Amanda’s Randoms: The ‘What If’ Way of Finding Your Story

I suffer the same 20-page slump Angie does. I have quite a few first chapters I’ve banged out in one sitting and then—nothing. My first two books started this way, with many a moon waxing and waning until I was able to type “Chapter Two.” I have several other stories that may never get that far, but all of my story ideas have one thing in common—the question “What if?” Here are some what if’s that turned into stories, and one that will forever be missing that second chapter.

1) What if your life had hit such a low that when your ex-boyfriend/new vampire shows up, you actually consider inviting him in? This is the premise for my first book, Uninvited. Uninvited is not a vampire romance—it’s about a teen who has two options—clean up the mess she’s made of her life or open the window—and we all know what that means. After I banged out that first chapter, I pondered for quite awhile about the frame of mind someone would have to be in to actually considered inviting a vampire in. To echo Angie—next come all the subplots. How had things gotten so bad? What obstacles, besides the vampire professing his undying love, were in her way? What if her friends were keeping her life back on track? What if her ex-boyfriend’s true motivations for coming back for her—over all of the other girls he’d dated—were not what they appeared to be?

2) My next what if came to fruition after eight years of pondering! When my daughter was a baby, I’d rock her at night as I looked out her window. One evening I wondered what it’d be like if a girl lying in bed saw four people fly past her window on broomsticks. I imagined she’d be scared, and while I loved the idea, I couldn’t figure out why these people were out to get her. Eight years later the next what if question came to me—what if the night fliers were her friends? I got to the keyboard and wrote the first chapter for Revealers. While I was typing, the what if’s kept coming. What if hunting werewolves and vampires is not the public service the girls think it is? What if their coven is keeping a huge secret from them? What if the girls rebel?

3) Another what if came after visiting the amusement park, Story Land, in New Hampshire two years ago. I watched the kids working there—many of them bored to tears as they repeated the same instructions over and over again. I watched toddler meltdowns, fellow park goers getting sunburned in long lines, and costumed characters sweating in the July sun. I thought—who would want to work here? And then came the what if. What if someone got a job there just because her boyfriend did? What if she did it because she knew his best friend—a girl named Alexa—was also working there and she didn’t want to leave them alone?

I wrote my first chapter very quickly, but then I ran into trouble. My editor likes my paranormal stories. Would she like my teen romance without things that go bump in the night? So I pondered some more, and a year later I got another what if. What if the owners of the park are the descendants of the real Snow White? What if Snow White didn’t get her happily ever after, and the repercussions of that are still affecting her descendents? I added a few more what if’s to develop the subplots, and I ended up with my paranormal partial Devoured.

4) Here’s the what if that most likely won’t go farther than the first chapter I wrote. Aliens Online. What if Aliens can read our emails? What if a sci-fi loving boy emails a friend saying he’d paying a million dollars to have the aliens in his favorite book series take his annoying older sister away? What if the aliens take him seriously and he has to rescue his sister? What if his sister doesn’t want to be rescued?

After thinking about this story for a few months, I finally decided I wasn’t invested in finding out all the answers to my what ifs, and the story is tucked away in a folder just in case some new and better what ifs pop up.

5) So if you’re stuck for ideas, start asking yourself questions—each what if can lead your plot in a new direction. Some will stick, and others will lead to more questions and hopefully a fully realized story!




Filed under Amanda's Randoms

3 responses to “Amanda’s Randoms: The ‘What If’ Way of Finding Your Story

  1. Amanda,

    I loved “looking behind the curtain” at your process! My what if’s are never so concrete. I sort of have a vague idea, and then I have to write, re-write, get back editor’s notes, and THEN I discover the what if’s dominoing off my original what if. Uh, am I making sense? It’s late here. ;o)


  2. Nice what-ifs. 🙂 I’m looking forward to learning more about Devoured.

    In the current WiP, my real question has been, “What if I’m starting at the wrong place in the story?” And instead of helping, it’s being something of a stumbling block. I’m thinking of starting over in a different place and seeing what happens.

  3. Alana,

    Elizabeth George, in her book Write Away, addresses this issue. On p. 57, she discusses having a running plot outline that has her block out her scenes, sort of like the notes of a screenplay. During this outline, she decides: “Will I start in the midst of an action and then back off and tell how we got there? Will I start with a line of dialogue and then back off and set the scene? Will I set the scene and then begin the action? Will I be in someone’s mind?”

    I highly, HIGHLY recommend the book if you find yourself with some spare change, some spare time, and some spare gas to get you down to the bookstore. :o)


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