Yesterday, a follower (and fellow author) on my Facebook page asked me about a recent post where I used a phrase referring to my “what if” radar. I’ve discussed this in other blog posts, but I always get excited when someone asks me what it means, because then I get to talk about how I come up with the ideas for my books.

“What if” refers to the method I use when trying to plot out my story ideas. I begin with a basic premise, and then I start asking myself what if? I ask this question about a thousand times, but it helps to keep the ideas flowing and I never try to inhibit anything that pops into my head. I write or type everything down for future reference. I’ll use my first book as an example…

Lost Voyage starts out in 1857 with a steamship travelling from California to the eastern United States. Before the ship makes it to the Panama Canal, it goes missing. I came up with the idea after listening to a book on tape revolving around the real-life account of the Ship Of Gold, a steamship which also went missing before making it to port in 1857. The ship was carrying a large cache of gold and other valuables when it sank off the Carolina Coast, and it wasn’t found until about 130 years later.

This is where my what ifs began…

What if there was a second ship? What if the first ship had an overabundance of gold and couldn’t transport it all in one trip because of weight constraints? What if the captain of that ship secretly unloaded the extra gold onto another vessel and didn’t tell anyone about it except for the other captain in order to keep thieves or whoever from robbing it? What if that second boat was scheduled to arrive in port only a day later than the first one, so it would be unloaded before anyone was the wiser? What if that boat sank as well? What if since no one knew about the transferred gold, everyone assumed the entire treasure was lost on the first ship? And the list goes on…

I take all of these ideas (what ifs) and jot them down until it turns into a full-blown plot. But, it doesn’t stop there. The what ifs keep coming throughout the entire time I’m writing the book. What if my protagonist discovers a missing steamship in the unlikeliest of places? What if my antagonist hears about this as well? What if there’s a race to find the steamship and all the gold possibly still on board? What if, what if, what if…all the way down to – What if the bad guy dies like this?

Every author has their own process when writing a book. Some people just write it as it comes to them (more commonly known as Pantsers, as a good friend of mine likes to refer to them), and some people like to outline an entire book before even typing the first word. I like to think I fall somewhere right in the middle of that. I do outline some stuff, but by the time I get to that point in the book, my what ifs have altered my initial direction completely, so the outline is now null and void. My what ifs keep me on the edge of my seat while I write, which hopefully translates into my readers keeping on the edge of theirs while they enjoy the story I’ve laid out. Now, ask yourself this one simple question…

“What if” you read one of my books and discovered your next favorite author?

See what I did there? (Yep, I’m not ashamed to do a little self-promoting.) So, the next time you’re out for a walk and you see a guy running down the street for no apparent reason, ask yourself “what if?” What if he’s running from a bank heist? What if he’s running because he just got a call from a kidnapper and he’s only got one hour to get the ransom money? What if he’s just gotta pee really bad and he’s desperately trying to find a toilet?

Jot it all down and put it into a plot idea…you never know, you may have just started the process of writing the next great American novel.

As always, thanks for stopping by and Happy Reading!

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