Recently at a class reunion I was asked if I was asked by old classmates about my writing – how I could continue to find time to write new fiction books and how I could ever continue to come up with story ideas and new characters. My immediate response was that I am always working on something in the writing field. As I sat and talked to everyone that afternoon, I started thinking about that question on the “right” time to write. As aspiring writers, the process should always be ongoing. Even as I sat there conversing with people, I was getting ideas simply by listening to what those around me were discussing – from memories of the past to current events. It hit me — there is no right time to write. As writers, we should always keep our minds open to new ideas, whether it is what we are seeing, an idea that might be formulating or in conversations we might be hearing or having.
How does that work?
Actually, when I’ve considered story ideas, I often say there are three ways to go from just a simple conversation to a story idea. Who? Why? and What if?
As a news producer, I once worked with a savvy general assignment reporter who came to work every day knowing he was probably going to be assigned an early story or some event prescribed by our assignment editor UNLESS he could come up with a better idea. As a result, he usually tried to come up with his own ideas. That means having to have a new story idea every morning. Because those morning stories were often meetings or a follow up from something that happened the day or previous night, he wanted to cover his own ideas. He preferred working on something that caught his interests, so he invariably came in, picked up the newspaper and looked for something more intriguing than a meeting, or he looked for some strange little thing he saw on the way into work. (since we were working in Hollywood, that wasn’t usually too hard to find).
What I witnessed was that he often started his search with that question “why?”
Why did this seemingly simple event he saw in the paper happen, or why was that little old lady who normally sold maps down on the corner suddenly missing, or why was this person arrested? He then looked for ways to go to the heart of the matter – the “who” or the people involved and their personal story, the “why” or what made this event happen and then if that didn’t get him the story, he turned to the “what if” a certain event happened instead.
I’ve often heard writers talk about formulating ideas, and from them I hear much the same sort of questions – the who – our characters who are at the base of any good story, the why of their motivations and finally the what if – or the event that changes their lives and sends them off into their own personal stories that we are telling in our books.
Best selling author Harlan Coben often says he uses the “what if” approach
and it’s one of the reasons I always enjoy what he calls his “urban thrillers.” He fills them with ordinary people who suddenly run into a scary “what if” that totally changes the lives of his characters and draws the readers into a world that could be very much like their own, but with much more threatening circumstances. Stephen King does that as well, with his simple towns or locations and characters that might be the person next door until strange events start occurring to them, like scary clowns coming out of the sewer (from his It book for which he has now written a sequel).
The point here is that those sort of great story ideas are all around us if we go back to those simple words:
Who is this happening to?
Creating a character who might be ordinary until he/she is suddenly faced with a traumatic situation can result in a wonderful story – just as a simple romance might turn into a dramatic situation if the hero and heroine suddenly get placed in a life or death situation that truly tests their feelings for each othere. The ideas are out there, but it is up to the writer to find them, or to create them, simply by asking those simple words:
Who is this happening to
– or who are my characters?
Why is this happening?
This – whatever YOU choose it to be – can set the plot off in any direction.
Asking that simple question throughout your book can keep the plot moving until the end. In fact, I would suggest it for any time you get stuck. Try the technique and then give yourself several answers. You never know what direction that might take the book. Look at what might result if the plot went one way as opposed to the other. Just to show you how that might work – What if Scarlet had married Ashley at the beginning of Gone with the Wind? The plot would have turned in a whole new direction. What if Harry Potter had gone to a regular school instead of Hogwarts? Those are the decisions the authors made that changed the whole book.
No matter what, these simple words – who, why and what if — can be the source of any book you might want to write. Just like that reporter who found himself asking those questions to come up with his daily story, you can ask yourself those same sort of questions to begin coming up with your plot and your characters.
What if the hero is just the opposite of the heroine?
What if the two are very similar?
Again, different answers make different plots.
And this is why as I was at my class reunion, I was still hard at work, thinking, coming up with story ideas. So when I was asked how I could keep writing or coming up with ideas or how I found the right time to write, my answer was – I am working all the time. When is the right time to write? Any time. And any place. All you have to do is start asking those simple questions: Who? Why? What if? Answer those questions and you’ll find a story in the making.
Next week I’ll begin a series of classes on plotting, characters and writing the story, so if you’re looking to start a new project, or you want to try working on your very first fiction novel, bring your Who’s, Why’s and What if’s and let’s get to work!
Becky has a class at SavvyWriterCon:Dreams to Reality starting September 6 (that’s tomorrow!) It’s FREE check it out!
Check out Becky’s class and three-class series right here at SavvyAuthors!
- Beginner Writing Series with Becky Martinez ~ September 9 – December 8 (Three Workshop Series)
- Let’s Plot Your Novel with Becky Martinez ~ September 9 – October 6
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