Monday, August 24, 2015

The Premise Of A Thriller

Don't know what to write about? Looking for the core of a plot but coming up empty?

Blackmail is a good starting point for a thriller, but who might blackmail whom and for what? Well, doing something illegal is always a good start. You need a character whose done something that might get them some jail time, or a hefty fine, and then you get your villain discovering the act. What better villain could you have than a lawyer, right?

Your next book could be, as they say, ripped from the pages of current events, but you'll have to use your imagination a little to make a really exciting book. The real-life incident turned out to be rather ordinary, in the end.

Copyright law is not the stuff of legal thrillers, but a clever lawyer in Chicago managed to play the game in a way that could be the inspiration you need to get that novel written. Mr. John L. Steele (sounds like a porn name, doesn't it?) and his law firm was hired, or so he claims, by porn movie producers whose content was being illegally downloaded. It doesn't take much to acquire the ISPs of computers used to download the smut films without paying. Mr. Steele then took those digital signals and backtracked, finding the owner of the computer in question. And then he fired off letters from his law firm, Prenda Law.
Eyes as cold as steel --or is it Steele?

Who doesn't get nervous when they see a letter from an attorney? You don't want anyone to know you're looking at porn, let alone stealing it, so when Mr. John. L. Steele, Esq., threatens you with litigation if you don't come up with some cash, you pay up and hope that it all goes away. By all accounts, millions of dollars passed hands in an effort to wipe the record clean.

But what if the person who stole the movies was an Outfit boss doing what hoodlums have always done, which is steal from others and then sell it on as their own?

Write that story, imagining the twists and turns as the lawyer discovers he has tangled with the wrong miscreant. It will take all your talent to turn a Don Corleone into a sympathetic figure, unless you found a way to insert a third character to be the hero in the story who brings the entire evil empire down. A whip-smart female detective, for example, would be a great addition to the tale, and offers you several potential subplots to flesh out your novel of skulduggery and danger.

You wouldn't want to use the actual event as it unfolded because there is little that is thrilling about the conclusion of Mr. Steele's little profit center. The Feds caught on when someone complained about being shaken down by an attorney, which is going to happen when someone gets a threatening letter about illegal porn downloads when they didn't download anything. Tracing ISPs is not a perfect science, and many who own computers know that just because a computer was used it doesn't mean they did the crime if others have access to that computer. Like your housekeeper, for example, or someone who knows how to hack into your computer because your firewall is inadequate.

And of course, not everyone is cowering in a corner, afraid of their secret getting out. Some would rather be exposed than part with a penny.

Prenda Law is, of course, no more. Mr. Steele was charged with extortion and various other crimes related to the shakedown. He's fired back, as lawyers will do, in an attempt to use the courts to his advantage. At the moment, he is facing a disciplinary hearing that could strip him of his law license, which is pretty dull stuff if you compare it to your fictional version in which some Mafia hit man is hunting him down. What's the loss of a law license as compared to the loss of your life by drowning in Lake Michigan?

So there's your writing prompt to take you through the last days of summer. You should have a polished manuscript all ready to go by the start of next summer, when you can query the agents before they drift off to their vacation homes and ignore the pleas of would-be authors seeking representation.

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