Friday, October 11, 2013

What If?

Writers often say that they use ‘What If’ to trigger a story. It can be used over several genres, starting with children’s books. What if animals could talk? What if a snowman came alive? What if the Vikings had continued settling North America? What if the dinosaurs hadn’t died out? The possibilities are limited only by a writer’s imagination. The triggers for the 'what if' can be in news stories, science papers, or even events that happen in everyday life.

I’ve done it myself. What if an alien decides to attend college on Earth? What if a wizard ended up in a garage sale? (that one went in a different direction than I had planned) What if a meteor shower hid something else? (Hmm, I tend to use that one a lot).

Science fiction tends to rely on a number of ‘what if’s as basic. What if faster than light travel existed? (And FTL communication is possible). What if psi powers do exist? (That ‘what if’ started off in science fiction when I first started reading it, but now it seems to have migrated into fantasy.) What if there are other lifeforms in the universe?

Not only is ‘what if’ a good way to start the idea behind a story, it’s also a good way to continue or add threats or twists. Lois McMaster Bujold, for example, has her "worst-possible-thing guideline" (Sidelines: Talks and Essays, 2013) - i.e., "what is the worst possible thing I could do to this character?" For some YA and children's stories, this could be rephrased as "what is the most embarrassing thing I could do to this character?"

What are some 'What if?' triggers that you have used as a writer or enjoyed as a reader?

1 comment:

  1. I love What if. I guess to some extent What if has influenced a lot of my stories. Like What if a girl's father is kidnapped and she has to find out why and by whom? What if a girl discovers her parents have lied to her for 16 years? What if a boy's parents split up and he's soon halfway across the country, living in a new place? Gee. I never really thought I was using What if. I was though. Thanks.