“What If…?” A Writer’s Gateway to the Universe

“What if” are two small but extremely powerful words in a writer’s toolbox. They are tantamount to a magic elixir. They are a writer’s gateway to the universe. Once they are uttered or even thought, they open the door to a world of unimagined possibilities. I know this to be true because that’s exactly how each of my manuscripts was conceived.


In August 2010, I recall waiting patiently for the reservationist to confirm my hotel room for the conference I was attending. As the elevator music played softly, in my thoughts I marveled at the new technologies that had been introduced over the last decade. And I remember thinking how vast the landscape would change in the near future because of the rapid pace at which new technologies were being introduced. Suddenly, the thought of a brand new technology entered my mind. One that hadn’t been invented. One that would allow an individual to be in two places at the same time, one virtual and the other real. Without warning, my mind went on autopilot and an inner voice said, “And what if through this new technology, while in the virtual world, a murder is witnessed — the murder of a high-ranking political official? I was off to the races from there. I wrote the first chapter of my first manuscript Elysian Escape that very afternoon.

My second manuscript started similarly. In May of last year, I was talking with one of my sisters on the telephone. We were reminiscing over our childhood and discussing plantation life in the Mississippi Delta in the early 1970’s. We laughed about some of the funny things that occurred and lamented over other events that weren’t quite so funny, such as the discord and dysfunction exhibited in our family. Anyhow, after I hung up from our conversation, my mind circled back to some of the things we’d talked about, and once again my mind slipped into autopilot and my inner voice said, “And what if in the midst of this chaotic family dynamic, the white land owner is murdered?” That’s all it took. The very next day I had the first chapter practically written.

I know that I’m on to something big here because I recall hearing a couple of well-known authors state that this is exactly how a story idea originated for them. So, if you are developing a new story idea, the “what if” method just may work for you. Or if your plot in the story you’re writing begins to drag, a good way to spice things up is to turn the plot on its head by adding a new twist by asking “what if” and go in a totally unexpected direction.

Just for fun, here are a few “what if” scenarios that may help jumpstart your own fiction writing:

• What if the child everyone thought was dead, didn’t die, but instead grew up and is endowed with magical powers.

• What if a young woman who thought her husband had died in a plane crash months earlier, discovers his nude corpse in the trunk of her car?

• What if, at a Chinese restaurant, a young man pulls a slip of paper from his fortune cookie that reads “You’re a dead man!”

• What if a man wakes up from plastic surgery with the face of an infamous person?

• What if, in the basement of her new home, a woman discovers a red door that is locked?

Below is a link to a book I found on Amazon by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter, entitled “What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers.” I haven’t read the book yet, but based upon the excellent reviews, I will be ordering it. It should be beneficial in kick starting any fiction writing project. Let me know what you think.



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