So, you have an idea for a novel. What do you do next? For example, the thought of a man with amnesia found by the police wandering the streets rattles around in your brain. “Hey,” you say, “This would make a great novel.” OK, you may be right. But, a guy with amnesia wandering the streets may be poignant, but it isn’t too exciting. The idea needs something else.
It’s at this point that, when I get an idea I know has potential but I find wanting, I play the “what if?” game. What’s this, “what if?” game? It’s quite simple. I take an idea and ask , “What if … ?” Take the man with amnesia premise. What if a man with amnesia is found by the police wandering the streets? I then try to answer the question. It could be something like, “He’s taken to the hospital and while sleeping in his room, someone sneaks in at attempts to kill him. He awakens just in time to thwart the killer.”
Now, I have other questions: “Why is this man marked for murder? What has he done or seen or heard that he doesn’t recall?” You get the idea.
I’ll give you another example, this time from my novel, Fatal Impact. When I worked full time for the VA I did a fair amount of travelling, which usually involved flying. I don’t think I have a fear of flying, but I just don’t trust a vehicle that you can’t pull over and check under the hood when things don’t go well. On one trip while waiting for the plane to taxi to the runway I began daydreaming about the plane crashing. Then, the “what if?“ game kicked in. What if I could somehow get off the plane before it crashed? That lead to more questions like: How could someone actually exit a plane just before it crashed? Or, could someone appear to be aboard a plane and not actually board? By the end of trip I had the basic plot for Fatal Impact.
In my new novel, The Peril Protocol, I knew I wanted to have a story set in a hospital, a venue I knew a lot about. I also knew that I wanted to address the use of experimental drugs. And, just for good measure, I wanted a serial killer thrown into the mix. My “what if?“ started out something like this: What if a beautiful physician gets the fellowship of a lifetime under a brilliant and charismatic specialist only to be confronted by a reporter who claims her mentor is the most horrific serial killer since Jack the Ripper?
Playing the “what if?” game can help you flush out your idea for a great novel. Why not give it a try?