Monday, March 16, 2009

What if . . .

By Ali Cross

Where do story ideas come from?

And once you have your story idea, how can you develop it?

These seem to be two most popular questions writers get. For me, it all starts with two little words—what if . . .

Actually, most of my story ideas come from dreams. But unless I’ve been blessed with one of those rare and special dreams that tell me a whole story all at once (can’t say as I’ve ever had a dream like THAT), I usually only have an idea, or premise to get me started.

Regardless of how I get my initial idea—whether by subliminal suggestion or sheer force of will—I’ve been able to expand upon the idea by playing the “What if . . . ?” game.

Here’s an example of how the game might be played, using a story line I developed just because I wanted to see if I could come up with a young adult book idea:

What if there’s a teenage girl who’s the literal daughter of Satan?

What if he wants her to do bad things, you know, go into the family business, but she wants to be a good girl?

What if her father demands that she prove herself to him by assigning her a soul to ruin, but she does the opposite and saves the soul?

What if her boyfriend is an angel?

What if he’s been sent here to show her she has the right to choose for herself?

But what if the devil’s daughter thinks she’s destined to be bad?

What if she pushes away her friends because she thinks they are too good for her?

And so it goes.

When you get stuck somewhere in your story and you’re not sure what happens next, the “What if . . .?” game can be useful again. It’s especially fun to play the game with a friend—sometimes the ideas someone else comes up with spark a myriad of our own and off we go again.

Mind mapping is a fun and easy way to play the game on your own. Just start with an idea, ask what if …? and let the ideas flow.

I’d love to hear if you work like this too. If the idea is new to you, try it out and let me know how it you liked it. Have fun!


Jenn said...

Yes - "What if...?" is truly the question. "What would my character do if I threw THIS challenge at her?"

I've written the first chapter of a Historical Fiction novel, and the question changes a bit, but is essentially the same: "What would it have been like? What was she feeling? What might have happened in this situation?"

Your post reminded me of a dream I had a while back, too. Like you said, it was just a spark of an idea. But I think it could be a really cool sci-fi/fantasy book. Unfortunately, I'm not as good at figuring out where to go with that kind of story. Maybe I should try out your idea and actually "play" what-if?

(Not that I need new stories to work on! I still have to finish the ones I've started. LOL)

LexiconLuvr said...

I loved the idea of Satan's little girl. That's awesome. So much character depth there to plumb. =]

I play a similar game but I'm a bit of a sadist. I say "How can this get worse for [character X]? In what possible way can I torture them better?" And no, I don't mean physical torture.(Well, sometimes.) Personally, I don't think there's a more powerful force than emotional difficulty.

Anyway, I'll map out a plan for the scene and tweak it for the right mixture of severity, humor, or action.

Great post! A wonderful tool to keep up all stewing or stirring the pot. ;)

Ali Cross said...

LOL Jenn. You'd be surprised at how fun sci fi/fantasy can be. You should give it a whirl some time if only to stir up your creative juices. It's a no-holds barred (how the heck do you say that?) kind of thing. You might find it cathartic ;)

Now Lex, I LOVE your game! I need to play that more often too. I tend to go too soft ball on my characters and I would do well to get a lot tougher on them.