Waiting on the What Ifs

One author I know openly admits to being nosey. She likes to get down to the bottom of things, find out just why people do the things they do, exactly what motives them. I love it that she admits to this (not everyone would). I’m sure it’s the spark that helps to ignite her imagination each time she sits down to write.

I usually think of myself as a live-and-let-live kind of person. I don’t often find that my curiousity has me asking, for example, why my neighbour is out digging in the ground during the middle of the night (okay to be honest, that one might have me wondering. I have my limits, but you get the picture.) I often see things that don’t make me question the why of it, but that’s just me. Where as, my friend says she constantly wants to know why.

I have come to understand, over the years, that most things do have a viable explanation we just don’t know what explanation is. In fact, we might never know and that’s something we have to accept.

I consider myself more of a “what if” kind of writer. I like to think of a situation and then sprinkle it with a magic dusting of “what if.” Life throws us plenty of curves that I like to think of as the “what ifs” in life. Say—we have a trip all planned to go to the zoo, but what if a bunch of animals suddenly broke out and started roaming around the city? What if they headed toward our house? What if we were the only one left on the planet capable of rounding up all the stray animals? What if there was one animal in the bunch who was devious and calculating?

See what I mean? For a writer, the “what ifs” are endless. I like to think it’s those very “what ifs” that make our stories, and our lives interesting. Seems just when we have everything planned out something comes along that we hadn’t expected. Hopefully, that “what if” is something we look at as positive, something so wonderful that we couldn’t even imagine it happening even in our wildest dreams. I think you’ll agree that those are the best “what ifs.” Showing up to totally delight us in a way that surpasses anything we might have planned.

At the moment I’m in the process of trying out a whole bunch of “what ifs” in my WIP. I know my characters well, know their basic situation, I’m just waiting for a storm of “what ifs” to rain down upon me. Then I’ll start sorting through them, deciding which “what if” makes for the most interesting situation. It’s a great place to be at the moment because I sure do I love those “what ifs.”

Do you often find yourself asking why when you see something unusual? Or do you accept things you don’t understand? If you’re a writer do you find yourself more often asking “what if” or “why” or is it a little bit of both?

Have any interesting and wonderful “what if” showed up in your life recently?

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  1. I love to ask “why” and I also spend a lot of time thinking about “what if”. Ever since I was a little girl on the farm I have been making up “what if” stories in my head. I also look at things from a different angle than most people, I have found. You have to be a tad “strange” to be a writer I suppose. But it is fun!

    • Hey Darlene, I don’t think you’re strange at all. But I know what you mean. I’m usually surprized to find out that everyone doesn’t think the same way I do. Go figure!

  2. I like the way your mind thinks. My DH is a Why-guy, while I’m a “What if-girl”. I love watching people, but I often find myself thinking, What if an alien aircraft hovering over this exact spot and beamed 5 of us up. Who would they pick?

    The why isn’t as important as the what happens next.

    Great post, Laura.

    • Although a big part of me hopes I’m not one of the ones beamed up, it would probably make for interesting writing..LOL!

  3. I’m not a person constantly trying to find out why others do what they do. In my mind, it’s not likely that I’ll ever have enough information to make a decent judgment. Like you, I’m a “what if” kind of writer. Think of a situation and add a few “what ifs” and a story is born to grow into something wonderful via more “what ifs” that occur along the way. Great question to consider. Thank you for sharing. Blessings to you, Laura.

    • “What if” are two wonderful little words that opens our minds up to so much, doesn’t it? The bottom line seems to be that no matter whch question we ask, writers are naturally curious. We really need to be, don’t we?

  4. I would say I’m more of a ‘why’ person, wanting to understand the reasoning behind actions, e.g.
    I’ve had a major “what if” recently…What if I tried writing fiction? Aha! There’s a leap off the high dive.

    • WEll, Patti, what if you did write fiction? I think the fact that the “what if” showed up in your life probably means you owe it to yourself to give it a go. What do say? What genre did your “what if” push you toward?

      • Seriously, I don’t know enough about genre to answer that intelligently. I lean toward inspirational,though; and I know it’s not sci-fi. :) Maybe I would be ahead to figure out what it is NOT.

  5. Some recent examples of my nosiness (sp?) while substitute teaching – Why would you jam that raisin up your nose so far? Why would you cut your bangs in class? Why would you stab your pencil into his shoulder? Why would you make your numbers so big that only three could fit on the whole page? Why are you lying on your back under your desk with your feet up on your chair? (after hearing myself say “bottom on the seat, feet on the floor 100 times) Makes you wonder…but when the kids don’t have an answer, you’ve gotta make one up (in a story, of course!)

    • I LOVE those examples, Jan—and I do believe you just “outed” yourself, my friend…hehe

      You know, I have to admit your why questions do seem valid when put that way..LOL Too, too funny.

  6. Patty, my suggestion might be to write it first and then decide what you have. Had I sat down and thought to myself I’m going to write a book and it’s going to be young adult, “Bitter, Sweet” might never have happened. Some good advice I received early on was to first write it and then see where it would fit..Hope that is helpful, it sure was for me at the time!!

  7. I’m definitely all about the what-ifs. Before I start a novel, I can sum up the plot with a “what-if….” sentence. That’s how I know I have a winner.

    But, on the other hand, I’m fascinated by why people act the way they do, as well. When I wrote for a community paper, I wondered why 100 people would walk by a vacant lot filled with garbage in their neighbourhood and do nothing, and then one person would decide it should be a community garden and make it happen. I was endlessly fascinated by what made that one person different from all the others.

    My curiosity has a dark side, too. I also wonder why people can act so horribly to each other. I used to want to be a forensic psychologist for that reason…I’m always searching for answers to the puzzle of serial killers, genocides, matricides, and the like.

    • For a writer, “why” and “what if” are two important questions. If we weren’t curious we likely would not be writers in the first place, or at least not story tellers.

      Some very hefty answers you’re searching for Holli, and it’s important for there to be searchers like you in the world. I think one day you do find all the answers because something makes me think that you will keep searching until you do.


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