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Overcoming Writer's Block. A Writer's Two Best Friends: "What If?"
The Writer at Work
A Writer's Two Best Friends: What If?
How do you overcome writer's block? Get a little help from your friends "What" and "If"!
I believe that a writer's two best friends are the words, "What If". Just like in real life, in writing we can rely on our friends to get us through the hard times. And who do we rely on and trust the most but our best friends? With the help of these two small, but powerful, friends, you can be writing again in no time.
Ask yourself this question about your writing life: What if I never had writer's block again?
The Problem: Writer's Block
A Simple Idea:
Take a simple idea and start asking "What If?" questions about it.
Start off with a simple idea. Now, I'm not talking about an award-winning, blockbuster, best-selling list type of idea. Thinking in these terms while in a rut will probably only add to your distress. All you are looking for at this stage is a simple idea to put down on paper (or on your computer screen) so that you can tell yourself that you wrote something. It doesn't even have to be good.
For example: "A boy slapped his neck." Not a very mind-blowing idea. In its current form, it's not even a story idea, is it? But watch what happens if we start asking "What If" questions about this idea:
"What if the boy is sitting on an anthill?"
"What if the boy is angry?"
"What if the boy is lost?"
"What if the boy ran away?"
"What if the boy has a computer chip in his neck?"
"What if the boy's father is the President of the United States of America?"
"What if the boy just found out that he is adopted?"
"What if there was a UFO hovering miles above the boy's head?
As you can see, the "What If" questions don't all have to be about the boy's neck. They can be about him, his surroundings, his situation in life, his family, and anything else related to him. The "What If" questions can be vague and general or narrow and specific.
The Pen is Mightier Than The Sword
A List Of Materials:
Now, of course, you're writing these questions down. So, in effect, you are making a list of unanswered questions about this boy. Where will they lead?
Continue to add to these questions until you feel you have made yourself a list of materials from which you could possibly build a story idea. In time, some of these questions will become the first building blocks of your story.
Keep up-front in your mind the idea that you can ask even the zaniest of questions. You are free to let your imagination roam because you don't have to write your story about all of these questions. In fact, it would probably end up looking pretty silly if you did. You are not confined to anything. The idea is to kick-start your mind and then to keep it running. Good ideas will come with the bad. You can sort out what you've written later.
Two Best Friends
Continue Your Curiosity:
Now comes the exciting part! Take a look through your list of "What If" questions and ask yourself "What If" questions about them! For example:
"What if the anthill was sitting on top of a toxic waste dump?"
"What if the ants were mutating?"
"What if the boy gets psychotic when he is angry?"
"What if the boy gains some type of powers when he is angry?"
"What if the computer chip was an experimental government-made chip for a secret, mind-control project?"
"What if the chip was a tracking device implanted by aliens?"
"What if the chip was a new weapon implanted by terrorists?"
"What if the lost boy is being watched by a predator?"
"What if the lost boy is the only one who can save someone who is in trouble or whose life is in danger?" (The same questions apply to the boy if he is a runaway).
"What if the President's son is without his Secret Service Escort?"
"What if the President's son holds the key to his father's success or failure in office?"
"What if the adopted boy is really an alien?"
"What if the aliens who lost him are looking for him?"
"What if the UFO above his head was about to abduct him?"
"What if the UFO above his head was piloted by the alien boy's real parents, but the boy would be better off with his adopted parents here on Earth?"
As you can see, some of the previous questions can actually fit together in this stage. And, as you may have noticed, this process of questioning the questions can go as deep as you would like them to go. When you are satisfied with where this process has taken you, it will be time to home in on your idea. That is where your next group of friends come in!
Your best friends have helped you quite a bit. But you have another group of friends who want to help you out. Their names are "Who," "What," "When," "Where," "Why" and "How." They have seen how far you have gotten and are excited about what you are working on. They want to help you decide which ideas are the best and find out more about them. Let's see what happens when they lend a hand:
"Who is this boy?" Time to decide if he is the President's son, an alien, or both! "Who will this boy interact with in this story?" "Is the villain watching him from behind a building or that nearby UFO?" Also, it's about time you picked a name for your character.
"What situation is he in?" "Is he lost or did he run away?" "Is he in danger or is he a danger to others?" Now is also the time to find out things like: "What does he want?" "What does he plan to do to get what he wants?" "What could go wrong to keep him from getting what he wants?" "What can he do about the challenges he is about to face?" If he has super powers now is the time to ask "What kind of super powers does he have?"
"Where is the boy?" "Is he on an anthill?" "Is that anthill on top of a toxic waste dump?" "Where else is he?" "Is he on Earth or on another planet?" "Where specifically is he (for instance, which country, which city, which part of the city)?"
"When does this story take place?" "Is it present day? The past? The future?" More specifically, "What time of day is it?" This might become very important for a lost or runaway boy who doesn't know where he is going to sleep.
"Why is he in this situation?" "Did he run away because he was being abused?" "Is he angry at a bully?" "Does he miss his home planet?" And for crying out loud, "Why did he slap his neck?" "Is there really a tracking chip or a weaponized device inside?"
"How will this story be resolved?" "Will it be a happy ending or a sad one?" "Will the boy succeed or fail?" "Will this boy grow through his experience?"
I hope you have already noticed that these specific questions can go very deep into the boy's situation. In combination with your "What If?" questions, they can decide the plot, setting, characterization, meaning, and every other detail of your story. Spend some time and develop your story and its characters. With such eager friends willing to help, there is no stopping you!
In the Zone
What are you most likely to do when experiencing writer's block?
Building A Roadmap:
Pick the most interesting answers and start assembling them into a story idea. This is the step where you get to choose what you like from your questions and from all the information you have gathered.
You now have a wealth of ideas for your story and the excitement and enthusiasm that come with them. Seeing the story laid out in front of you, you now know where you are going and are ready to get started with the actual writing!
To show where this can lead, here is only one of many possible story ideas that can come out of this list of questions and answers:
Adam Jackson is the son of the President of the United States of America. At least that is what everyone on Earth believes. In reality, Adam is an alien whose real parents are, at this very moment, hovering in a space ship high above the planet. Implanted in Adam's neck is a micro-computer device capable of recording and uploading to his ship all the world's most sensitive information. From the building blocks of human DNA, to the world's most advanced offensive and defensive weapons, the device in Adam's neck is ready to provide an alien race with all they need to take over the Earth. Only one thing stands in the way of the total conquest and enslavement of the human race: Adam Jackson loves his new parents and their way of life. He does not approve of what his real parents are planning to do to his new home. Adam Jackson is a very capable being. And, Adam Jackson is mad!
That's the basic story idea. This is the step where that idea gets outlined to form the skeleton of a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end. This skeleton will be further fleshed out with other details found in the answers to the list of questions that have been asked.
Begin writing your story! Start with the part you are most excited about. Not every story has to be written in order from beginning to end, just start writing!
And remember, if you get stuck, or if you want to change direction, you have nothing to worry about. Your friends won't let you down. Just ask more questions!
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to start writing a story about a boy who slapped his neck.
Another Method For Writing
Helpful Links for Writers:
- Write Better, Get Published, Be Creative | WritersDigest.com
Writer’s Digest is the No. 1 Resource for Writers, Celebrating the Writing Life and What it Means to be a Writer in Today's Publishing Environment.
- Zoetrope: All-Story
The online home of the internationally acclaimed short fiction and art quarterly founded by Francis Ford Coppola.
- Fantasy editing service by Bristol Services
Fiction editing service, critiques, novel and manuscript editing.