The Who

No, not the band – although I’ve always been a huge fan, myself.  I mean the questions you ask as a writer, of yourself, of your characters, of your novel.  Who, What, Why, Where, How.

When you have a new story idea brewing in your head, you have to start asking yourself the questions. Who are these people? What are they doing? Why are they doing it? Where is it happening? How are they going to solve it?

It’s the most fun, and the most frustrating part of writing.  You’ve got a great idea, or a terrific scene, and you want to know if there’s a story there. Enough story to fill out a complete novel. So you start asking the questions – and if you can answer them, they only bring up more. If you can’t answer them, you stew and you fret and you fuss. Then you either have to set that scene, or idea, aside for lack of substance – or you stew over it, and turn it around in your head.  Upside down, sideways. You look at the questions from other angles and different perspectives, until you either admit there’s no story there, or finally get your answers.

It’s frustrating when that great idea or scene you had in mind won’t flesh out, no matter how many ways you look at it.  But, when it does – when you’ve turned that scene around enough times that suddenly, out of the blue, answers begin to pour in – there’s no better feeling.

It’s the same with any genre you write, but I can’t help imagining that those of us in the SF & F camps have the most fun asking the questions.

What if we all woke up one day and there were ships in orbit around our planet, but they never made contact? What if they just sat there, in the sky, for weeks, then vanished as quickly and quietly as they’d arrived, without ever saying a word?  How would that affect society? Religion? Economics?

What if the stock market really does hit bottom, and half the world’s population lose their jobs? Will the nation’s infrastructure be maintained? Will we resort to war just to feed our families?

What if zombies really did walk the earth?  What if they were functioning members of society, with a nagging penchant for human flesh?

If we colonized the moon, then looked “up” on day to view the Earth and saw it explode, how would we cope?

What would it be like to wake up some morning on an alien planet, with no idea how you got there?

Of course, those are just the beginning. You have to keep asking questions, fleshing out the story. One question leads to another, and another after that, until you finally know your new world – your new characters – so well, they’re as real as you are. You can answer any question, solve any issue, and write your way through their lives as if you were watching them unfold before you.

I’m enjoying that phase right now. Having created a few scenes in my head, and asking some questions that couldn’t be answered, I’ve had to turn those scenes around to look at them from a completely different angle. Now the answers are falling into place. The questions are more fun to ponder, the solutions coming easily. Like a three-dimensional puzzle with the pieces beginning to fall into place, the big picture beginning to take shape.

This is the fun part of being a writer 🙂

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