The best question: What if?
I ramble. Getting back to my point, this ‘what if’ approach is fundamental, a question any creative writer has to ask themselves repeatedly when putting the flesh on the bones of their novel. Ideas sometimes come to us through the Ideas Channel, but the image isn’t always clear, the idea needs some amending, or it simply doesn’t give us the full picture. I like to use a combination of left/right brain thinking to plough through this uncertainty. I ask ‘what if’ and I mind map the results. You know, those charts with loads of radial lines and multiple colours?
This may sound a bit basic but this approach can take you to some very interesting places. Mind maps can be used to provide direction to an idea, expanding certain points in a logical fashion like:
- Exploring a new concept: Let’s assume for a moment that music is actually a magical power. What does that mean, what would happen?
- Either/Or choices: What could happen if your main character does X – which really seems stupid at the time, but is in keeping with their personality; or do they instead do Y, where does this take our story? Better, worse, indifferent?
- Getting the story from A to B: How do we get the characters to move their backsides to the mountains where the Arch villain is waiting for them with the Nasty Weapon of Ultimate Doom? What are our options, and how do these work out if we follow them to their conclusion?
This approach is also a bit like the i-ching, flipping a coin, working out probability, a bit like a chess grandmaster has to analyse all the options before making a move. One could say that writers, being creative types aren’t like that, we need that creative muse to be upon us. To be fair, when ‘what if’ is overused it can reduce a novel to a pile of formulaic drivel. But it can also lend a keen edge to novel writing or give us a reality check that our character really wouldn’t do that, or the consequent plot pile up is best avoided. It can also throw in some left-field ideas we weren’t expecting. So speaking personally, I am glad ‘what if’ is in my writer’s toolbox.
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