What if?

I don’t know about you but I clearly remember the days when stories that were told to me started with something as simple as ‘once upon a time’, ‘in the beginning’, or something along those lines.

When I started to realise that getting told stories led to me making up my own (I was doing that before I started writing them down – before I could properly write) most of my childhood stories started the same way: at the beginning.

Over the years, however, and most especially over the last year or so, I have realised that I have changed how I go about the creation of a story. In the past it was definitely more about a plot that I would create characters for or a character that I would create plot for. Occasionally I may have had an actual line of dialogue that set the whole story moving in my head; more than once I had an ending and worked from there to the beginning. Now I start with something much more simple: a question.

What if?

Two simple words, really but, from them, I have found a wealth of ideas and creativity. My novella, ‘The Crimson Blade’ (available on Amazon in the ‘By Might or Metal’ anthology if you are looking for it ;) ) came about when I asked the following question:

What if the good guys don’t win?

Seven words in that simple question led to me writing twenty-three thousand words in about four days. Just a couple of days ago, before I sat down and wrote the fifty-word story, I asked another very simple question:

What if you would do anything for your next hit?

Ten words that time, and I got fifty words at the end of things. From a purely mathematical standpoint the payoff on the second wasn’t quite as good but, thankfully, I worry more about English literature than mathematics.

I should, I suppose, point out that while I start with the one question, ‘what if …?’ I don’t end there. Instead I go through the why, how, when were type questions and, if I am lucky, things start to almost write themselves. For example when I asked ‘what if the good guys don’t win?’ it led me, obviously, to ‘who are the good guys’ and ‘who are the bad guys’. A big question was ‘why don’t they win’ followed by ‘how do the bad guys get the upper-hand’ but, at the end of the day, it started with ‘what if’.

Two days ago, when I knew that I was going to write a small, throwaway, 100 word story I asked myself a simple question and then started writing long hand. That questions was:

‘What if he could fly?’

Unfortunately for me, two days later, I am actually still writing longhand and, at the moment, probably have about 30 pages in an A5 notebook; at a rough guess I would say that I am about a third, possibly a half, of the way through what is turning into a very interesting story indeed.

Unfortunately isn’t the right word, of course, it is fortunately – because I know that once I bring the longhand notes to the keyboard I will multiple the questions many times which will lead to more answers in terms of characters, plot, settings, quandaries, exposition, dialogue, narrative and, if I am very luck the two words at the start of my story, ‘what if’, will lead to the very best two words of all for any writer who embarks on a story:

The end.