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ProAm Tips #8

What if?

Those words should be your guide.

I write science fiction, a little horror, a bunch of crime, and three dramas. And each of them started with what if?

You want to always ask that question, even when you’re writing a story about something normal and non-scifi and non-horror and non-spec. What if?

What if vampires needed to apply for hunting permits?

What if in the future, misdemeanor offenders have to pick up trash in orbit instead of by the highway?

What if an upstanding member of law enforcement were in love with the most wanted criminal in the world?

What if magic were real- and more addictive than heroin?

What if you intervened in a fight between an angel and a demon?

What if a jewel thief fell for a hooker, who gets kidnapped?

What if being a repo man meant stealing spaceships?

What if no one knew how important your job was to the universe?

What if people needed replacement parts like cars, every three thousand miles?

What if you caught a criminal and then found out he was innocent, only the world didn’t want to believe it?

What if there were a lottery to get off the dying Earth?

What if you were born to be a blues guitarist, and trained to be a composer of classical music?

What if you were an ex-cop and people in your neighborhood started getting killed, only the cops didn’t do anything?

What if society fell, and all that stood between your apartment building full of old people and a raging mob was you?

What if you were in charge of deciding who could leave a dying world, and one of the applicants was an old, unqualified girlfriend?

Every one of these questions has been behind my novels and stories. I ask a thousand stupid questions a day. Maybe one or two is what iffy-enough to be a good story. But that’s what it takes. You want to write? Ask questions. Look at the norm and ask what might happen if.

The hardest thing to write is originality. There just aren’t that many plots in the world. Forty, maybe. But settings? Infinite. And characters? Twice infinite.

People are interesting. Places are interesting.

Unusual ideas? They’re gold.

So, what’s your what if?

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