Writing tip of the day: What if …?

Is there ever a moment when you look at your writing and you think, “blimey, this is boring! It doesn’t even interest me!”?

Instead of throwing that paper in the bin or hitting the delete key, why not spice up your writing by asking the question “what if?”

Imagine you’re writing crime fiction. Your detective is staking out some place in New York, next to one of those cool fire escapes that their buildings have. He knows that his target is behind the door.

It’s a stereotypical scenario. How can you spice it up? Just start asking yourself “what if…?” and let the ideas flow, without any restrictions on what you write down.

What if…

  • the target has a dog?

  • the target is crying?

  • the target is a zombie?

  • the target is talking to his mother on his mobile?

Yes, it’s a form of brainstorming, but we tend to think of brainstorming as a process that starts before we sit down to write. The “what if …?” question can really enrich your writing, especially if you’re getting bogged down in a scene or an encounter.

This is especially true in more autobiographical works. If you are drawing on your own life to write fiction, sometimes you can get trapped by what really happened.

The gibbons crawled all over our car in the safari park.

What if  …

  • your little brother opened the window and they stole your mum’s handbag?

  • someone had illegally given them some cider and they were sick everywhere?

  • you were exhausted, hallucinating and they started talking to you?

  • they were speaking French?

Reality doesn’t affect me too much because I work in fantasy anyway, but this is still a great technique to get those creative juices flowing. Push it as far as you can go and then draw back. It’s astonishing to see what sort of ideas you can dredge up.


10 responses to “Writing tip of the day: What if …?

  1. This is good and I am always thinking of crimes and suspicious behavior! I “wrote” a murder mystery but never did anything with it. Needs lots of fine tuning! Thanks for a great read and suggestions!

    • Thanks! I reckon you can never push those ideas enough. I’ve been using this “what if” technique a lot recently and it really works. It beats staring at a blank page any day…

  2. Love it! I don’t write anything worth reading, but I could use the ‘what if…’ to help my students in class to be more creative. Thank you!

  3. Pingback: Writing tip of the day: What if …? | Kg Books Publishing

  4. Clever technique, the simple ideas never occurs when the stress of writing is at it’s height. I shall remember this, it’s a nice grounding excercise, a simplification of the thought process. I like it.

    • Recently, I’ve also found it nice to chat through ideas about stories with my friends. I used to be so secretive about anything I wrote, but now I quite like throwing ideas around. It’s particularly good to find people who write stuff in a completely different genre, as they bring a different eye to the whole thing.

  5. That makes sense, new perspectives and ideas. I know what you mean about secrecy though, that bit of gold dust that will make you money, no one should sully that. Still when the ideas flow with other people it can be mildly intoxicating.

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