The Magic of What If? and Why?

When I first started writing I had one – just one – idea for a story. That was a bit scary.   Would I ever come up with a second?

And then, as I immersed myself in the craft and process of writing, that wonderful thing happened – as it does to most writers – where everything I saw, read, heard, or did threw up thousands of potential ideas.

But there’s a huge difference between having an idea and transforming it into a story. That’s where the two magical writing questions – and I truly believe there is a magic to them – of What If?  and Why? come in.

For example, here’s an article (click here) I saw in the Daily Mail (please don’t judge me!) a few weeks ago.  This gives you the What If?  What if an apartment in Paris lay empty for seventy years?   (It doesn’t have to be an apartment.  It could be a single room.  A cupboard, even.  And it doesn’t have to be in Paris.  It could be set in London, or Glasgow, or Calgary, or anywhere. It doesn’t even have to be contemporary find. The room/house/building might have been discovered in the 18th Century.  Or the 6th.)

Now comes the most important question – the one that allows you to develop an idea into a story.

Why?

Why was the house abandoned?  What happened here? Does it hold a secret? Was it, perhaps, cursed, and if so, why? Why did no-one ever cross the threshold in seventy years. Why did the neighbours not question what lay behind the doors?

Why then leads you on to the next important question –  Who?  Who did the property belong to? Who was s/he?  (Or they?) Why did s/he never return?  Out of fear? Grief? Denial? Laziness? Forgetfulness? Did the owner perhaps die and her children didn’t even know the apartment existed?  (If not, why not?) What, if any, impact did abandoning this house have on his or her life?

Then come other questions.  When did this happen? What was going on during this time period in the character’s personal life? What was going on in the wider world around him or her?

Where did it happen and why is this place so significant?

Don’t always accept the first answer you come up with – if you dig a little deeper on each question you will probably come up a more interesting and less clichéd answer.

If you still can’t find an answer, maybe you’re trying to force things, or perhaps shift your focus to one detail – e.g. the painting – in the building.  What if the painting is of the owner?  (What if it’s not?) Why was it painted? When was it painted? Who was the artist? Why – if it’s so valuable – was it left in the apartment?

The questions are endless but the two most important  – the ones that will always get you started are:  What If?  Why?

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2 thoughts on “The Magic of What If? and Why?

  1. I keep six honest serving men
    They taught me all I knew
    Their names are What and Why and When
    and How and Where and Who.

    Kipling 1902 (Just So Stories)

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