Listen, okay, writing isn’t easy. Right now, I’m sitting in an uncomfortable chair, balancing a laptop and generous sized tea all the while trying to churn out words that make some semblance of sense. Not easy. Sometimes I feel like Tobey Maguire in that scene from Spider-Man when he grabbed all of MJ’s lunch on the tray before it splattered to the cafeteria floor (not CGI or special effects by the way. Tobey Maguire is just really method). As I was saying, writing isn’t easy. Perhaps the hardest part of writing, besides balancing laptops and hot beverages, is coming up with original ideas, because... there are none. Not really, not anymore. Don’t lose hope though, you’re ideas are still valid, they still work. You are still a writer. It just takes a little tweaking. Every writer has their own way of doing this, and I’m going to tell you about mine.
Ask yourself: What if? That’s it. Simple.
Okay, more words. “What if” is a question that a lot of us writer types ask ourselves when trying to come up with ideas. It doesn’t have to be anything too crazy, it’s just one of many things you can do to get those creative juices flowing. It’s all about the juxtaposition of things. You throw things off balance, and your imaginative writer’s mind will work away at making the answer to the “What if” question work.
Let’s look at some examples. As you read through them, think about how you would answer these questions:
What if Arnold Schwarzenegger hadn’t been a bodybuilder? How would he have made his way to fame and fortune?
What if people weren’t scared of the dark, but were scared of the light?
What if Dracula didn’t die at the end of Bram Stoker’s Dracula? (The answer is: Anno Dracula by Kim Newman).
Fun, huh? I always think so. But you can take it so much further. In my case, when I ask “What ifs”, it often involves some sort of genre crossover or mash-up. You see, as a kid I was always fascinated by unexpected crossovers. For instance, I thought it was pretty cool when Steve Urkel of Family Matters guest starred on Step-by-Step on the best family-friendly television line-up ever created: TGIF on ABC.
Perhaps another example. Oh, I know! When Marvel and DC did a brief crossover event in the ‘90s that created Amalgam Comics. Man, I thought that was bananas. They made Wolverine into Batman?! Epic! (Pro-tip: don’t look this up. It was decidedly not epic). Whatever the case, young Jon was drawn to these strange, often bad, mash-ups, so much so that, like a nefarious weed, genre mash-ups had taken root in my psyche and helped me produce multiple genre-bending stories all on my own, including my upcoming novel: The Starving.
So, what would some genre fluid “What ifs” look like? Let’s take a look at some that have already been done:
What if Hamlet took place in a modern-day American Biker gang? (Sons of Anarchy by Kurt Sutter).
What if there were zombies in Pride and Prejudice? (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith).
What if the kids from Scooby-Doo actually ran up against real, existential, H.P. Lovecraft-style mythos kind of evil? (Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero).
Really the possibilities are only limited to what your mind can come up with. The best thing to remember is that your mind, your imagination, is your biggest asset. No two people will answer the questions posed here in the same way. That’s why it works.
Ideas spring from some unexpected places, but sometimes you just have to massage them along. What works for me is to ask myself “What if” and see where my imagination takes me. What works for you may be different, but if you’re stuck, why not give the “What if” question a shot? Now, what if I had a writing space with a dedicated desk and comfy chair? Ah, that would be magnificent.
Dobbin's work has appeared in the Chillers from the Rock, Dystopia from the Rock, and Kit Sora: The Artobiography collections. His first standalone novel, The Starving, hits shelves in 2019.
Photo by Thomas Kelley on Unsplash. Words © 2019 Jon Dobbin.