I'm writing a story with a coup d'état scene where a free nation's government is betrayed and supplanted by a new tyrannical government; and thus, I'd like to know how quality coup d'état scenes are written.

My current outline for the scene goes something like this:

1.) The prime minister of the free nation goes into a meeting with a lower level government official from the department of commerce.

2.) It is revealed that the dept. of commerce member has secretly been colluding with other government officials and key stockholders of one of the nation's language interpretation companies, making a foreign communications monopoly that has even infiltrated the nation's government at every necessary level (especially foreign relations), to edit all incoming and outgoing foreign communications, broadcasts, etc. with no one else being any bit the wiser.

3.) It is revealed that the dept. of commerce member and his cohorts have used this foreign communications monopoly to secretly send other countries' governments an invitation to get involved in a plot to take over the free nation's government, and have given them the necessary information to sneak their battleships to within range of the free nation's shores.

4.) The dept. of commerce member reveals to the prime minister that those other countries have secretly sent several of their navies' ships to his aid, and that they are starting to arrive in position as they speak; and, that if the prime minister refuses to surrender control of the nation's govt. over to him and his cohorts, they will train their ships' cannons on the nation and reduce its population by one third. (And that he's wearing a wire, and that the battleships will open fire if their commanders hear that anything bad has happened to him.)

5.) I imagine that at this point, the prime minister (and possibly anyone else in the room with him who could help) has a tense back-and-forth with the member of the department of commerce (I'm imagining this having a structure somewhat akin to Holmes and Moriarty playing chess and going: "The jig is up: I foiled your master plan by doing X when you weren't looking." "Clever, but you see: I anticipated that would try to do X, so I preemptively nullified it by doing Y." "Very impressive, but I didn't put all of my eggs in one basket, so I also had Watson go off to do countermeasure Z...").

6.) In spite of his best efforts, the prime minister comes to his wits' end, and reluctantly surrenders control of the nation's government to the member of the dept. of commerce and his cohorts, marking the dawn of a dark tyrannical era in that nation's history.


Explanations (worldbuilding):

  • As to how the foreign battle ships would be able to get to the nation without them noticing: I have not come up with a ton of explanation ideas for that yet, but it it could be anything from bribing military lookouts to keep quiet, the foreign ships having stealth capabilities that are better than the free nation's detection methods (including the naked eye), or even that there's been some real rough weather at sea lately which has severely reduced visibility, providing cover for the battleships to get into position.

  • I also have not come up with a ton of reasons for why the other nations have teamed up to help this coup, but it could be one of any number of things, from the free nation having valuable resources, to the free nation's geographic location meaning it could be used for a key pipeline once captured, to even having it be that the other nations simply don't like the free nation to such an extent that they want to make its citizens into their slaves (or, if much of a fight is put up, to turn them to dust). These could also be other countries' endgame(s) that would still be achievable even if the battleships did fire on a third of the free nation's population.

  • As to how it would be possible for a handful of stock-holders and one dept. of commerce member to pull off this coup, I have upped the size of how many people are in this conspiracy, and it now includes several other government officials, several of whom can be in the free nation's legislative branch and military command, and a great number of whom are in foreign relations, as well as several language interpreters and other new members of the company that the key stockholders have brought-on.

  • As to what the free nation's corrupt govt. officials and key language interpretation stockholders' motives are: they are playing both sides to get all the involved nations under their control, and after they have achieved that goal, will use the new large force under their command to achieve conquest over even more nations.

  • As to why regular people (or even the prime-minister himself) would not know of the coup beforehand despite being able to speak foreign languages: I have changed the monopoly from being a language interpretation monopoly to being a monopoly on all incoming/outgoing foreign communications (with operatives implanted in every necessary level of government, particularly foreign relations) allowing them to edit all incoming and outgoing foreign communications (and even broadcast signals) to say whatever they chose, with the rest of the free nation being none the wiser. We could also say that this nation's culture has is not altogether extremely interested in communicating with other nations, thus no international phone calls or world-wide-web access (save for the government departments and foreign language interpretation workers, who, because of their job, have to deal with that sort of thing; but those groups would be infiltrated by now).

  • As to how the other countries' battleships could reduce the free nation's population by one third: there can be several possible reasons, such as the free nation being so small that the battleships' cannons would be within range to pull it off, or the majority of the nations' population being located along the coast's shores, or even just plain saying that the foreign battleships are armed with nukes, and that the free nation has no nuclear arsenal of its own with which to have M.A.D.

Explanations (Plot):

  • As to why the dept. of commerce member is not immediately shot-down once his treacherous ways are made known, I imagine that before he could be shot, he would reveal to them that he is wearing a wire, and the foreign gunships will open fire straightaway if he is harmed.

  • As to why the police and military would cooperate with the coup instead of fighting the invaders off, I have two reasons:

  1. That the free nation's anti-ship defense weapons do not deal a lot of damage, but have good range, so they depend on the tactic of spotting enemy ships from far-off so that they have enough time to chip away at enemy ships' armor before they get too close (which would've been made moot by the stealth tactics that the other countries have used against them to get into position around the free nation's shores, and now that there are a bunch of battleships in position to fire on the free nation, the free nation's anti-ship defense weapons have too many well-armored targets too close to their shores to take down in time). This makes it so that the police and military can all tell that they're in a position of fighting an enemy that severely outguns them, and will take-out a third of the nation's population at the first sign of them trying to fight; thus, the military and police also come to their wits' ends and surrender.
  2. That at least some of them (at least key members of their ranks) could be just plain bought-off.

Additional Comments:

  • The core idea for this coup d'état scene/short story is that I wanted to try and write a story where a free nation became a dictatorship due to its foreign language interpreters going bad and abusing their positions to control the flow of information.

  • I wanted to turn my idea into a compelling story, deciding to make it a coup d'état scene/short story, and thus, wanted to figure-out how to write a good coup d'état scene. Some of the only such scenes I could recall were from Revenge of The Sith and Hop.
    Revenge of The Sith does not have the precise plot beats I would like to use, namely because the parts where the good guys try to put up any meaningful kind of resistance (even though it nonetheless fails) in the Yoda vs. Sidious and Obi vs. Ani scenes take place after the coup has already been accomplished in the Order 66 and "So this is how democracy dies" scenes (well, there's also the scene where the council tries to arrest Sidious, but that scene hinges mostly on Anakin's moral dilemma, and Mace's all-out attempt at resisting Sidious takes a backseat to Anakin siding with Sidious and chopping-off Mace's arm, whereas I don't wan't the whole scene to hinge on a character's deciding moment of "do I choose to be good or bad?").
    Hop's coup scene might have plot beats closer to what I'm looking for. Maybe all I have to do is take away the part about the free govt.'s leader being lead to think that someone close to him has perished and later teaming-up with the fake murder patsy and the person close to him (who shows up alive) to save the day.
    Are there any other examples of good coup d'état scenes in film or literature? And if so, what elements do they have in-common? Can they be distilled down into basic plot-beat structures like "three-act-structure", "hero's journey", "tragedy", and "rom-com" have been?

  • This scene/short story is still in the outline phase, and as of such, if a different outline for it turns out be necessary, I'm all ears to whatever other options for outlines there are.

Thank you all so much for the feedback, Please keep it up. :)

Cheers all.

  • 2
    What are the interests of any of these parties? I mean, a language interpretation company? They won't stand to gain much. And multiple foreign countries just lending out some ships for a coup? Why would they? Why not have the dept. of commerce member arrested at step 3, or shot at step 4. We can always talk with the approaching navy ships and possibly surrender when he's gone/dead. Why would the police and military cooperate with an outside coup? What's the endgame if one third of the country were killed? If the foreign countries don't get anything then, why would they?
    – user54131
    Commented Oct 8, 2022 at 19:16
  • 1
    Hi, welcome to Writing! Readers will find a talky coup d'état scene to be unbelievable (for reasons in towr's comment, and many more) 'Free' countries do not give prime ministers solo power to dismantle govt – it's THE definition of democracy. The surprise collusion with other nations in 3 and 4 are also not believable in a reality-based world where navy ships can be seen with eyes, and foreign languages are spoken by regular people. I think your PLOT needs a stern conversation with reality you need thousands of conspirators across multiple countries, or a very stupid prime minister.
    – wetcircuit
    Commented Oct 9, 2022 at 11:38
  • 1
    For me the plots (both the plot for the coup and the plot for the story) fall apart at the idea of a language interpretation monopoly. That doesn't have any basis in economic reality. And I'm unconvinced that any form of naval weaponry, short of nuclear armaments, could reduce a country's population by one third. Far more realistic, as the starting point for a coup in a democratic country, is that the elected head of government ignores established conventions and starts behaving autocratically, enthusiastically supported by large parts of the civil and military services. Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 11:12
  • Thanks so much for the input, all. :) Also, @HighPerformanceMark, thanks for your input about what a more realistic coup would look like. I will take this into account. :) Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 11:27
  • 3
    The core of your question seems to be, as you put it in the title, how are quality coup d'état scenes written? My last word(s) on the issue: not by making an ever more convoluted scenario requiring such suspension of disbelief as your extended question requires; and perhaps spin out your story based on some real coups d'etat rather than on the fantasies peddled by George Lucas. Films can get away with much in the way of plot and characters weakness by dazzling us with fireworks, books have much less leeway to do so. Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 15:05


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