What if …

Have you ever had trouble with a story, a scene, a blank page? Ask yourself this: What if …

What if is the ultimate story prompt.

Here’s what you do. Pick a subject that fascinates you and that you think you’d like to spend time with: The ballet, for instance. Now ask yourself the question What if … and then allow your mind to wander.

What if …
What if a young boy wants to enter the ballet but worries what his friends will say?

Okay, but not sure this will say anything new.

What if a promising young girl breaks her leg just before the auditions to a famous school?

Again, not sure this is enough for a novel.

What if a 40 year old firefighter decides to give it all up and become a ballerina.

Okay? I can see how that would be hard. Can we take it further?

What if a 40 year old firefighter decides to give it all up and become a ballerina. And joins his daughter’s ballet school.

That’s better!

And there’s the trick. What’s the story about? A man trying to live out a fading dream? A daughter who wants to get out from under the shadow of her father? Yes! Do we have conflict? Yes! Is it universal? Can any reader relate to wanting to break away from their parents or to complete a dream before it’s too late? Yes!

Note how, despite the fact it was our interest in ballet that took us here, the story has nothing to do with ballet. It’s about dreams and relationships.

It’s a good illustration of contrasts too. You wouldn’t normally think of firefighter + ballet. If you have a story idea, think of contrasting the elements using questions like:

Who is the most unlikely protagonist?
What is the worst thing that can happen to them?
What is the best thing that can happen to them?

If I want to write a story about how the rich control the country. Who would be the most unlikely protagonist?

An uber rich child?

What’s the worst that can happen? Will he lose it all? Will she inherit too young while dealing with the death of her family? Will he join a cult?

What if the protagonist is a poor man who strikes it rich and joins the ranks of the wealthy? That’s the best thing that can happen, right? But doing so he learns how it doesn’t bring happiness. So we have dramatic irony.

What if … + contrasts + unlikely protagonist and extremes will get you into brainstorming mode any day.

What writer’s prompts do you use to get writing?

Categories:   Writing Tips