Saturday, July 17, 2010

On Being a Writer- Playing the "What If" Game

The "What If" game was the best thing I ever learned while exploring the ways to become a competant writer.  I started out playing the game in the traditional way-- seeing a person and "What iffing" him or her into a whole story. 

For instance, an older man stands waiting outside an office building, an impatient look on his face.  Suddenly, a beautiful young woman approaches, her very high heels emphasizing the shape of her long legs, and she throws herself at the man, who embraces her.  

Now, this scenario can be played out in several ways depending on what type of book you want to write.  If it's a thriller, what if the man is a spymaster and the woman an enemy agent who has fallen against him on purpose to inject him with a slow-acting poison.  She will then push herself away, apologize profusely and go on her merry way. 

In a second scenario, the man awaits the arrival of the young woman with anticipation.  They embrace and then he places a tender kiss on her forehead.  They walk away, arm in arm, towards a taxi.  As they depart, the woman's sweet voice drifts back, "Hey Pops, let's hurry.  I can't wait for you to meet Bill."  A father and daughter meeting in town for lunch with the girl's boyfriend?  Perhaps, what if he is an older bank robber and his young accomplice going to meet a new recruit for a bank robbery?  This beginning could go in many directions-- a family relationship saga, a bank caper, a straight romance.  The ending can be as varied as the number of writers who attempt the game.

In a mystery writer's mind, what if the man is an aging Lothario who is meeting his sexy lover for a lunch date in the hotel room that they have used every week for a year.  This day, however, is different, for the man's wife is waiting for them to meet, planning to follow them and end the affair today with a snub-nosed .38. 

Last but never least, a Romance writer might envision the man as a self-isolated man about to have the love of his life fall into his arms.  What if he then spends time finding out who she is and setting up ways to get to know her and convincing her that she wants to spend the rest of her life with him?  Or visa versa? 

Life is full of such scenarios and playing the "what if " game can make them come alive into full fledged plots.   At times a single "what if" can be all that is needed, and at others, multiple "what ifs" are required throughout the story.  Just as we each must make choices in our everyday actions based on how we, or others, might react, playing "what if" within your story might help your characters make the right cloices in their lives.  Selecting the correct "what if" can keep the actions of your characters consistant throughout the book and keep your readers happy. 

Last, but not least by any means, an apology for missing my posting date for the past two months.  Real life sometimes intrudes and fills your mind to the exclusion of all else.  Serious illnesses for both my husband and myself have been resolved on his part and adjusted to on mine.  On top of that, I have checked and rechecked my pre-galleys and galleys and think I am finally done.  So, until this book comes out I'll be busy playing the "What If" game with my next western novel.  Happy writing!

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