Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Power of If

There's an old Doctor Who story where Tegan, the Doctor's companion, talks about the power of 'if' ... indeed she is looking for the TARDIS' Index File, but the deeper connotation of what she is saying is for me one of the things at the very heart of good storytelling.

Sam and I were at Preston Waterstones yesterday, and one of the lovely things about doing store events is that you get to meet all manner of people ... some of them want to chat about the books and might even buy a copy, while others are not interested in horror (they turn away with a shudder) but if you smile and ask them what they do like to read, then you can get a better insight into what people like and why ... and that can be important.

At the store yesterday, a lady came up to us with a young boy of maybe 8 years old ... she wanted to know if we had any tips on writing for her son, as he had been asked by school to write a 'blurb' on something he liked, and also to write some sort of story (I think). It's hard to get ideas and concepts over to an 8 year old, and so I decided to focus on the power of 'what if'.  The way it goes is that anything in life - absolutely anything - can be transformed into the fantastique through the power of 'what if'.  So. We're standing in the bookshop talking ... what if a hole opened up in the floor and swallowed your mum?  What would you think, what would you do next? Where does the hole go? And why is it there?  Instantly you have a story. Another example was 'What if you woke up and your bed, instead of being in your bedroom, was on a cloud ...'  And so on.

The lad got it immediately and seemed quite thoughtful that this making up of stories - something he said he did anyway (probably in a form like 'my homework was eaten by dinosaurs in the back garden' or 'I didn't eat that cake, it was a hungry fridge-mouse') - was a basis for writing fiction, and he wandered off to pillage in the childrens' section of the store.

I love that 'what if' approach ... it's even something that seasoned writer and friend Terrance Dicks has mentioned on more than one occasion ... if you're writing something, anything, and you get stuck, then just have two men enter the room with a gun ... that then gets the story moving again. It's the same basic premise ...

So next time you're out and about, try employing the 'what if' ... what if that man at the bus stop is waiting for a spacecraft to arrive rather than a bus ... what if the greengrocers suddenly vanished ... what if that group of children in the park weren't actually from this dimension at all ...

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