What if….it’s a question that plagues writers, but it can be used to your advantage! Let regular contributor Donna Cummings tell you how.
All the time.
It’s second nature, so we probably don’t even realize we’re doing it. I’ve decided it’s actually a form of gymnastic exercise for our brains. And it starts with that magical duo: what if.
“What if I can’t finish this book?”
“Whew! I finished it, but what if everyone hates it?”
“Whew! Readers seem to like it, but what if they don’t like the next one I write?”
It’s like your brain is on a trampoline, bouncing up high with good news, and then crashing itself back down again, over and over. Why does it never seem to wear itself out?
The good news is you can use that particular tendency for your writing.
One of my favorite writing-craft books is Story Trumps Structure. Author Steven James starts out with a story of how he was giving a talk at a grade school. Normally he would ask the kids what they did on their summer vacation, and they would give some rote answer about having fun, going on vacation, etc.
Instead, he asked them to tell about a time something went wrong. A kid’s hand shot into the air, and he told a captivating story of something that definitely falls into the category of “seemed like a good idea at the time”. The entire classroom was transfixed.
A good story—one that keeps us turning the pages or tapping the screens into the late hours—depicts all the things that go wrong for the lead characters, and it lets readers experience these worrisome moments from a safe distance.
Romance stories are no different. They start out with everything fine, and end with everything finer. In the middle is where “what could possibly go wrong” reigns supreme.
So how do we harness our brain’s natural-born tendency to worry, and transform it into something story-worthy? Here’s a few thoughts:
- Let ‘er Rip
Just start typing, or writing, whenever it feels like the Worry Machine is cranking into high-speed production mode. The brain is an overachiever in this regard, and if it’s going to race along with all the possible disaster scenarios it can imagine, let ‘er rip. Nothing is unimportant. Maybe it will border on the ridiculous. No, it will border on the ridiculous. Let every idea, big or small, have a chance to be heard. This gives the little gray cells a chance to show off. Give them a kiss and a thank you for being so gosh-darn imaginative. Who knows? They might even toss up a little worry nugget that can develop into an entire story.
- Share it with your characters
Our brains are hard-wired to protect us from disaster, and I’m thankful for that. Unfortunately my brain has a tendency to file everything under the label “disaster”. (It’s not likely I will ever need to outrun a mastodon, but if I did, several scenarios have already been mapped out to ensure I succeed.) My more-evolved brain entertains itself by preparing me for other (un)likely emergencies, like how to cope if the internet and coffee both disappeared from the earth at the same time. Eeek!
Take these heartpounding moments and give them to your characters. What would they do if they were trying to outrun a [insert something scary here] in order to save [something they love as much as their coffeemaker]? It doesn’t always have to be dinosaur-level scary either. Our romance heroes and heroines start out viewing LOVE as something just as frightening as a woolly mammoth on a rampage. Falling in love can be one of the scariest, and bravest, things a person can do. You get to help your characters through this, reassuring them that everything will work out fine…after they endure several chapters of the worst you can imagine for them.
- Treat it like the superpower that it is
Everyone has five senses (unless you count common sense, and some people. . .*ahem*) Anywho, try to look at this ability to worry as a talent. Sometimes I envy those people who don’t see disaster lurking around every corner, and okay, I also worry about them, adding them to my already-overflowing list of things to be concerned about. At the same time, I think how much they’re missing out on because they aren’t able to create stories out of a little niggling, worrisome “what if”. You get to don your Worry Cape and spread impending doom throughout your storytelling world, because not only are you making things go wrong, you’re making them go right too.
So there you have it – some ideas for transforming your hand-wringing into something your characters will thank you for. Eventually. Once that HEA is finally in their grasp.
The best part is there is always going to be an endless supply of worries, concerns, fears, anxieties—and they’ll be standing by, eager to jump in and give you many creative responses to, “What could possibly go wrong?”
RU Writers, are you a worry wart? Does it help your writing?
Join us Monday for Ella Carey
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.
I reside in New England, although I fantasize about spending the rest of my days in a tropical locale, wearing flip flops year-round, or in Regency London, scandalizing the ton.
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