Let's Play!

on April 17, 2008

This is Allison. I’m logged in as an admin because I’m on a different computer and can’t remember my own login and password. Yep, one of those weeks . . .

Over at The Graveyard Shift on Monday, I’ll be blogging about my experiences so far at the FBI’s Citizens Academy, specifically talking about what they do and don’t do and how to use that in your writing. I’ve said many times that knowing what is possible is more important than what is probable.

So knowing what can and can’t be done through the FBI is important, but knowing the truths don’t kill the story. The story always comes first, and sometimes the greatest conflict comes from putting the story into a structure (like the FBI) and using that structure to create problems for the characters.

My time working in the legislature taught me that few rules can’t be broke. Can we stop time? Physically–no. Practically–yes. There’s a well-known and true story about how the legislature stops the clock at 11:59 pm on the last day to pass bills because they are rarely done on time. It’s amazing how many bills are passed at 11:59 pm. Time, for the record, has stopped.

Tonight is my third night at the FBI citizens academy. I came up with story ideas each of my previous classes, and I can’t wait to see what I come up with tonight. One idea came to me based on one small personal fact that the SAC shared with the class. Instantly, I had a story–at least, the premise. Then last week, one agent gave a case presentation. It wasn’t so much the case itself as the motivation of the FBI informant who was crucial in closing the case. For the first idea, I have a plot and that’s going to sit for awhile as I stew about character. But the second idea I’m particularly excited about. I have a character (the heroine), fully formed, with powerful goals, motivations and conflicts. The plot is secondary, but I have a tickle of an idea. I love getting my ideas through character over plot.

Unless I get another huge idea over the coming weeks, the two above ideas will be books two and three of my FBI series.

Now, time for you to play. Writers are always asked where do we get our ideas. And that’s a hard question. Most of my books come from snippets of conversations or news stories or watching someone order their Starbucks drink. It’s hard to quantify, and if I share how I got the idea, it doesn’t really make sense to anyone but me. Because there’s that other stuff–imagination–that writers seem to have in spades.

And this exercise is open to everyone, not just writers. Readers are the ones who ask where ideas come from–if you’re a reader, try it for yourself. Play the game and don’t worry about a good story idea or not.

Everyone who posts a scenario by midnight Friday PST will be put in a random drawing for my entire backlist–seven books and a novella. And you can have them signed to you or to a friend or to multiple friends, and I’ll send them off for you! And let’s make this simple–try to keep your scenarios under 150 words or so (and it can be as short as one sentence!) I know sometimes I get an idea and go off for pages and pages . . . anyway, you may come up with something so totally different that it has no bearing on what I give you to excite your imagination. That’s okay? Believe me, the idea I got from the SAC’s personal detail has little or nothing to do with the detail itself.

Here are snippets from three recent news articles. You can use all or parts of them in your scenario, and let your imagination take over. Maybe a word will send you off in a completely different direction from the obvious. But don’t over think it. What you’re trying to do is see or read something to spark an idea or premise or character personality. It doesn’t even have to be complete. You may have just an idea of a character (hero, villain, victim, whoever) or a premise or a snippet of a plot, or a scene pictured vividly in your head. You may even think of some dialogue. You’re not graded! So have fun 🙂

* Two people dead in suspected gang-related violence.

* St. Xavier evacuated everyone from its Chicago and Orland Park campuses from Friday until Wednesday after graffiti–with the words “Be Prepared To Die On 4/14”–was found on the wall of a restroom in the Regina Hall dormitory, threatening violence on April 14. The threat also shut down four schools near the university.

* “You can’t really trust anybody no matter if they’re in power because people in power abuse their power.”