The Art of Espionage

The Art of Espionage III: Brainstorming

It is a beautiful feeling when a piece of writing seems to spring into the world fully formed, its key parts working together in perfect harmony to achieve a holistic effect. This does not happen with an espionage scenario. First, they just have too many moving parts by nature. Second, an espionage scenario is not a piece of writing. It is many pieces of writing fit together.
The more I’ve worked on them, the more it has become evident to me that these call for slightly different skills than other types of writing. If anything, an espionage scenario is more like a series of poems than a novel. Rather than sustained, quality prose, steadily developing themes and reaching a crescendo, you want bursts of efficient words that do a lot of things while not feeling entirely disjointed. It is taking all these separate ideas and getting them to work together that will take more effort than anything else
So you probably have some ideas of what you want to do by now. Hold onto those. Since it’s not much use trying to plan things out linearly, we’re going to throw stuff at the wall in several categories and see what gels. The basic building blocks of a scenario are characters, objectives, secrets, and plots. Yes, I know objectives and secrets are subsets of characters but just work with me a minute. If you have a solid idea of what you’re doing with these four things, the rest can pretty much be filled in from there.
Start making a list for each category. For characters, list concepts, which could be what the character’s deal actually is or just what they look like; remember that these could be combined later. Don’t worry yet if any of your ideas go together. See what you can come up with that fit your setting and premise or that just sound neat. Here are mine for our example scenario.
Characters: Band members, manager, groupie, former bandmate,  drug dealer, model, designer, party crashers, foreign mystic, not so secret agent, revolutionary, musical rival, fake drug user, stage hand, club owner
Objectives: Take control of the band, obtain/exchange drugs, secret sex, spread a catchphrase, eliminate sedition, change the music, get a job, discover the traitor, assume an identity, leave the band, revenge, assassination, get X to dance, destroy the establishment
Secrets: secretly sleeping with the whole band, not actually high, an actually secret secret agent, not foreign, soviet plant, hasn’t actually booked the band a tour, accidentally killed someone, imaginary friend, not dumb, rich, likes clocks
Plots: band love n-gon, fabulous spies, drugs and wisdom cult, band rivalry/revenge, high fashion
Some notes. As you can see, there are some ideas that come up several times in my lists, so those are likely to be things I end up using in some form. Since it plays into historical types, I like the idea of playing up the free love aspect: lots of sex objectives and secrets. Drugs and foreign mysticism, though you can probably tell I’m not really sure what that’s going to be like yet. I also have the Cold War, political unrest, and fashion sort of hanging around, though I am even less sure of how to use those.
Nevertheless, some connections are beginning to form. There’s going to be some internal struggle where the band is concerned (though this was pretty much a given to begin with) as well as at least one external threat. I like the idea of some kind of Austin-powers-like secret agent who likes to hang around at parties being stupidly conspicuous. So if we squint there are now some very fuzzy shapes of what’s going to be here, which is basically what you want at this point in the process.
So even if things on your list don’t look obviously related, think of how they might be able to be combined. Maybe that fashion designer has an imaginary friend, who will be feeding them instructions throughout the night. Maybe there’s a soviet spy who has to act stoned out of their mind the whole time to not blow their cover. Just start putting things together and see what sounds interesting to you.
Next time: character types

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