it.

MRS. HAWKING: And where would that be?

MARY: I… I don’t know.

MRS. HAWKING: Oh, come now!

(People pass by again and MRS. HAWKING hides. MARY moves to the other side of the stage. MRS. HAWKING pops back out of the drapery on that side.)

MRS. HAWKING: Think, girl.

MARY: In the flower arrangements.

MRS. HAWKING: Too conspicuous to disturb.

(Again MARY moves. MRS. HAWKING disappears behind the drape..)

MARY: The wall sconces.

MRS. HAWKING: Not enough concealment.

MARY: Under the banquet tables?

MRS. HAWKING: Rank amateurism.

MARY: The chandelier?

MRS. HAWKING: Now you’re being absurd. I would have seen them already!

(Someone approaches. MARY sweeps her skirt around so that MRS. HAWKING can hide beneath them.)

MARY: I don’t know!

MRS. HAWKING: I said think, Miss Stone! A place nearby, unlikely to be disturbed, easily accessed to recover the spoils!

(MARY looks about, shaking her head desperately. Then her eye settles on one of the waiters with a serving trolley.)

MARY: Madam…

MRS. HAWKING: Now you’ve got it.

MARY: Shall we, then?

MRS. HAWKING: Quickly and quietly, now. Go.

(MRS. HAWKING gets out from under MARY’s skirts and back behind the drapery. MARY weaves her way to the waiter. Pretending to look away, MARY moves in front of the trolley and allows it to crash into her.)

MARY: Oh!

(She dramatically falls over. The waiter startles and hurries to help her up. The other guests watch them in surprise. While they are distracted, MRS. HAWKING darts out of concealment and snatches one of the covered trays off the trolley. She disappears back behind the drapery.)

(After MARY disengages from the waiter, she makes another circuit of the part, accepting people’s concern and gracefully putting them off. At last she settles in front of the drapes again. Her body blocks from view MRS. HAWKING emerging, now in a black maid’s dress, with the tray in her arms.)

MRS. HAWKING: Mission accomplished. Reconvene at base. About time, Miss Stone.

(She hustles out. MARY smiles.)

Related Post