“What If?” is the most powerful question that any writer can ask. This simple phrase is the catalyst that opens the mind to an endless world of possibilities.
When screenwriters are pitching movie concepts to producers, they always begin with the logline, a one or two sentence description of the story. Even though they don’t usually use the words, “What If?”, that’s the basic concept. To illustrate how useful the concept is, take a moment to think about your favourite novel or movie. How would you describe the plot in one sentence, beginning with the phrase, “What If?” For Titanic, my best guess would be: What if a young woman engaged to a man from a wealthy family, fell in love with a poor artist travelling on the Titanic?
I remember watching the original Star Trek series with scenes where Captain Kirk was talking to a Star Fleet commander on a computer screen. In order for that to be written into the script, someone had to ask himself or herself, “What if future technology will allow people to talk to each other face to face through computers?” Now it’s no big deal, but at the time it seemed like amazing technology.
The reason “What If?” is so effective for fiction writers, especially science fiction and fantasy writers, is because it doesn’t imply any limitations. You’re writing a novel and you ask yourself, “What if the largest predator on the planet where my heroine has been stranded has huge razor sharp teeth, spits acid and can both fly and swim?” By continually asking “What If?” you can raise the tension and keep your readers up all night turning pages.
I hope this week you’ll spend some time asking, “What If?” and create great literature. Since it’s probably a cardinal sin for a writer to miss an opportunity to market his or her writing, I should mention the title of my eBook is What If? A Collection of Short Fiction by J. Paul Cooper. You can purchase a copy through Smashwords or other online eBook retailers, or you can ask your local library to order it through Overdrive or Cloud Library.