I don’t know about the rest of the writers out there but I find what if questions extremely helpful. If I’m trying to figure out a character, or I’m struck with writer’s block that kind of question is my go-to first step.
I’ll give an example of how it’s helped me. About a year and a half ago I decided to write a middle grade fantasy story. I had this random idea for a story about a fairy that didn’t really fit in with other fairies. I don’t normally like fairy stuff but I went with it. Maybe she would suck at magic or maybe be clumsy when flying. I didn’t like either of those so I started with the what-if’s.
What if she wasn’t good at magic because she couldn’t do magic the way the other fairies wanted her to because her magic worked different? What if all she wanted in life was to become a fairy godmother but failed to achieve that? What if she had no idea if she could fly because fairies didn’t fly anymore? What if she looked different than all the other fairies? What if she made some friends that also wanted to be fairy godmothers but couldn’t for some reason?
I somehow came up with hundreds more. Each what-if made me think of another. Eventually this turned into my nanowrimo project for this year. The idea wasn’t new but I had been working on other things. Plus I was too scared to write it because I had never written something like that before.
So a story idea about a fairy who didn’t fit in turned into more. It is about a fairy named Tomorrow (Tommie) who wants to be a fairy godmother more than anything. In the Fairy Godmother Academy, she learned that magic had to be carefully controlled. Creation magic was forbidden. For centuries the fairy community had used creation magic to change themselves to look more human. They got taller and their wings got smaller until most were born with no wings. No fairy alive could fly. As a whole the fairies were less powerful than that had been. No one remembered why, but everyone agreed that creation magic had been depleted and it was dangerous to use. Then Tommie was born. She was like the fairies of old. She was small, about four feet tall when the rest were near five feet. She had wings that were larger than her body was. She had huge purple eyes. But the biggest difference was that she was more powerful than the rest of her community. A lot more powerful. Controlling her magic only caused chaos and using it the way that came natural to her only got her in trouble. Eventually she has her final exam to become a godmother but failed. Various adventures ensue. Along the way she makes some friends who want to become fairy godparents too. Not one of them is a fairy and each of them is a little different than their families and peers. They start a campaign to change the rules when a bigger problem occurs. The gates to the fairy realm are failing.
Not too bad a base to start with. All of it started with the one what-if question: What if there was a fairy that wasn’t good at magic because hers worked differently than everyone else?
I still have a long way to go and I’ll keep asking my what-if’s until I don’t need them. This is only the beginning of a series. What tricks work for the rest of you? I hear people say ideas are cheap but I’m always looking for new ways to generate them.
Now I know I said I might talk about minotaurs in my last post. That one is in the next book. As I was researching him and making a character sketch, I realized I haven’t quite figured him out. What I know is that he is not evil. He might have evil urges but he’s choosing to be good. He’s got perfect memory. I mean he lived in a labyrinth, he had to be able to find his way around. I think instead of it being just one guy from Greek mythology, he will come from an actual race (maybe a created one). There aren’t that many around though and they are all bad. He might be a vegetarian. Tommie and her friends will meet him in their travels along with a really tall gnome, who was raised by garden gnomes.