What If …?

On Writing
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A lot of writers like to play “what if?” when they’re coming up with something.  Struggling an idea into fruition is a strange and unique process for each individual.  Stephen King, in his masterpiece On Writing, tells the reader his creative process is a lot of “what if?” questioning as he hammers the idea out in his head.  I’m sure there are a lot of writers who do something like that to formulate their plot skeletons.

King, while asking those questions, also describes stories not as created things we fashion in our minds, but as artifacts we discover like artistic archeologists.  We plum the depths of the earth beneath our mental feet until we find a tidbit, a nugget, and we unearth it with spades, pickaxes, trowels, dusting brushes and finally toothbrushes, careful to remove every available scrap of the recoverable discovery until we at last have the skeleton complete and whole before us.  There’s something to that, really; this explains the way a story will run away with the writer and become a thing of its own, taking on new dimensions and aspects or directions never conceived of in the mind behind the keyboard or pen.  At the same time … that’s a load of crap.

We’re writers.  We come up with ideas.  We create.  We labor.  I know it’s a cool analogy and I like that it shows how a story can take a writer places the author never thought the story would go, because he couldn’t see the entirety of the piece lying beneath the “earth” of the dig site, but it’s … no.  Not really.  That removes the creative gift God gave us to be unique and to display His glory through our ability to utilize and nurture those gifts.  I don’t think I’m unclear on where I stand with this.

But that doesn’t deny divine intervention and guidance in writing either.  I know for a fact I’ve been stumped or plodding in my stories and had a sudden idea, a revelation if you will, that steps the story forward in a way I didn’t anticipate but is much better than what I would’ve done on my own.  Still, I am the brain with the imagination seated in it, I am the fingers behind the keyboard, and I am the vessel containing the words which spill out into the manuscript as it forms.

And while I myself never asked “what if?” to start a story rolling on its merry way, to start the pulse, I have had images, snapshots and snippets of larger pictures that came clear when I started to transcribe them.  I’m one of the writers who believes I watch movies in my mind and simply jot down what I see, what I hear, the scenery and characters and dialog all there if I can just type fast enough.  Sometimes my mental remote allows for a pause or rewind button, but sometimes it doesn’t, either.  I just go as best I can and capture what I can while I can.

If you’re a writer, what do you do to start the creative process rolling?  What games do you play with your own mind, what things spark the growth of that living organism in you that becomes a work of art, an idea which erupts forth and blooms like a sapling rushing for the sunlight before the canopy of life can choke out the warmth and rays?

Sound off, y’all.


All original content copyright DarcKnyt, 2009
ALL rights reserved.

8 thoughts on “What If …?

  1. I must be behind the times. I didn’t even know Stephen King had written a book on writing. I’m going to have to get a copy of this one for myself.


    Oh, Trevas! How COULD you?? I’m so appalled! 😉 Yes, definitely pick up a copy. I’ve read better books on the craft of writing, but the example he showed of how to self-edit is worth the price of the book alone. And, that simple example of four pages blossomed into a story he called “1408”. I guess the movie deal he got with it shows how the least of our efforts might just pay off, huh? 😉 Yes, get a copy! Now!!

  2. i like that what if idea. And I too had no idea King did that…very cool! 🙂

    He does it, and it works pretty well for him, don’t you think? Maybe it’ll make you rich too! Give it a shot! 😀

  3. I read Twilight and ask myself “What if this book were good? What would it be like?”
    [/ troll]

    But seriously, sometimes I read books or watch movies and I think “This would have been cooler if it ended with a scene like this…”, or “I wish there had been a character that was like this…” And then I kind of back things out to see how the scene came to be or the character got that way. I usually end up with a completely different story, although usually in the same genre.

    I occasionally also doodle and think up stories that match the doodle.

    The idea for Oasis was born as I played the online zombie-smashing game “Urban Dead.”

    Hm, online inspiration in games. Interesting. I wonder what you’d have come up with if you’d been playing WoW instead? Or maybe some Brothers-in-Arms type war game? Interesting indeed. I never thought to allow games to inspire me.

    And by the way, if Twilight were any good, it probably wouldn’t have sold. Or, you know … been written at all. 😉

  4. Oh, oh. Listening to certain classical pieces usually gets my creative juices flowing, too.

    Yeah, gotta love classical music. So soothing and wonderful.

    Carl Orff – Carmina Burana “O Fortuna”
    Camille Saint-Saens – Danse Macabre
    The classical version of the castlevania theme song (I’m a nerd)
    Aaron Copeland – Fanfare For the common man
    Gustav Holst – Mars:The Bringer of War
    Jeff Beal – He has a 4 part concerto called Things Unseen. I especially like 1 – Ghosts. http://www.jeffbeal.com/Pages/Concert%20Works.html
    Karl Jenkins – Palladio (That one from the diamond comercial) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9sluHJGcxek

    Excellent! Thanks, bud! I’ll check out the Beal and Jenkins pieces. 🙂

  5. Mostly ideas just show up. There is a trigger – a news article or something I see or hear – but the story is just suddenly there in the form of a character or setting or event.

    There is craft, There is work. But writers are born with this portal in their minds that allows stories to enter.

    I think, with that last statement, I wholeheartedly agree. So much so I used an “-ly” adverb. 🙂

  6. The inspirations could be things I read, I watch, something that happened to me…

    They disappear deep inside, and then some day, years later, come out as ideas. Everything goes into a compost heap, and a new seed emerges, somewhere, somehow.

    Ooh, what a great bit of imagery, Damyanti. Very ethereal. Nice. You should write horror someday. 😉

    I think plenty of people are like you, and don’t know exactly where the images go, but they bubble up sometime, someplace, in another form.

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