Thursday, February 09, 2006

Lose the Shoes 

Ask any professional writer: execution is everything. Even a surefire story idea can fall flat, if you lack the craft to help it find its proper shape:
Shortly after 9/11, al Qaeda began planning to use shoe bombers to hijack a commercial airplane and fly it into the tallest building in Los Angeles, California, President Bush said Thursday.

The details were the first from the administration about the West Coast airliner plot, which was thwarted in 2002 and initially disclosed by the White House last year.

The plot was set in motion by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks, a month after the airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Bush said. It involved terrorists from al Qaeda's Southeast Asia wing, Jemaah Islamiyah . . . .

Bush said the plotters planned to use shoe bombs to breach the cockpit door and hijack the plane.

At a later briefing, Bush's homeland security adviser, Fran Townsend, said the leader of the four-man cell that was planning the attack had been arrested in 2003.

She did not identify him, but said he was trained personally by Mohammed "in the shoe bomb technique."
Aspiring writers please note: it never hurts to have a trusted friend or colleague read and critique your work before you send it into the public marketplace. A fresh eye will often spot dramatic weaknesses and narrative inconsistencies that you, the author, would otherwise have missed:
Q: Scott, I wanted to just ask a follow-up about the LA plot. Is there something missing from this story, a practical application, a few facts? Because if you want to commandeer a plane and fly it into a tower, if you used shoe bombs, wouldn't you blow off the cockpit? Or is there something missing from this story?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know what you're referring to about missing. I mean, I think we provided you a detailed briefing earlier today about the plot. And Fran Townsend, our Homeland Security Advisor, talked about it. So I'm not sure what you're suggesting it.

Q: Think about it, if you're wearing shoe bombs, you either blow off your feet or you blow off the front of the airplane.

MR. McCLELLAN: There was a briefing for you earlier today. I think that's one way to look at it. There are a lot of ways to look at it, and she explained it earlier today, Alexis, so I would refer you very much back to what she said, what she said earlier today.
Everyone loves a plot twist! -- but make sure your "shocking" narrative reversals arise organically from the characters and situations you've established. If you change "rules" in midstream, you may not get the effect you intended, and your audience is sure to feel cheated:
"It does sound dubious," said The Terror Timeline author Paul Thompson in an e-mail today. "Richard Reid the shoe bomber was foiled in late 2001, and the use of lighters was banned and an intense period of checking everyone's shoes followed. So how on Earth could they expect to light a shoe bomb right by the cockpit door? Further, in the wake of 9/11, what kind of passengers would not immediately try to overtake the hijackers?" . . . .

As for the foiled attack on Los Angeles, if the Bush administration thought this plot and other planned jobs were for real, it makes the nation's air security system look like more of a farce than ever.

In a 2004 staff study, the 9-11 Commission sharply attacked the Federal Aviation Administration for its ineffective air security system. That study was withheld until after the presidential election, and only then released—in part with some sections remaining classified.

Furthermore, since 9-11, in one test after another, news organizations using undercover teams have easily broken through the FAA security apparatus, rendering the entire business unworkable . . . . That air travel could remain so vulnerable puts the lie to Bush's assertion that the war on is working.
One word: streamline. Every scene should serve to push your story forward. Extraneous plotlines and supporting characters may be fascinating in their own right -- but if their presence confuses the audience, or disrupts the momentum of the central narrative, excise them. Ruthlessly!
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said Thursday he was blindsided by President Bush's announcement of new details on a purported 2002 hijacking plot aimed at a downtown skyscraper, and described communication with the White House as "nonexistent."

"I'm amazed that the president would make this (announcement) on national TV and not inform us of these details through the appropriate channels," the mayor told The Associated Press. "I don't expect a call from the president but somebody" . . . .

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Los Angeles officials were told Wednesday about the president's upcoming remarks.

"And the word I heard was that there was great appreciation for the notification that we provided," he said during a briefing.
In closing, remember Mr. T.S. Eliot's words of wisdom: mediocre writers borrow. Great writers steal. Do not hesitate to steal . . . but steal from the best. A slavish imitation of a crappy, decade-old Hollywood blockbuster is all but certain to be recognized for what it is -- and dismissed as a cynical exercise in creative bankruptcy:
Other downtown employees saw the new details as a political move by Bush to "keep us living in fear" and garner support for the war on terrorism.

"It's a travesty.... I mean, we've caught him lying so many times," said Mark Lea, who works at a major law firm in the Wells Fargo building next door. "He's only doing this to draw up support for his domestic spying."

Patrick Grover, who works on the tower's 2nd floor, agreed.

"I'm not alarmed [by the threats]," Grover said. "I'm alarmed that they're exploiting it years later."

Grover called Bush's announcement "malarkey," criticizing the president for supposedly setting up a "smokescreen" now that the administration's spying policies are under attack.
UPDATE (via Zemblan patriot K.Z.): We rarely link to Capitol Hill Blue because it is, after all, Capitol Hill Blue; if we want unsourced rumor and innuendo reflecting an obvious partisan agenda, we can certainly get our fill from the Washington Post. But for what it's worth . . . .
"The President has cheapened the entire intelligence community by dragging us into his fantasy world," says a longtime field operative of the Central Intelligence Agency. "He is basing this absurd claim on the same discredited informant who told us Al Qaeda would attack selected financial institutions in New York and Washington."

Within hours of the President’s speech Thursday claiming his administration had prevented a major attack, sources who said [!! -- S.] they were current and retired intelligence pros from the CIA, NSA, FBI and military contacted Capitol Hill Blue with angry comments disputing the President’s remarks.

“He’s full of shit,” said one sharply-worded email.

| | Technorati Links | to Del.icio.us