The Writer’s Bag of Tricks


Last week we considered the question of What If with regard to creating complex characters. I thought it would be good to push the Muse a bit more and continue with the What If conceptidea to help us brainstorm our book ideas. You can use What If to create characters and plot. You can also use What If to work through motivation issues. You can use What if to help figure out setting. You can use the What If concept for most things, actually.

So, let’s say we have our dichotomous character (see last week’s post for details) and we want to create a story premise that we can use to figure out our plot and outline.

What does the character’s dichotomous contradiction suggest with regards to what could happen? What if your character is a computer hacker with a conscience because their parents were activists for race equality, and the repercussions of the activism had affected our character in both positive and negative ways? And what if our hacker got a job at a big corporation, and discovered some information that put the security of the nation at risk? And what if part of that threat involved putting a certain group of people in peril and the only way to know when and where a bomb would go off would be to hack into a government database, held by the corporation, which was illegal? And what if our hacker found the information, but then got arrested for the security breach? You can use the complex characterizations to create your plot just by asking what if.

What would motivate your character through the conflict? What if our hacker was in love with someone who was in the group targeted by the corporation? What if hacking into the government database went against what our hacker believed in, but if they didn’t find the information the love interest would die? What if love was enough to push your character into action? What if it wasn’t? What if the information would also redeem the hackers parents who were on a terrorism watch list because of their activism? What if the character knew the parents were innocent and the information could change their lives? What if the parents were guilty? You can use the dichotomous characterizations to work out the motivation. Do you see how it works?

What kinds of things would trip this character up? Ask what if questions and come up with things that would create conflict for our hacker. This is a good exercise to get the brainstorming muse rolling.

What emotions could be evoked by your dichotomous character that you could use to come up with a universal premise? Think about all the potential emotions that arise while asking what if.

If you take the time to work through these questions in detail, you will, very quickly, come up with your plot, character, conflict, and theme, by the way, also known as the story premise (See 11/25/15 post for more information on premise). The premise will help keep your story on track as you plot it, help you with pitching your story to publishers, editors, and agents, and help you with marketing your book as back cover copy when you publish it.

It’s a simple concept, putting dichotomous things together. Taking a few extra minutes asking What If about all those contradictions will help you formulate an interesting premise. It is a priceless practice for brainstorming your novel ideas.

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