Chapter 4 -3 What If?

.I hadn’t started out using my class notebooks as journals. When we were discussing a particular technique in class, I often realized that I could use that particular technique to solve a problem I’d been having in my writing. Or on those really great days, I thought of a new story idea or a feeling for a poem. My teachers seemed to know when I’d gone off on one of my little jaunts and didn’t seem to mind as long as I didn’t spend the entire class writing on my own. Writing a paragraph or sometimes even a few words was enough for me to keep those ideas alive until I had more time to develop them.

I started out writing about real life events and what I was experiencing in my classes.  Since I had recently gone through a divorce, I had a lot of purging to do and it wasn’t long before those creaky hinges of mine were moving much more smoothly. After a while, writing about real life started feeling pretty boring and I started elaborating on the truth in my writing.

“What if” scenarios were more fun. Peter my youngest, inspired by my stories about a screenwriting class I’d taken years ago, liked nothing better than to while away travel time in the car by doing the “what if” scenario, which is still one of my favorite ways to get started on a story.

I remember one time when we were driving to have dinner with friends when he started with, “What if the brakes on that semi fails, what will happen?” Thankfully, the semi’s brakes didn’t fail as they came to a bobbing halt behind our minivan at a red light. He worked through the whole scene of our van being pushed into traffic, bouncing along like a hockey puck down the adjoining street with the semi eventually rolling over, flattening the stoplight across the intersection which in turn, crashed into another car that was trying to avoid the bumper cars created by our van’s untimely intrusion into the intersection. Anyway, you get the idea. He was explaining his action movie to our friends at dinner when I started wondering how the people, how the other “us” would have reacted. What would a character do if they were caught in this situation?

I like to think of these scenarios as inciting actions – just a slight variation from the terminology, inciting incident that I talked about in my other class. The idea does go back to the basic plot that Forester talked about in his book, Aspects of a Novel. The King died and then the Queen died of grief. The inciting action is the King dying. It starts the whole story and is the causal event. I’ve found that if you take whatever character you imagine using the first idea that you have for an inciting incident and start writing, the story, at least the bare bones of one, happens all by itself. It’s pretty amazing how just putting a couple of ideas together can get you started.


About marystojak

Mary Stojak has published numerous short stories, her latest will be published September 28th in Mystery Weekly.
This entry was posted in Graduate Writing Programs, Johns Hopkins University, writing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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