What can you teach me today? I ask one favourite author after another. Your book woke me at two AM. What makes you such a wonderful storyteller?
Today I’m looking at an exchange between Lee Child’s FBI investigator Julia Sorenson and the FBI nightshift technician who has answers that she needs to catch two murderers by morning.* Sorenson, in Writers’ Journey** terms, is the hero in this exchange. We will see what the FBI technician, who ought to be an ally, reveals himself to be. As well, I’m fascinated to see how the exchanges of power between them will ramp up the tension.
Sorenson begins the phone exchange.
“I need to know about the victim.”
(Her goal clearly stated, for the technician and for us).
T “Can’t help you there.”
(In four words, the technician reveals himself as a threshold guardian/gatekeeper who must be turned.)
As of now, the Technician holds the power in the relationship.
S “I need your impressions.”
(A professional courtesy to lowly technician)
T “I’m a scientist. I was out sick the day they taught Clairvoyance 101.”
(I’m not a technician, I’m a scientist god, lofty and unreachable. You shall not pass.)
S “You could make some educated guesses.”
(Yes, you are a scientist, so how about some of those godlike scientist powers).
T “What’s the hurry?”
(The scientist is soothed, but won’t sacrifice godlike competence to speed.)
S “I’m getting hassle through two separate back channels.”
(The tease. Will he bite?)
Now, Sorenson holds the power. She is the gatekeeper to inside knowledge.
S “First the State Department, and now the CIA.”
She has given him the answer, so now the technician has the power back. But he’s so lofty that he has to show off.
T “They’re not separate. The State Department is the political wing of the CIA.”
(He has allowed her foot inside his gate. Is she strong enough to force it open?)
S “And we’re the FBI, and we’re the good guys here, and we can’t afford to look slow or incompetent. “
(Note his first reasons for guarding the info; she turns perceived danger on its head.)
S “Or unimaginative.”
(ramps up the danger to T)
S “So I’d like some impression from you (a beat) or informed opinion (a second beat) or whatever else they taught you to call it in Cover Your Ass 101. (She’s through the gate, he’s blooded and swords are locked. Will he yield?)
The technician says,
“What kind of opinion?”
And the power struggle continues.
Thank you very much indeed, Mr Child.
* A Wanted Man, Lee Child, ch 23. Bantam, 2012.
**The Hero’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, Arthur Vogel. 3rd Ed. Michael Wiese Productions, 2007.