The What If Question

One of the most asked questions writers get is “How do you come up with your ideas for your stories?”

I can’t speak for everyone, but I can say that in general, story ideas begin at a certain starting point: asking “What if…”

The “What if” question can come from any small point of inspiration, and it can take a story in countless directions. Think of your favorite story. I bet you can come up with a “What if” question that goes with it.

For example, “What if a girl fell down a rabbit hole and found herself in a whole other world?” That would be Alice in Wonderland. How about this one? “What if a teenager was forced to compete in a fight to the death with other young people, for the entertainment value of a corrupted society?” That would be Hunger Games.

How about this one? “What if the man you thought you hated turned out to be the very man you were in love with?” This one is a bit more general, on purpose. It could probably go with many different stories. I’m thinking specifically of Pride and Prejudice, but do you see how a simple question could lead a writer in a thousand different directions?

The value of a “What if” question is that it can open up a world of ideas, and by asking and answering the question over and over again, you can eventually build a plot idea that turns into an entire book.

For me, the first “What if” question that I had for my first book was, “What if a woman grew up without a father? How would she relate to God as her Heavenly Father?” That question and the subsequent ones became the plot for Relentless Pursuit.

For Book 2, I started with this question: “What if Jake’s sister and Sam don’t get along?” Starting from that idea, I’ve been working through my “What if” questions for Book 2, and so far, I have over 2 pages of “What if” questions, each building from the answer to the one before it.

Some of them may never make it into the story, and some may lead down a useless “rabbit hole,” (haha), but in essence, all of them are important because they help to shape the idea into the story that it will become.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Did you think of a “What if” question for your favorite story? Leave a comment below to join in the conversation.

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