On Story Ideas: The “What If”

Story ideas. One of the main questions writers get asked or they ask themselves is “how do I get a story idea?” Watching different writers in interviews or sitting in the audience at a book signing, they all say something different. Some writers get their ideas from dreams. Others get hit with an idea by watching a movie or reading a certain line in a book. Something clicks and they have a story idea.

So not everyone gets story ideas the same way. But I have a quick simple way to generate story ideas. It’s asking a question to yourself. It’s simple.

What if?

Think about it. What if?

We as human beings think “what if” all the time. When you have a near-miss car accident because the other driver didn’t use their signal or cut you off or ran a stop sign. Don’t you think “what if that car hit me?” Then you start thinking about what if your car was totaled or what if you’d need a hospital stay. The what if sparked a whole slew of possible situations and scenarios.

Pretend those scenarios are story ideas.

For example, think about these famous “what if” scenarios, and see if you can match the scenario to the books it’s referring to.

What if an orphan living with abusive relatives finds out he’s a wizard and is accepted to a famous wizarding school?

What if a farm boy finds a rock in the forbidden woods, only to find out it’s a dragon egg?

What if a black woman is magically teleported back in time in order to save the life of her slave-owning ancestor?

See? Those are all the basis of three very popular books. Did you get them all? Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling, the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini and Kindred by Octavia Butler. Even if you haven’t read these books, you probably have heard of them.

And the entire synopsis can be boiled down to a single question, the “what if.”

So, the what if is the birthplace of a story idea.

Just sit back, or as you stand in line or while you’re in a waiting room, think up some what if’s. I’ll run down some random ones I thought up while writing this. Mind you, they aren’t polished perfect ideas, they’re a simple question, questions you can ask yourself.

What if the internet became self aware and took over the world by holding everyone’s bank accounts hostage?

What if someone finds an old book in an abandoned cottage, and gets sucked inside the story?

What if one day your cat starts to talk, and explains he’s actually an alien from another planet sent to judge the human race, and after observing you decides that humanity must be wiped out?

See? I made these up with zero problem. It’s easy! Ask yourself “what if” and any scenarios you make up will be fodder for a story idea.

Of course because I write black speculative fiction, all of my ideas are fantasy and sci-fi, that’s how my brain works. Your what if’s will be whatever it is you are interested in.

So what is the “what if’ for the Zippy Mae series?

Well, I’ll boil down the plot to one sentence, and not give away too much at the same time. No spoilers.

What if a young Christian black girl discovers she has magic, and thus has access to a fantasy world that no one else can see or enter?

And that’s how to get story ideas. Simple, easy, and clean. It’s the what if.

And as always, while I write my cat Aomine keeps me company at my side.

That stare. Maybe she is judging me

Work in progess

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