Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Spamming Your Plot by Andy Scheer

If you're desperate for ideas for your next novel—or just want an instant writing prompt—I just noticed a free, self-renewing fount of potential plot elements, characters, and complications.

Even better, you can find this source on your own computer. Just check your email spam filter.

I was about to delete all 24 spam emails that had accumulated since morning. Then I realized the potential for an instant fiction scenario.

It begins with the first bit of spam: something about “this shocking government secret [that] will ruin thousands of lives.” What's the secret? I have no clue, but I can browse down the list of other subject lines for its possible identity. Maybe it has something to do with sinister side effects from spam #8: “Neat Trick Permanently Removes Herpes.” Or maybe spam #6: “Obama Student Loan Forgiveness Program Notice.” Or spam #12: “New Vapor Diet System.” (Didn't Stephen King already do something with a system to “melt fat” that did too good a job?)

Don't want to write a medical/government conspiracy thriller? If your spam folder is like mine, you still have lots of free ideas. Maybe your protagonist's surprise love interest installs windows (“Your window-replacement installation-specials notification”). And your protagonist? Here's one candidate: “Hello. My name is Lena. I am lonely woman, 32 years old.” What does she do for a living? See spam #20, “How to start a woodworking business.”

Unfortunately, Lena's headed for trouble, thanks to these spams:
“Notice: Your Background Has Been Searched”
“Alert: Your Automotive Warranty might be Out-of-Date”
“Attn: Neighborhood Child-Predator Risk Alert: 16449865”

That's the hazard of being a character in a scenario generated by spam. At least, besides her romance with the window-installer, lonely Lena does have some good news in store:
“All-New-Trick to shed-27lbs in Just-1-Month”
“You have $148 in Walmart Points: Claim-today before they expire.”

Do you doubt the impending peril of expiring Walmart Points is strong enough to act as your ticking clock? Don't worry, just wait for the shocking secrets in your next batch of spam.


Jim Hart said...

I'll never look at my spam e-mail the same!

As I write this I'm sitting at Panera Bread listening to a woman talking very loud about a man who was having an affair while his wife was in the hospital dying of cancer.

So it looks like we can also just sit in a public place and just wait for our plots to come to us!

Andy Scheer, Hartline Literary said...

Ideas are out there -- ripe for the plucking.

Diana Flegal said...

What a great post Andy! And serious writing prompt material here. This has me imagining all sorts of plots. I will definitely be sending fiction writers to this page in the future.

Andy Scheer, Hartline Literary said...

It helps if you get lots of spam. I've not emptied that folder since this morning, and I see I now have 63 items pending review or disposal.

Sandra Ardoin said...

And to think I just delete them!

Andy Scheer, Hartline Literary said...

Maybe now you'll scan them first.