Tuesday, May 08, 2012

The Power of What If

One of the concerns I hear from beginning writers is that they will run out of ideas. When this comes up, I tell them two things:

1. It's pretty much impossible to run out of ideas. Most professional writers have more ideas than they have time to write.

2. Once you get into the daily habit of writing, ideas will start coming at you. In line at the grocery store. In the shower. Your brain will start to make connections and twist things into story ideas. Trust me, it's like opening some weird pipeline to the Muse.

But one tool I like is to ask "What if?" For some reason, going on vacations seems to spur ideas for novels. Perhaps because a new and different setting offers story possibilities. No Escape came about when we were vacationing up in the Thousand Islands. To access the island we stayed on, you had to drive over a dam. I thought: "What if something were keeping us on the island? And we had to fight our way off to survive?" Bam. Story idea. The park we stayed in became the inspiration for the setting. Once I dreamed up a threat to keep the characters on the island, I was off and running.

Let's say you're staying at a hotel. There's nothing good on TV and you don't want to order that type of movie on pay-per-view. The pool water reminds you of a swamp, and the fitness center has nothing more than a Thighmaster and some Richard Simmons exercise videos. Why not write?

Off the top of my head, here are some what ifs:

What if the hotel came under attack by zombies?

What if the hotel owner wouldn't let you leave?

What if one of the rooms was a portal to another world/dimension?

What if a group of escaped convicts used the hotel as a hideout?

What if you discovered a pile of bodies in an abandoned part of the hotel?

What if you woke up and the formerly occupied hotel was now empty?

What if you saw someone dumping a body in the pool?

What if there were a string of murders and the victims were haunting the hotel?

Those are some ideas that come to mind. Because I write horror and thrillers, most of mine have the potential to be that type of story. If you're not inclined toward the gruesome, why not try some others?

What if you fell madly in love with the person in the next room?

What if the owner told you he was leaving you the hotel in his will?

What if you saw a guest who resembled a long-lost family member?

The possibilities are endless. Sometimes it's just a matter of asking questions.

Thought I'd also give a writing update. I'm about twenty-five thousand words into writing Plague, the second book in The Dead Land Trilogy. I'm shooting for a June release. The first book, Infected, is available now for Kindle.

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