Saturday, January 02, 2016

How Intelligence Is Depicted In Some Recent Fiction

What makes for an interesting story?  It is an age old question.  Perhaps the answer has changed over time.

One sort of story that I've seen a couple of times recently depicts a solitary 'genius' who stumbles into his role but once there hatches an incredibly audacious scheme, which if it works will yield an enormous payoff.  The solitary genius actually has a co-conspirator or a team of co-conspirators, but at the outset their partnership isn't apparent.  (In contrast, in the movie The Sting the audience is made aware of the conspiracy early on, though there are still some surprises at the end of the film.)

Indeed part of the scheme is for the genius to overtly blame the co-conspirator in a way that ultimately forces the co-conspirator into a painful confinement.  Enduring such confinement is something that no sane person would willingly submit themselves to.  Going to this extreme is a necessary misdirection, so that those for whom the scheme has been concocted don't suspect the duplicity going on.  Ultimately the co-conspirator does get free from confinement, to enjoy the fruits when the scheme pans out.

Along the way there are some unanticipated risks that might derail the plan.  Nobody, even our genius, has a crystal ball to foresee all eventualities.  Unanticipated difficulties will invariably crop up.  But these risks provide momentary drama only.  They are soon overcome.  They don't derail the plan.  For the plan is brilliant in its conception and as parts of it get executed, it becomes more apparent to the viewer/reader that this is so.

The remaining big issue with the story telling is when the reader/viewer learns about all the elements of the plan.  Does that happen only when the story nears conclusion?  Or does it happen sometime earlier, so that part of the drama is witnessing the execution of the plan, with the reader/viewer informed as to its aim?

The stories I'm referring to here are The Racketeer by John Grisham and Homeland Season 3, the Showtime TV drama.  Their plots are otherwise unrelated.  Indeed, they differ in that in The Racketeer the protagonist is the genius while in Homeland the protagonist is the co-conspirator who endures the painful confinement. 

But they did both come out in 2013.  It makes you wonder if these sort of stories are the product of our times, in their structure as much as in their plot.  We seem to be living in desperate times, searching for a way out but not finding one.  These stories give some hope.  Necessity is the mother of invention and some genius who is out there will find the way out.

If only reality followed fiction.

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