Do you see that up there? I want you to commit that to mind RIGHT NOW. Do whatever you need to do to remember it, I don’t give a shit. Memorize, write it down, tattoo it on your body, whatever it takes.
Two letters. I and F. IF. This is the MOST IMPORTANT WORD YOU’LL USE TO CREATE A PLOT and a story worth half a damn.
- Star Wars: “What if a lone farm boy in space discovered he had long thought lost magical powers?”
- The Count of Monte Cristo: “What if a man was thrown in jail and had a chance to escape and take revenge over a long period of years?”
- Stephen King’s It: “What if children’s fears weren’t actually their imagination but real and only they could see them?”
- Harry Potter: “What if there was a school for witchcraft hidden in a space that normal people couldn’t see?”
- Spider-Man: “What if a boy was bitten by a spider that gave him powers that was like a spider?”
I could keep going forever, but I think you get the point. ALL stories are rooted in a deep IF. This is where you need to start. But where else in your work does the “What If” question extend? The answer: EVERYWHERE.
The most bone-headed thing you could do to ensure that you are going to fail is to start writing your story without knowing where the hell you are headed. That’s like packing up, getting in your car and starting to drive without a destination in mind. Sure, it might be fun at first but… eventually you’re going to run out of gas, or get stranded, or any other dozen things that could happen. And then you realize you don’t even know where to turn for help and you’re just stuck. Does that sound familiar?
It’s called WRITER’S BLOCK. Being able to answer, know, and define your what-ifs is your safeguard against it.
Every decision that your characters make is a choice of IFs. If they go left, this happens. Or if they go right, that happens. Your job as a storyteller is to be able to see where those paths go and pen those results. If you plan ahead and KNOW the final destination of your story, you can direct the IFs in your narrative to ensure that a writing block does not occur. If you don’t, you’re just asking for another piece of work never finished, because you were too damn proud to plan accordingly.
A story is NOTHING but a very long and complicated series of cause and effects. A story typically begins with some event (a cause) happening to the main character, which then leads into your story (the effect). From there, all your character is doing is moving around from effect to new cause until they eventually reach the predestined conclusion you have set for them. Cause, and effect. IF this event occurs, then THIS effect will happen.
Always Be Asking If. It is your lifeline.