Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Magic of "What If?"

by Scott Rhoades

If you've told many people that you write, chances are that you've heard one of the typical responses: "I'd love to write, but I can't think of any good ideas."

Ideas come from many places. We get them when we travel, while we read, or when we think about our lives. But there's another way to generate ideas, one that can work every time.

I'm talking about the magical "What if?"

Just sit down with a piece of paper and make a list of what ifs. Don't worry about whether they're any good. If you make a list of 25, chances are only oe or two will really inspire you to write. Don't think about whether they're too weird, boring, cliche, or anything. If you usually write in a certain genre, don't even worry about that. Just make a list of as many what ifs as you can think of.

* What if you're on vacation in Paris and you hear that the U.S.A. has been invaded and you can't get home?"

* What if skeletons invade an amusement park?

* What if all the cows in the world suddenly disappear?

* What if you discover that your cat is an alien?

* What if you woke up one morning and you were suddenly seven feet tall?

* What if you found a treasure map in your grandfather's attic?

Once you start, it's easy to keep going, especially if you don't think too much about what you're writing. Write enough what ifs and you're sure to get the spark of a story. You might even be able to combine some, giving you your plot and a couple subplots.

You could even come up with a random story generator. Divide your paper into three columns. In the first column, put different kinds of characters: soldiers, children, zombies, and so on. In the second column, list interesting verbs. In the third, list complications. Actually, the second and third columns could be just about anything you want. The idea is that the the three columns together create what if statements. Then randomly choose from each column.

Then, after you start your story, continue to ask what ifs about your characters and their situations. This will help keep you from getting stuck.

Even if you don't end up with a great story idea, you've spent some time getting your creative juices flowing, and I'll bet you've had some fun and even a few good laughs.


Yamile said...

This is a great exercise. I agree. When you start with a story, just let it flow, don't worry about things grammar or even making-sense. That's what revising is for.

Taffy said...

Stop it! Now I want to write more stories! Maybe a short story about skeletons invading Lagoon. And cows start giving chocolate milk.
My cat is an alien...