It was Brandon Sanderson who first gave me the idea. I was perusing the writing tips section of his website, and somewhere in the midst of his brilliant laws for magic, he mentioned something about getting ideas by asking the question “what happens when …?”. Actually, he was really talking about expanding versus adding on to magic systems—basically, his advice is to have characters use the same power in different ways instead of giving everybody a different power. But that’s a different blog post. That one tip—ask yourself “what happens when …?”—stuck with me, because it’s such a good way to get your creative juices flowing. Often, I’ll tell myself, “Okay, I need to write an awesome story/add some great new developement/etc.,” and then I can’t think of a single idea. You’d think someone with my way-too-active imagination would have no problem conjuring up an idea or two, but, it’s hard to do on command.
So, my idea: Every day this summer, sit down for a mere five minutes with the question “What happens when …?” and write down whatever comes to mind. By the end of the summer, I should have tons of ideas to pick and choose from. They don’t have to be completely random ones, either—they can relate to my WIP (Work In Progress), such as “What happens when this character of mine meets this other character/is confronted with a certain situation/has to make this decision/etc.?”. Hopefullly they’ll help me expand my story in ways I never thought of before.
For some examples of what your ideas may look like, here are some I jotted down in my journal a few weeks ago. I actually used the phrase “What if …?” but it’s the same concept.
• What if everyone had special powers/talents/abilities based off of which hand was dominant? And what if people’s dominant hands had unique physical properties, too—stronger, more dextrous, healed quickly, etc.? What if clapping was the spell’s catalyst or way of channeling the power?
• What if everyone could see just one color or hear just one type of sound? What if thye didn’t realize they were different? What if someone came to their world and unwittingly revealed it to them? What if them bonding together to somehow get the whole spectrum of color/sounds was the only way to defeat the evil in their world?
• What if everything hinged on a dress and the girl destined to wear it (a Cinderella’s slipper of sorts)?
• What if the good guys ruled a city with streets made from huge cobblestones and the bad guys were secretly assembling underground? What if the good guys knew/suspected this and had a special way of marking the stones that they thought the bad guys were beneath or were going to use as a way to enter the city?
As you can see, they’re all quite random, and some of them aren’t really that original or creative. However, it’s a fun exercise that helps me use my imagination, and who knows? I may just use one of those ideas someday.
What about you? What are some “what if/what happens when …” ideas that you have?