The What If Factor

July 6, 2010 at 5:30 am (Replay) (, , , , , , )

I’m on holidays at the moment but I’m reposting some of the more popular posts from my old blog, Darkened Jade. If you leave a comment I’ll be sure to catch up with you when I get back.

This is actually a combination of “what if” followed by “what then”.

When trying to help people write creatively, handing them a piece of paper is about as helpful as handing an illiterate person a dictionary and expecting that they can suddenly put everything together. Mostly, all you get from the exercise is a whole lot of book fodder on how to describe a blank expression.

A simple exercise that can be done as a group or individually to get everything started is a round of “what if”. Keep in mind if you are doing this individually, it helps if you have a split personality, or at the very least, you need to not be adverse to talking to yourself.

Essentially, it starts with one person saying “What if…”. Their “what if” could be anything, but should start relatively non-specifically. “What if there was a guy wearing jeans, waiting for a bus?” “What if there was an asteroid heading for Earth?” “What if there was a cat sitting on the porch?” Doesn’t matter where you start.

The next person agrees and then expands. “Yeah, there was a guy. Only he was wearing cargo’s, not jeans, and he had baseball cap on backwards. Oh, and the bus was going to take him to…” You get the point.

You keep going until you have the whole scene. The guy, what he is wearing, where he is going, what he is doing while he is waiting, etc. Then comes the “what then” part.

What happens next?

Eventually, what you have is an outline for a possible story, complete with characters, settings and plot points (how detailed these are depend on who you do it with). Using the discussion as the stimulus, each person can then sit down and write their own version of the story (changing whatever elements they feel are critical). What is important, is that everybody has a starting point, and can follow along with the general pattern until they are ready to move off and onto their own route. It gives them something to begin with and a bit of confidence to write.

Trying to inspire creative writing; play a game of “what if” and see what happens.

Let me know how you have inspired people to write creatively.

And here’s the link if you haven’t yet checked out the blurb or excerpt for Death’s Daughter.



  1. Brown Eyed Mystic said,

    Loved this post–crisp and succinct.

    I wish I had some writing companions or a group to play this with–I shall have it once I start my course next year. But hey, am forgetting you guys, my blogosphere mates, the brilliant, fun ones, always there around! 🙂

    Thanks for the interesting share.


  2. David Burton said,

    What if? and What then, are indeed a powerful way to jump start stories. I think most stories probably start that way. Any What if? can go as many ways as there are writers. I think that’s what separates writers from sane people. They see or hear something and instead of saying, “Oh, that’s cool,” and moving on, they say, “Oh, that’s cool, but what if…?”

    Though I don’t know if I’ve inspired anyone lately, What if? is what my blog, is about, giving ideas for stories that anybody is free use. Sometimes that’s all it takes.

  3. Alex Willging said,

    I suppose a lot of stories are “What If”s of a sort. I tend to find that mine are just inspired from works that I enjoy, and over time, they evolve into their own material, as opposed to just imitating what I’ve watched or read.

  4. Agatha82 said,

    Stephen King speaks of that “what if” being the beginning of many stories, it’s how my novel idea first manifested. The tricky one is “what then”…

  5. Jemi Fraser said,

    I think pretty much all that happens in my stories is based on what if. I love What ifs… 🙂

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