What if?


I am outlining my novel, Retribution.

And when I say outlining, I mean outlining, outlining.

The real deal.

I’ll give you a minute to digest that bit of news.  I don’t want to be responsible for causing anyone to go into shock-induced cardiac arrest.  I’m pretty sure my homeowner’s policy has no coverage stipulation for that.

I am no great proponent of the outline.  I think it’s a big old waste of time, and have successfully avoided squandering precious minutes of my life doing it.  I like to go with the flow, see where the ideas take me.  To do this, I employ a simple shell method.  I think of it as something that perhaps contains an aura of an outline without actually being an outline.

  • Topic
  • key points, usually 3 but sometimes more depending on the document (one word each)
  • Conclusion

That’s it.   I write these three little bullet points on a blank page and then proceed to fill in the paragraphs.  I’ve done it this way for…well…ever.  It has never failed me.

Until I started writing Retribution.

It turns out that it is impossible – for me, anyway – to write a well constructed novel by implementing this tried and true method of leaping before I look to see what lurks at the bottom of the canyon.  I hate it when I’m wrong.

It took a year for me to accept that I was going to have to suck this one up.  It was a year filled with several crying fits, a lot of self-loathing, and a couple of toddler worthy temper tantrums.  In the end, I seceded.  I am stubborn, but I’m not stupid.  I can admit when I’m beat.

As we speak, I am working on that outline.  I’ve received a lot of good advice from my fellow writers.  Some have recommended a few of their own methods, others have suggested certain reference books.  All great ideas which I’ve taken to heart – purchased a book or two.   Somewhere along the way, I came across someone or something – a blog, a writer’s manual, a professor (I can’t remember!  Ugh!) – who used the “what if?” method to dig deeper into their story.

What if Anna did this?

What if Anna did that?

What if Anna’s father said this?

What if Anna’s father injected her with this? And then told her that?  And then died in a fiery ball of twisted metal when a mysterious motorcyclist attached a bomb to the bottom of his moving car?

This intrigued me because “what if?” is a game I love to play while people watching at the gym.  I’ve used it as a prompt, but never considered doing it in this context.  So, I thought to myself:  Self, what if I used this method to write my first quick pass through in preparation for a more thorough outline?

My self agreed that it might be a decent idea.  I tried it out.  I wouldn’t say that I would recommend it for a hard-core outline, but it does get the creative juices flowing.  I’ve breezed my way through to the mid-point of the novel, in just two days.  I even sketched out the climax scene because, in the midst of all of this, I had a stroke of brilliance that could not be contained.  If nothing else, the “what if” exercise was rejuvenating – creatively speaking – and reconnected me with my story.  Just a few months ago, I thought that was an impossibility.

Should I dare to hope?

Could it be possible?

What if…what if I actually make all the way to…

…the end?

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Author: Peggy Isaacs

This is me. Is that you?

6 thoughts on “What if?”

  1. “I don’t want to be responsible for causing anyone to go into shock-induced cardiac arrest.” <– you are talking about me again

  2. Aww I’m happy it’s working out for you! I mentioned the ‘What If’ technique in my post a couple of days ago. It’s a pretty great exercise that helped me a lot.

    Also, when thinking of your story and its various scenes and what-not, try to start all your sentences with “Maybe.” It’s an open-ended word that functions almost like the What-if question.

    Happy Outlining and Writing 😀

    Good luck!

    1. AHA! That must be where I read it! I’ve read so much over the last week or two that it all runs together. Thank you! It really has opened up the creativity valve full force.

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