The ‘What If’ Game

The “What If” Game

By the way this is more of a writing exercise than a game.

This is an exercise has been creative writing classes, writing blogs and writing books alike. So of course I have to talk about The “What If” game.

What is it you might ask? Well it’s simple you simply ask ‘what if’ followed by some scenario that sounds like it might make an interesting story.

Unfortunately, newbie writers tend to play this game wrong by asking the same old, tired, cliché, boring questions that other science fiction and fantasy authors have asked before.

What if:

…you can clone dinosaurs and put them in an amusement park?

…a teenage girl who pouts too much fell in love with a vampire/ werewolf?

…a teenage boy fell in love with a witch?

…a king died and he has no rightful heir and everyone wants his throne?

…a young boy/girl went to some school to learn magic?

…the government was actually run by alien monsters?

And the greatest sin…

…a young, poor farm boy obtains a magic sword that can do anything?

And the list goes on and on…and on. Boring, cliché questions make for boring cliché stories. Not that, that comment applies to all the novels above but if the idea
sounds familiar, that’s because it is. So how do you remedy this problem you ask? You get more creative. You start with stipulations. For those of you brainstorming on your next book, first try this.

Get a piece of paper or open a word processor (whatever makes you happy) and number it 1 to 30. Or 20 or 10 but try 30. And write down ‘what if’ questions that pertain to your favorite stories. Here are a few examples I’ve come up with.

What If:

…Leia was raised on Tatooine instead of Luke?

…Luke and Leia were actually twin boys or twin girls?

…it had been Hermione Granger and the Sorcerer’s Stone or Harriet Potter?

…the Good Witch of the North had told Dorothy that she could’ve gone back to Kansas from the beginning of the movie by simply clicking her heels? (Sorry, it still kinda bugs me)

…the Dragon Reborn was born a woman? Not Rand Al’thor but Rachel Al’thor.

…Ocean’s 11 was comprised of all women and instead of all men? And I mean intelligent women, not annoying bad girl clichés.

Notice how I change one thing? (mostly gender) However, that one change, changes everything. Ha Leia gone to Tatooine to become a moisture farmer like Luke had been, who knows what kinda story would’ve resulted from that. In fact, you’d be surprised by the crazy stories that come as a result from switching the main character’s gender. So ask 30 of those questions and actually try to imagine the answers. Or write them down. Up to you.

But once you’re done, get another piece of paper, or new Word document and number that 1 to 30 as well. Now this time, AFTER you’ve completed the first exercise, come up with your own questions. Keep in mind, if the questions are boring, or it doesn’t make you think, you’re obviously asking the wrong questions.

Here are a few examples.

What If:

…the Victorians discovered wormhole technology?

…all the myths are true?

…you caught your wife in bed with an elf? A superhot (Liv Tyler-ish) she-elf?

…you lived on Atlantis during its final days?

…you lived in the year 1 billion A.D.?

…you had a machine that couldn’t travel through time but to other universes?

…your wife and the mother of your children is actually the Greek goddess Athena?

…you woke up one day with a splitting headache, a funny looking tattoo on your arm that you don’t remember getting, a pile of naked and brutally murdered bodies from an orgy you don’t remember having, and a text message on your phone stating, “Complete the list in a week or the metamorphoses will be irreversible.”

Some of these are from stories I’ve already written, am currently working on or just wrote for the hell of it. The wonderful thing about this exercise is that it helps you brainstorm, not only for a new book or a new chapter as well. Stuck on a chapter? Ask ‘what if the hero did this?’ or ‘what if the bad guy does that?’ It also helps sort out the good ideas from the ideas that sound like good ideas aka bad/terrible ideas.

The final step to this exercise is, take your list and run it by your friends and family. Ask them which idea out of your list sounds more interesting or entertaining or not cliché. Which ‘what if’ question, are they most interested in finding out the answer? Once you have a winner, start writing and do what you can from there.

Thanks for reading. And I’ll post another blog when I have the time. Take care and happy writing.


About berleykerr

A Steampunk Author from Los Angeles.
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