Tuesday, June 15, 2010

What If??

I both love and hate this question. In real life, it can be paralyzing and even unhealthy - "What if I'd made this decision instead of that?" "What if I'd broken up with So-and-So instead of marrying him?" "What if I'd taken that job over this one?" It's unhealthy because there's no turning back. The answers are set in stone.

But when you're writing fiction, the "what if" question is ESSENTIAL. I find myself asking it all the time, especially in the early stages of brainstorming: What if this character does this instead of that? What if his/her background included such-and-such? What if she never knew how he felt, and based her actions on misinformation all these years?

Because when we ask those questions of our characters and plots, we're opening up HUGE possibilities. We're thinking of certain directions we might take our characters, and then pondering the consequences. In real life, when we ask that question, there's often regret attached - those decisions have already been made, and so we're looking back, wondering about the ripple effects IF we'd taken certain paths that are no longer available to choose. But in brainstorming, we're able to take the "what if" question and play with it in future tense, where anything could still happen.

Right now, I'm brainstorming a new novel, and I thought I had the main plotline all worked out. Until I asked myself that "what if" question about an hour ago. Suddenly, different possibilities have opened themselves up, character-wise, and it just might take the book in a whole new direction. We'll see....

So, don't be afraid to ask yourself the "what if" question with your characters and your plot. In fact, ask it consciously. You never know where it might take you...


  1. I think you're absolutely right. It's a good thing to ask then in your writing. It's not always a good idea to ask it in life, but it is a way to learn from our past.

  2. Great post. I love the idea of asking them about my characters/plot. So many things reveal themselves this way.:)

  3. Thanks, y'all - I agree. Revelations come when we ask questions....

  4. I just gave you an award!


  5. April - how very nice! Thanks so much - I'm honored!

  6. I bet the best novels result from the author's asking the 'what if' question, rather than depending on an entirely predictable plot.

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