The Big What If



Where do ideas come from?

The Big What If

By Christopher Michael Carter

One of my favorite things about storytelling (actually doing the telling or just enjoying others') is that all storytelling comes down to is "What if?"  It starts with The Big What If, your idea, and then trickles downward.  I've heard people say a lot, "I could never come up with something."  In actuality, we do it everyday.  A man works so much his wife begins to assume he's having an affair.  There's talk at the office about promotion and one thinks it could very well be them with all the work they've done; and even think of what they'll do after getting it.  Every assumption is a 'what if' and until it's proven to be so, it's all in theory.  When your mind jumps to conclusions and assumes the best or the worst of a situation and then your mind takes it a step further.  All of this is key to storytelling; the only difference is when you do it purposely.  

When people say that they couldn't do it, all they would have to do is come up with the Big What If and let it all fall.  The real work, of course, is the execution; writing all those what ifs down and then editing them or sprucing them up so they don't sound like chaotic thoughts.  Let's say your Big What If is you wake up one day to find your dog speaking like a human.  Then you say "What does he say...? What if he starts spilling government secrets?  About what...?  What if they're codes to nukes in North Korea?  No, WAIT!  What if they're codes from another planet?  What if Fido is trying to warn us of an alien invasion?"  And you can get as silly as you want because it's yours.  That's one of the wonderful things about it; there's no wrong way to tell your story.  I always question myself with that kind of stuff and end up answering them yes or no as if I'm just throwing choices to myself.  A lot of times when I'm writing outlines or notes I end up writing "Maybe..." or "Probably..." before notes.  

You can even do it with history.  You think "What if we lost WWII?", "What if the Titanic didn't sink?", "What if the South had one the Civil War?"

The odd thing is, the moment you think of an idea, whether you keep it or chuck it, the possibility now exists.  Assumptions, jumping to conclusions; hell, even guessing - they're all 'what ifs'.  As I said, the key is the execution.  Sitting down and writing it all out.  But get your Big What If and let it all come tumbling down, catch what you want, and don't be afraid to let the other stuff fall by the wayside.  We all know people who over exaggerate like crazy; take a normal assumption and over exaggerate on paper and you have a working what if.  I think when we all start writing almost anything we worry about whether or not it's going to be stupid or laughed at, but A) it's ours, B) the finished product will probably only slightly resemble the first pass, and C) we can't be afraid of thinking how an idea will be perceived; if you don't do it, someone else will.  Ideas are great, a gift, a blessing, but they can also be a dime a dozen and it's what you do with the idea that counts.  So, with that said, exaggerate a What If, don't be afraid of the nature of it, keep 'what iffing' your way through it, write your ass off, and then go back through it.  Sometimes it's the tiniest things that become your core idea. 
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