Sunday, May 22, 2011

Idea Garage Sale: Wired

Did you know that on any random day you could be going about your ordinary business with somebody wearing a wire?

My horse expert gets income as a mystery shopper. This is someone who goes to a store or other venue, such as banks and apartment complexes, and reports to the Powers That Be for that venue on what it was like. How was she treated? Was the store being run and maintained to spec? Are the apartment's grounds properly maintained? What happens when she asks a tough question or requests something unusual but not unreasonable?

She mentioned that one upcoming session was a recorded one, which involved - in essence - wearing a wire. She also described a couple of times when she'd shopped the wrong store because of confusing addresses and stores set up too close to each other, where they should be competing with each other - on opposite sides of a highway, for example. In a town like San Antonio, where addresses aren't well-displayed, or in any modern urban sprawl area, the strip malls and shopping centers and industrial parks and apartment complexes all look the same.

Sounds like a plot hook to me.

We're talking crime thriller, of course. Quite possibly one with comedy elements. The protagonist is a mystery shopper doing a mix of assignments and errands. Maybe instead of the corporate-owned apartment complex she's supposed to go to she winds up in one that's owned by The Mob (that handy faceless villain) and used as a safe location for various purposes. Maybe she wanders into the wrong venue at the wrong time and witnesses the wrong thing. Is she spotted, her wire detected, and she taken hostage? Does she go undetected, deliberately record the event, and spend the rest of the movie dodging the people who saw or heard her on her way out to take her evidence to the police? Does she blunder innocently into a situation and get mistaken for somebody else? Does her recording even come out audible?

All that's obvious enough, but let's look for other possibilities. What kind of person becomes a mystery shopper? Someone who needs extra income in addition to a full-time job; someone who's between jobs and scrambling for money; someone with a life condition that makes full-time work problematic. In a different economy, someone who is already comfortably off but is bored and wants more to do - though anybody who can't come up with more to do on her own is an iffy protagonist, with all there is to do in this world, for my money. Each of these motivations implies a different character arc, and possibly a different nefarious deed caught on tape.

Is there a temptation for the person in dire need of money to exploit her possession of the recording? Maybe it wasn't a major criminal deal; maybe it was just a spot of adultery and she's trying to blackmail the parties. Maybe she's dumb enough to try to sell the evidence. Maybe what she witnessed was a bit of shady backroom dealing that results in her having inside information that can make her a huge profit if she works it right.

What if she loses the recording or it's no good, and no one she reports to believes her because the life condition that makes full-time work problematic is paranoid schizophrenia, and even she's not sure, in the absence of the recording, that she's lucid? The antagonist in this story would be less the criminals and more her own brain, as she strives to prove to herself, one way or another, the reality of the situation she witnessed.

What if she's got self-esteem issues and thinks she's not smart, resourceful, or educated enough for any better job than mystery shopper? Nothing like evading bad guys in a thriller to apply the kind of pressure that brings out competence she didn't know she had.

You see how the hook is only the start of the idea? Define the character, define the stakes; and then you have the story.

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