I Have A Plan – How To Write Good Strategy

I Have A Plan – How To Write Good Strategy

Hello & Welcome – To Replay Value I love it when it’s incumbent on me to strategize. There’s a thrill in the process of developing
and executing on a plan, an expectation for how it’ll turn out that is either matched
by reality producing immense satisfaction, or a crushing realization that there was some
variable unaccounted for that ended your best efforts. That’s why I love games like Risk and Settlers of Catan,
titles like Fire Emblem and Civilization, or – in a similar vein – narratives that follow
a strategist or tactician. Strategy is an interesting narrative type
to write, because traditionally it’s inherently at odds with suspense, which is as engaging
an emotion as you can hope to find. It’s hard to keep an audience invested when
they know what’s going to happen and the end result is as clear as day. To deal with this writers have developed strategies
themselves to go about maintaining this balance – and about 95% of good strategy writing finds
itself in one of four types. Today we’ll be taking a look at each of
those methods, using a case study for each from a variety of anime series, and try to
figure out why and when they’re effective. The most common and most cliche version of
writing strategy is what that clip from Community was just parodying. The basic outline is for the character to
say something equivalent to “I have a plan” either a cut to black or immediate cut to
the action, and then in the aftermath an explanation of what the strategy was that lead to the
outcome that we just observed. I refer to it as post-action explanation. It’s the most simple way to do it, because
it maintains full suspense of both what the plan is and what the outcome is going to be
– and that’s why you see it done so much to the point where it’s a trope of strategists. It’s particularly effective in a high paced
environment, where you don’t want to pull the viewer out of the moment or delay the
start of the event any longer. You can probably think of dozens of examples
yourself – so I wanted to pick an example that abstracted this method a bit as to clearly
show why it still falls under this umbrella. Boku no Hero Academia is probably one of the
most popular shows that I could talk about and it has a great example of how the shonen
genre tends to approach strategy. Generally shonen wants to establish a character
as smart, but without getting too complex or spending a ton of time on each strategy. In the First Season there’s a 2v2 between
Team Izuku and Ochaco vs Team Bakugo and Iida. Izuku’s team is tasked with either capturing
their opponents or the bomb, the others play defense. We get a primer to Izuku’s strategic thinking
as he outplays Bakugo in their first encounter, having better knowledge of what his opponent
was going to try and do – but in the 1v1 Izuku has little chance against Bakugo’s fearsome
skill. With little time remaining he contacts Ochaco. This is the equivalent of “I have a plan”
– but instead of cutting to black of saying anything to clearly indicate strategy, our
audio cuts to All Might warning Bakugo that if he unleashes a full blast again he’ll
disqualify him. When we return from that, Izuku has ended
his conveyance of the plan – allowing the two continue their fight, before Izuku unleashes
his quirk skyward – giving Ochaco a chance to stun Iida and capture the bomb. In the aftermath Izuku doesn’t go over the
plan’s details – since it was conveyed so simply through visuals, instead confirming
that it was no accident but his plan to win. While breaking from the standard in two ways,
the key element of keeping suspense through no discussion of the plan and to maintain
the tight pace of a fight scene both highlight the purpose of this category. The second category of strategy writing that
I’ve created is the timeline strategic explanation. This style may or may not use the similar
“I have a plan” cut, but as opposed to simply keeping the audience in the dark about
the strategy, we instead get a voiceover explaining the plan as each element comes into play. This method keeps you engaged by giving you
a constant trickle of questions and answers that in turn lead to more questions and answers. You don’t get the full strategy until its
completed, so you’re constantly wondering how the next element will be accounted for
or how it all builds up to the end goal, leaving you in suspense while also outlining the strategy. This style works really well when you’re
trying to slow down the pacing or when you’re trying to explicitly tell how brilliant the
character is, as they seemingly recognize every plausible variable between the beginning
and end of the plan. Legend of the Galactic Heroes’ capture of
Iserlohn Fortress in Episode 7 of The New Thesis is a great example of why this style
is effective. We know Yang has a plan to capture the impregnable
Iserlohn because he says as much in the previous episode, but at the start of this episode
we cut to the invaders docking having successfully cleared the first hurdle. Throughout each hurdle as Yang and Frederica
call them, they voiceover what’s happening on screen like the body check or the need
for Seffle Particles, or in some cases flashback to the initial discussion of the plan back
on Heinessen. It slows down the pace of the sequence a lot,
which builds the tension as the Rossen Ritter move deeper and deeper into the Fortress,
with every step becoming a lot more treacherous than the last. Of course The New Thesis also uses the threat
of Schenkopp’s betrayal as a way to create suspense, on top of the question of whether
he’ll succeed or not or how he’ll achieve the goal of capturing the control room. It also highlights how simple and brilliant
Yang’s plan is – using basic human overconfidence as the basis to achieve a huge strategic victory. Not only is this sequence well written, it
showcases why the timeline strategic explanation is used to build intrigue through slower pacing,
and gives the most space to characterize the strategist. Our third style that we’re discussing today
is the Goal Omission. In this style we’re either given the entirety
of the plan at the beginning, or it’s teased out over time like the timeline strategic
explanation but the viewer is unsure what the strategy’s final objective is, or the
critical element that’s going to bring it all together. By omitting the key element we’re left wondering
for what purpose the strategy was crafted, and kept in suspense until that’s revealed. I like this style when the writer is attempting
to engage the audience by having them try to predict how it all comes together, or when
they’re going for the big reveal moment for shock value. This style also works well for characters
who display Machiavellian tendencies, as the omission of the character’s goal can brilliantly
setup dramatic betrayals, when the audience experiences the crushing realization that
the character’s goal was actually in stark contrast to the audience’s wishes – that’s
a powerful emotional moment, though that isn’t the case for our example. Log Horizon’s main character Shiroe is a
strategist and while the previous two styles certainly are applicable to other moments
– the purchasing of the Guild Building is one of the best Goal Omissions and probably
the high point of the entire series. Log Horizon outlines in Episode 6 that Shiroe
wants to restore Akihabara and save the twins from a guild that’s exploiting them. We’re also informed right at the top that
he needs a ton of money in order to put the plan into action. But we don’t know how these things all connect
– the key element is obscure – unlike the Capture of Iserlohn Fortress where we knew
from the get-go how capturing the control panel would lead to Alliance Victory. From that point we go through the timeline
strategic explanation as they open up a food stall, meet with merchant guilds, and the
invitation of the large guilds to the round table conference. As we go into Episode 9 it’s still unclear
how the events in the last 2 episodes relate to the goal laid out in Episode 6 – and while
the round table conference starts to turn for the worst, Shiroe having no real bargaining
power over the combat guilds, the big reveal happens. Shiroe has purchased the Guild Building for
5 million gold – giving him the biggest bargaining chip imaginable against the guilds assembled
at the conference – the ability to deny them access to their bank, and a clear path to
saving the twins by effectively disbanding the evil guild. It’s a moment where you’re forced to reckon
with Shiroe’s ingenuity, and puts you in the same mindstate – shock – as both the other
round table attendees and Shiroe’s allies who had various levels of knowledge about
the plan. The purchasing of the Guild Building is a
great example of why Goal Omission can be so effective – by purposefully keeping the
audience in the dark, the author of the work displays the brilliance of the strategist
in question by surprising and deceiving one of the most omnipotent entities in the work:
the viewer. The final style of strategy writing that I’m
going to talk about here is the opposite of all of the previous three. This style reveals the plan and goal right
at the beginning, making sure that the audience is aware of how things are supposed to go…and
then something goes wrong and the entire plan falls off the rails. There’s a tendency to go straight from plan
announcement to it going wrong to make sure that the audience doesn’t get bored as things
slowly move forward according to plan, but in some cases the slow build can be kept through
utilizing the other three methods on secondary or tertiary cases. When the plan goes awry, the suspense kicks
in to ask if the characters will recover, and how this changes the landscape. This in turn gives us a better sense of how
our strategist deals with thinking on their feet and responding to adversity, either through
overcoming this unforeseen matter, or by breaking and losing the day unable to bring victory
from the jaws of defeat. Alderamin on the Sky could have been used
as an example for all of these styles, it’s an underrated gem that in my opinion that
deserves a second season. I have a lot of thoughts on the show, but
for now let’s chat about the ending battle of Alderamin. Ikta Solork throughout the show had led his
troops to unparalleled victories – his genius and strategies without match for almost the
entire show. But in the final battle, between the Empire
and Aldera he meets his foil – Jean from Kioka on loan to the army of Aldera. Ikta creates a firewall in the forest to delay
Aldera’s pursuit of the Empire’s retreating forces, needing to buy a week of time – and
focuses on small skirmishes to dissuade them from putting out the blaze. Ikta takes some losses, but his strategy remains
in tact and unvarnished throughout these moments. There’s strong suspense here – as some of
our main characters encounter the first deaths in their troops, the fear of Kioka’s secret
strike force playing along the outside of the forest, and the troop disparity, 12,000
to 600. Alderamin even incorporates the post-action
explanation when Torway’s troop defeats the strike force in ambush to keep the tension
high. But just when you think that the Empire is
going to succeed due to Ikta’s brilliance, Kioka’s major breaks through the firewall
by outplaying Ikta’s expectations of what weapons they had on hand. As Jean’s troops march forward, Ikta is
forced to accept that his plan has fallen apart, and we as the audience go into the
final episode on a massive cliffhanger. All of a sudden the hard work of the previous
3 episode has gone out the window, and the question of whether out characters will manage
to buy enough time for the retreat of not brings suspense. Ikta of course is able to turn the tables
with a new plan – tackled in the classic post-action explanation – but what we learn about Ikta
here, even more impressive than his past victories, is how he’s able to learn about his opponent
and predict their moves and expectations based on their data – and of course his propensity
for thinking outside the box to overcome huge manpower deficits. Going off the rails is the best way to discover
what a character is like in crisis, and a strong engagement tool to keep the audience
invested as we observe our characters deal with a new set of circumstances that they
never predicted. This isn’t to say all strategy writing fits
in these styles, and plenty of great work mixes and matches elements of these categories
to achieve unexpected combinations – but the vast majority can be broken down at their
core to these four outlines. And just because something follows one of
these styles, doesn’t mean it’s good – fundamentally the strategy itself needs to be engaging,
not just the way it’s conveyed. Like most things, a good template is only
the beginning, it’s the implementation of the template and the execution on the variables
that makes something interesting. So the next time you’re watching a plan
unfold, whether it’s coming along well or you’re bored out of your mind, you might
be able to use some of the categories I’ve outlined here to better engage with the narrative
and consider it beyond just the plot elements. Because who doesn’t love it when a plan
comes together. Hope you enjoyed.

100 thoughts on “I Have A Plan – How To Write Good Strategy

  1. Did you define these 4 cathegories yourself? Or did you pick them up somewhere and then explained them by applying them to anime?
    Either way, it’s interesting and pretty smart

  2. I would like to bring up one of the best plan based/strategic fights I've seen. Gon vs genthru, in all 3 versions was probably one of the top 3 fights within that series. It starts out 2 weeks before the actual fight when tsezguerra and co leaving to stall genthru for that 2 week period so gona and killua can improve their nen's and also come up with a strategy. Genthru, at this point, was built up to be this highly powerful villain with an insane nen which we know could even kill people remotely. We were given information that to stop his countdown of the bombs he attaches one must say "I caught the bomber' while touching him. After being stalled for two weeks genthru and his lackeys (lmao) confront gon, killua and biscuit. Gon, killua and biscuit start using their greed island spells to move around greed island soon to be followed by genthru. Since they are on the run we know they would go to a location that benefits them greatly. We soon see them split up and each of the bomber squad following their respective target. Gon and Genthru start fighting (the battle hasn't even started). Genthru goes on the offensive with gon having seemingly no way to counter attack he resorts to defending against genthru's blasts. Genthru realizes gon knows his little flower technique and even hypothesizes that he knows that he can use countdown.

    But that's just less than half of the fight.

  3. Your second method, Timeline Strategic Explanation has another great use. It's amazing for when you also want to explain the rules of the game (literally or figuratively) that the characters are playing while they're playing it… because you love that game and you'd like to see it grow in popularity (Hikaru no Go), because your combat system has weird rules and they're going to need that background to appreciate later matches (Naruto, Fairy Tale, Jojo's Bizarre Adventure) or because you own that game and you'd like some money (Yu-Gi-Oh!, Card Fighter Vanguard, Duel Masters, and just SO MANY MORE)

  4. This is a fantastic analysis and really illuminates how to write what could be the most boring part of a story into being the most intense

  5. Have you watched/read World Trigger? It's definitely the most tactically satisfying story I've seen in a long time. It takes a while to really come into its own but you'll see multiple strategies playing out against each other at the same time, with plans going off the rail and characters being forced to improvise. I love the 3-sided battles too because each team has more than one group of opponents to consider

  6. How to write good strategy ?

    Just read Kingdom and you will know.

    This manga is honestly better in terms of strategy that anything mention in this video (even if LOTGH is very good on that)

  7. Thank you for mentioning Shiroe buying the guild building.
    (i initially clicked on this video hoping it'd come up XD)

    great video altogether mate!
    i will be checking out a lot more of your stuff!

  8. There's a comic called Gwenpool (which you should read – it's a gem!) where Gwen explains to her team before a battle that she has a plan but won't tell them it, telling them that "Not telling the audience the plan guarantees that it'll succeed."

  9. My Hero does the "don't tell,just do" the strategy thing BEFORE your example too, when Izuku hits the ball with all his power concentrated into his finger. Even though the plan was pretty obvious, it sets up how the series will handle strategies like this in the future, and showed us to expect turn around tactics like this from Izuku.

  10. So what would you say to the strategies that were used in code geass and aldnoah zero, were they written well, were they even a good idea that makes sense, are there other ideas that'd be better than the ones they did?? I'm curious to hear your opinion about those two anime.

  11. I believe HunterXHunter should be mentionned for the plan going off the rails and the chaos theory in the kimera arc.

  12. Does anyone know of any good anime/shows where its about strategy but the main character is really terrible at strategizing? Like, the show equivalent of "I took a calculated risk, but man am I bad at math"?

  13. Am I the only one who feels an immense amount of psychological pain every time this guy says "strategy" while clearly talking about tactics?

  14. Another option that follows alongside TSE is the Clashing Moment Strategies. They are displayed similarly, but they are noticeable by small shifting goals and plans that happens during or through small clashes.

    My example is Baby Steps. During most matches, every few hits of the ball a-group many small strategies on how they expect their opponent to react and what they are trying to do. The goal is almost always the same: better performance, score a point, win the match or set. Instead of a long overarching strategy, the final goal is obtained by winning small clashes which present each their small clash of strategies.

    I like it because it helps conveying deep strategies while allowing for fast changes and large variety, giving a larger layer of depth to "combat".

  15. great vedio deserve subscribe
    we need those kinda analyse in anime commnunity
    I highly recommending to watch hunter x hunter you can say is best anime or shonen anime at least in Strategy theme

  16. I'm so glad you mentioned alderamin on the sky. It is one of my favorite and underrated anime ever. Ikta came across as a jerk sometimes, but he was an amazing strategist, and did whatever it took to guarantee victory. I also love his line "heroes die from overwork." With his lazy personality, it clearly defines that he doesn't see himself as a hero, and the audience shouldn't either. This makes it easier to see him pulling off some of the underhanded tactics he used. He isn't righteous, and his strategies show that.

  17. Add Youjo Senki to the list. Also, for anyone interested in explaining strategy, I highly recommend reading the Youjo Senki manga. In there you will find amazing panels and maps that offer crystal clear strategic explanations and perspectives.

  18. I personally like the method used by Kingdom. "Big Picture, Small Picture." You have the overall strategy between armies being played out, paralleled by the guys on the ground caught up in the battle. You can do a lot with that.

  19. I have a magic power. That power is winning strategy games without an actual plan. The only thing I'm good at is manipulating other players, specifically when we are in continual and open communication without constant all out war.
    That is until my plan falls through because I've reached my final point and everyone else figures out I'm winning (Not the actual manipulations, just that I'm winning) and my at best meh tactical skills fail me.

  20. Damn, I would've never expected this entire video to not give Death Note as an example. Death Note is probably the #1 best strategy/genuis-type anime to have ever been made.

  21. I would also like you to check out dungeon defence. Its a pretty amazing light novel. The main character uses basic common sense,insight and deduction to carry out a plan. He is is weakest throughout the series but when his plan comes together its amusing how he brings those powerful character underestimating him to their knees. His deduction is also based on the subtle details the audience mises which shows how smart he is.

  22. I feel like the palace invasion part of the Chimera Ant arc in Hunter x Hunter has all 4 styles wrapped into this huge, 30 episodes long "battle".
    Some parts of the plan are only explained post-action, some are being narrated with the action, a few key details about character intentions get omitted, but most importantly, almost everything goes wrong within the first second of the plan's execution – Youpi unexpectedly sitting on the staircase, not to mention a bunch of other instances where the ants completely shatter our expectations.

    It's probably a popular example in the comments, but I can't help mentioning it..

  23. I agree that my hero academia arc for this did a good job .However this arc you explained is mixed with a few people .You should mention the author is the way Horikoshi writes it .Overall good video

  24. 10:46 I think my favorite example of this happens in one of the later arcs of Hunter x Hunter. A plan goes off the rails on both sides of the conflict and we get a great insight into how they deal with the new situations. It made me love basically every character involved so much more and I was on the edge of my seat for the entire arc

  25. what type would death note be though?

    (now that I think about it different strategies would be different types, but i guess you can explain me any one you like)

  26. As much as I love Legend of Galactic Heroes, I gotta say…A good chunk of the strategies and plans Reinhard and Yang make work usually because the enemy they’re facing is incompetent.

  27. Strategy can be broken down into five distinct pieces:
    The Plan – everything you do before the event begins
    Tactics – everything you do while the event is occurring
    The Board – everything that the event occurs inside of
    Win Condition – the thing that allows victory to be imminent
    Victory – self explanatory

    Your first category omits the plan. Your second category omits tactics as the focus is on the plan coming together. By slowing the pace down, you zoom in so far that you don't see the moment to moment actions without the lens of the plan. The third one omits the win condition so that you don't know what you're working toward and what is the signal. The fourth one omits the board as, paradoxically, by focusing on the tactics to put the plan back on the rails or to improvise, the audience will be more focused on what the characters do instead of the walls to this strategic maze.

    Each type of strategy plots omits a part of strategy in general in order to make suspense, which is unsurprising though probably taken for granted. One could also say that each one omits victory since the audience generally doesn't know whether the plan will actually fail. It's very difficult to keep an audience in engaged where victory is not omitted. These cases I've come across are just historical battles and the engagement is the appreciation of the various parts as one would appreciate fine art.

    It's almost like watching a magician explain the trick but it's so damn good that you still are mesmerized by it.

  28. Log Horizon has a bunch of great "I have a plan" moments. A few other highlights would be Shiroe's quest to obtain the key to all of the auto-generated wealth in the world to prevent any player from owning and purchasing pieces of the game world, and the massive military network and battle strategy that the players of Akihabara managed to set up to deal with the Goblin King's armies. The latter example is pretty genius way of showing how resourceful MMO players can be when put to the test.

    I really hope we get more seasons of the show, since the world mechanics and politics are so fascinating to watch.

  29. If you’re the kind of person who reads books and likes this stuff, I could not recommend the book series Artemis Fowl more. Just get past the first chapter or two and it’s the most awesome book. It’s the only one of the few books series that I like to read.

  30. The title of the video is misleading.
    It didn't teach me anything about writing good strategies.
    It's about revealing a strategy, which is an entirely different problem.
    I don't want to sound like a jerk, but there's no better way to put it, sorry.

  31. It might be nice to see the other examples you mentioned in he description. Maybe not as detailed, but with some explanation or purposes of such tropes.

  32. 1.Make the Plan
    2. Execute the Plan
    3. Expect the Plan to go off the rails
    4. Throw away the plan

  33. I like Alderamin in the Sky and think it deserves more attention. I don't think I've seen anyone else on youtube talk about it.

  34. the fact that Log Horizon's high point is purchasing a goddamn building tells you everything you need to know about that show.

  35. I love this vid. You should do a top 10 or top 20 strategists in anime list. I need some recommendations! Even if it is just one scene of simple awesome…(like shikamaru during the chunin exam or Sanjis acts of sabotage in one piece). I do love Log Horizon and Alderan of the sky too. Smart characters are the best.

  36. The whole video I just kept thinking about Ocean's Eleven. The entire movie is just one giant elaborate plan, and it uses all four methods at one point or another. If you want to learn how to write strategy, WATCH THIS MOVIE.

  37. Most shonen anime uses strategy scenes to build up tension and suspense. It's like playing a game, which will decide the fate of the story.

  38. I believe there is a 4th way a narrative may convey strategy:
    When the viewpoint of the plan is limited, and everyone is led on to believe the plan was one thing, only to be something else. Everyone including the viewers and even the main characters. The reason why I would say this is different from the other ways of conveying strategy, is because of the intent by the writers and creators to lead the audiences by the nose by a seemingly obvious plan, only to reveal a much deeper purpose.
    In Attack on Titan, the character Erwin is presented as a genius strategist. When the Female Titan Arc began in the show, the viewers and manga readers were presented what they "thought" was a plan. A survey outside the walls. However, that "plan" seemingly goes wrong to the readers and viewers when the Female Titan arrives and attempts to capture Eren.
    Yet, it turns out that Erwin's original purpose was to capture the traitor in their midst by giving them an opportunity, it being the survey. The viewers are misled at first, and so are even the main characters. Yet looking back on the previous episodes, as well as through flashbacks, there were several signs pointing to Erwin's plan and thinking, which the main characters soon figure out during the operation through an explanation by Armin.
    This plan and part of the show falls into this category I believe. By presenting to the audience and main characters a fake plan, only for them to end up being betrayed "seemingly by surprise", only to show that the entire purpose was different than stated, with the "traitor" trope acting as a red herring to a bigger reveal. This is slightly overshadowed by Armin explaining the secret plan near the end of it, but the revealation made by Armin at that point is made to shock the audience as well as the main characters, which only gives more credit to Erwin and his genius.

  39. What I hate most is when an anime over explains a plan to the point where it gets annoying because we, the audience, already have full knowledge of how brilliant the plan was by seeing it in action, yet the show things we are total idiots and need to recap it three times to make sure we really get it

  40. I love that you love Code Geass!!! Would LOVE to see your thoughts/takes on various subjects regarding the show sometime!!!

  41. GoT season 3 episode 9 titled the “Red Wedding” had the best fall off the rails strategy ever. The show runners completely laid out the goals that protagonist wanted to achieve leading up to episode 9. Explaining in detail the outcome that was supposed to happen. They even gave the protagonist a small victory indicating he was, well on his way to victory and then episode 9 when everything falls apart. The audience is left jaws on the floor wondering what the hell happened. What makes this episode even better is in the next episode the shower runners restate an off hand comment made by the antagonist about the protagonist that audience was simply made to brush off as cocky ramblings of a old man who is close to defeat.

  42. Does anybody else get mega turned off by strategies that rely solely on the enemy fucking up or being dumb

    P.s:oh yeah yeah

  43. Though I think it would certainly get old if used frequently, my favorite is the style where you don't necessarily even know a plan is happening, you see events portrayed which seem unimportant, or important but unclear how, and then later it's revealed how they play into the character's goals. I suppose a somewhat adequate (although of the 'important but unclear how' variant) would be Hohenheim depositing various souls around the country throughout the middle parts of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.

    An example of the 'unimportant' might be a character making a call to an equipment rental company, inquiring about renting some construction machinery, and then there's a scene transition, and that scene is forgotten/put to the back of your mind until later on when the main character and his buddies are fighting the villains on a rooftop, and then the building starts collapsing as a wrecking-ball smashes into it, causing the main character and his buddies to adapt to the sudden destruction and change of the playing field.

  44. You talked about 2 of my favorite shows, Log Horizon and Code Geass, then mentioned another show I haven't seen yet as an underappreciated jem. Now I'm excited, have found 2 new shows to watch, and a new Youtube channel.

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