Author Donna Cummings of www.AllAboutTheWriting.com, is one of my twitter buddies, as we swig our way through reams of coffee, piles of brownies and the realm of sea-faring hotties. And when she’s not entertaining me in our own little world of silliness, she writes a darn entertaining book and blog!
The Power of “What If?”
Perhaps you’re reading the newspaper (if you’re in the 20th century), or you’re skimming headlines on the internet, and something strikes your brain in a certain way. Next thing you know, your imagination is off and running, and you’re consumed with a new hero and heroine, writing emotional scenes of incredible depth and power.
All because you wanted to know what would happen. . .if.
Unfortunately, there’s also a down side to “what if”. It’s just as powerful, and probably even harder to contain once it starts racing around the brain cells. It’s the “what if nobody likes my book”. Or “what if I never get an agent or publisher”. Or maybe it escalates to “what if I chuck this laptop out the window of a fast-moving car”.
How is a writer supposed to handle these good twin/evil twin, yin and yang versions of creative inspiration? It’s not possible to arrange a joint custody agreement, so that each group can do it’s what if-ing on alternating weekends. And they can’t be separated from each other because they both use the same basic operating system (your brain).
We have to harness these What Ifs, and use them to our advantage. I’ve actually put the What Ifs into a book, turning them into a sort of Greek chorus that helps my heroine in a romantic comedy titled Bad Sex Karma.
I also have a few other suggestions that might help keep things in sync.
1. Put those angsty What Ifs to work
When we’re stuck on a scene, and we start to drift towards “what if I just wiped everything off the hard drive to save humanity from ever being exposed to this dreck”–remind yourself that characters go through similar emotions. Maybe they feel like they will never achieve their goal, or they’ll never be appreciated for who they are, or what they do.
Let the hero or heroine chatter while you scribble down their feelings. Explore what makes them believe this about their future. It will actually help you drill down to what their core values and beliefs are. Why do they feel this way? What makes them feel their goal is unattainable? Even though they express this, what makes them continue to strive for their goal?
2. Transform “What If” to “What’s Next?”
Answering the above types of questions will spark a ton of “what if” scenarios. The more you know about your characters, the more possibilities arise for different scenes, as well as interactions with other characters.
However, just as you can’t let yourself get derailed by the emo “what if” crowd, you can’t let the wildly enthusiastic “what ifs” steer the story train either. (“What if we add aliens? The kind that drink coffee through their fingertips?!”) You want to explore, not exhaust, the various plot options. So save the coffee-finger-guzzling aliens for a different story. Keep focused on moving forward, to the next step, the next scene, all the way to The End.
3. Use What If to recalibrate perspective
Isn’t this what really happens when the hero and heroine see each other in a different light all of a sudden? At the beginning of the book you can’t find two people who are more ill-suited for each other. There isn’t anything –not one single thing–that could make them feel differently. Okay, there is that one thing, the one that starts with S and ends with X. But other than that. . .
However, “what if” allows these two characters to make it from Point A to Point HEA in our stories. They have to contemplate something that they wouldn’t have considered when they started out. “What if” that annoying man who stood in the way of the heroine’s goals and made her lust go wild — what if he wasn’t what she thought he was? What if he was different than he appeared? Even more radical, what if he is exactly how he appeared all along, but the heroine opened her brain to possibilities which allowed her to see who he is?
Writers can benefit from this kind of recalibration too. As writers we’re blessed, and possibly cursed, with this insatiable desire to tell stories, trying to make words express the amazing things inside our heads. It’s frustrating when our vision doesn’t match with the reality on the page, and it can make us succumb to doubts and fears and tears and angst. Yet it’s even more maddening when our stories die a slow death, all because our creative What Ifs were choked out by the fearful What Ifs.
So let’s boot those aside, and pamper the productive What Ifs. How do you plan to do that today?
Okay, RU Crew – toss out a few productive What If’s – lets hear ‘em!
Join us tomorrow for Romantic Suspense author Laura Griffin and how to keep ‘em turning the pages!
Bio: I have worked as an attorney, winery tasting room manager, and retail business owner, but nothing beats the thrill of writing humorously-ever-after romances.
Currently I reside in New England, although I fantasize about spending the rest of my days in a tropical locale, consuming mojitos for breakfast and wearing flip flops year-round.
I can usually be found at the local Starbucks, fine-tuning my caffeine levels while working on my latest manuscript, or on Twitter (@BookEmDonna), talking about writing, and coffee. Find out more about me and my books at www.AllAboutTheWriting.com.
- Outsmarting Your Brain with Donna Cummings
- Are YOU the Writer’s Block? With Donna Cummings
- Can I Have 15 Minutes of Your Time? Donna Cummings
- Tools Not Rules with Donna Cummings
- Keep ‘Em Hooked by Laura Griffin