Friday, August 17, 2012
... using a real life character to write a narrative about what could happen...
couple of years ago I read an article on Julian Assange in The New Yorker. At the time, he was a minor celebrity. Times have changed. Today he garners headlines all over the world. Most know something about him. To some he’s a hero. To others he’s a villain. I’m not here to take sides; I’m here to analyze the narrative aspects of his current situation. In other words, use what we know to write the next chapter of the story—create a political thriller if you will, one that could even include plots for assassination. Hey, I’m making it up and want to create suspense.
At the moment he’s holed up in Ecuador’s embassy in London, England. The Swedes want him on a criminal investigation. There’s an INTERPOL arrest warrant. The British have agreed to extradite him to Sweden. He has lost all appeals with British courts. If it weren’t for the protection provided by Ecuador and international laws on diplomacy, he’d be on a plane back to Sweden.
In the latest news, Ecuador’s government has granted him political asylum but how to get him to Ecuador where this protection has effect? If he leaves the embassy, the British can arrest him, but he can’t stay in the embassy indefinitely. Besides, it doesn’t work for our story. We have to move the action forward and come to some resolution on the questions raised.
It’s a storyline that has been played many times in real life and hence we could be heading down a worn path, something to avoid, but this time it seems different because there are so many players involved: Assange, the British, the Swedes, Ecuador, and the US.
Yes, the US. They are the wild card in this story. They have been the biggest target of Assange’s web site and feel wronged. Many US politicians and pundits would like to see Assange brought to the US and stand trial. It’s suggested if this wild card were eliminated he would have returned to Sweden. I don’t know and I’m not taking sides. We’ll use it because it provides fodder; it adds suspense and intrigue.
At this point in our story, our protagonist faces a dilemma: what to do next? He has to determine what action to take. Meanwhile all the other players have to decide what they are going to do. Can you see the multiple points of view that is so typical of thrillers?
Reaching a decision on a course of action is a sequel. It’s a slow paced section of the narrative because there’s no immediate action, no head-to-head confrontation. A sequel ends with the decision and taking action which starts a new scene. But while Assange thinks, others are thinking and acting.
The Swedes are sitting around waiting for others to act, but let’s up the stacks. Perhaps there are forces pushing the government to withdraw the investigation. Perhaps there’s some duplicity. They make it appear they are no longer interested in perusing any criminal charges in order to allow Assange to leave the embassy whereupon, at some later point, he’s picked up. Just a thought and at this point that’s what is happening. Thinking about the possible ways the story can go.
The British are looking at a way to capture Assange. Can they storm the Embassy? What are the consequences? Do they rely on the police or do they use their vaunted SAS? How long can they maintain this constant police surveillance? What sort of public pressure can be brought to bare on the government? What discussions are they having with the other governments?
Can the Ecuadorians be persuaded to remove the sanctuary? What force, what incentive might allow them to change their minds?
Could the Swedes be persuaded to provide a guarantee that he won’t be shipped off to the US?
What are the US plotting? Is there a way they could bring him to the US?
In a way, the best strategy for Assange is to wait. As long as the Ecuadorians allow it, the longer he waits, the less interest there will be from the British and Swedes primarily because the people directly involved will move on in their careers, their lives. But waiting in this instance would zap the story of suspense. Our protagonist must make a decision and act on it.
The other aspect of the storyline? Espionage. Assange is a computer geek and encryption expert. It’s the reason governments have had a tough time shutting down his web site. The US and British will be working on tapping into the electronic and communications of the embassy to see what they can learn. More intrigue and suspense and more conflict. They want to crack his codes and he wants to stop it.
There’s a lot of meat here and it’s tough to decide where to go. The answer starts with the ending. Know where you want to go to and work backwards.
Possible end points.
1. Somehow he ends up dead. It’s always an option and one that occurs in stories quite a bit. For me, it’s always a last option unless the character had it coming and must die.
2. He agrees to go to Sweden, or is captured and turned over, where the justice process plays out.
3. He makes a break from Ecuador’s embassy and avoids capture. He’s on the lam. It’s an ending to the current sequence in the story, but not a story ending. Or, he ends up in Ecuador with restricted mobility.
4. He ends up in the US where he either ends up in prison or free.
5. The charges are dropped and he can go free.
6. Something else. There’s always the unknown option that can pop up at some later point.
The writer in me sees this scenario play out.
He decides to make a break from the embassy. I like it because it’s action with tension. A game of cat and mouse. Will he or won’t he be caught? To make the escape possible, there is collusion and duplicity. The British have convinced a key figure in Ecuador’s embassy to make Assange believe he’s safe to leave, but at some point he’s turned over to the police. To add suspense, add in mistakes that make immediate capture fail. A twist to keep the readers on their toes. Perhaps the embassy staffer was playing the British. Either way, there’s a point, say when they reach France, where it seems he’s made a clean escape only to be captured where he’s sent to Sweden and where he’s freed or in prison.
Duplicity, so common in espionage tales, real and fictional, adds uncertainty, creates interest and hence keeps a reader reading to find out how it will end. If the reader knows the duplicity is happening, it creates suspense.
Interest is also created by Assange himself. He’s a polarizing figure. Some people love him and would be reading to see if he gets away. Others, who hate him, will be reading to see him lined up in front of firing squad. Either way, there’s little indifference.
I have a good idea about how I would write it and given some time and more thought, rewrite it and throw in a few more twists.
How would you play it out?
Posted 2012/08/17 at 18h15ET in Writing.