A Simple Question…What if?

As I struggle to keep up with the 1,666 words per day of NaNO (National Novel Writing Month), I spend a lot of time with my head in the world of my characters. Last night, I hadn’t written anything and it was about to become today, and I had an idea. It was great.

It was a whirlwind of writing activity. When the words were done flowing, I reread it and deemed the section was good. Often when I’m done with an idea, I feel fatigued and don’t want to continue.

The next part of the adventure was pretty well set in my mind and it was just a matter of recording it. As if often the case, a break will allow me to ask the most important question in fiction, “What if?”.

Getting an idea for the next scene always seems like the logical progression of the story. It is easy not to question one’s assumption that the characters must head from point A to point B, simply because point B is next to the bacon. Then, from nowhere, an idea begins to form and my little grey cells have to consider how it would change the story if they took a side trip, would it be interesting?

In this instance, I think it would, and that is exciting. As soon as the old “Post” button is pushed, I’ll be heading back to meet my characters and will be informing them that plans have changed. It means that schedules will need to be changed, as this little hiccup is somewhat inconvenient. I hope it adds tension to the story.

Telling a story can be a little like wandering through a patch of prickly cacti, if you aren’t careful they will get you. I can be the same with weaving plots, because taking too many detours has the potential to confuse the reader…and the writer. I’m convinced that this detour is a good one, though.

Tension is sometimes difficult to write into the story, even though it is essential, because of the natural tendency to want to protect our characters. They are like our children, even the bad ones. A story without tension, though, is little more than a TOS document. It has a bunch of facts, but is painful to read and makes one want to skip to the end.

We don’t want readers to skip to the end, we want them to enjoy the entire journey.

It would be nice if the diversion could tap into the sense of adventure one feels when having unfettered time to explore. This is another aspect to explore and the more I talk about writing, the more I’m itching to stop this writing and get to it. So I think I will.

If you’re furiously tapping away and trying to bang out a novel in a month, it may be worth pausing and asking, “What if?” It may take you longer to get to the bacon, but it will be that much more yummy when you do.


Julie Barrett
Julie Barrett

I had to stop by and say hello since Josh mentioned us both in his latest post.  I am not a fiction writer but in life I often wonder,"What if?" in much the same way.  Those pivotal moments when we might have gone straight but instead chose a side road usually turn out to be the most interesting.  I think that might be because our intuition told us to go there.


Sliding Doors is not a favorite film but I love the idea of it.  

Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes
Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes

What if is the reason I haven't worked on my fiction for  a bit. I am waiting for something to click. I am not stumped, just have this gut feeling that click will come in to play soon and I will be off to the races.


I am kind of excited about that.


Did someone say bacon?


I like the "what if" question...not only in writing, but in business and in life. It puts me in mind of my favourite movie, Sliding Doors, which really ponders the question of what if one thing changed that changes everything? Cheers! Kaarina P.S. If you haven't seen the movie, you must: it's sooooo good.


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