Tuesday, December 8, 2009

What if?

by Lisa Hughey

I love research. I usually begin with an idea, a really, really rough premise. It might even only be that the NSA has a secret branch of field agents and my heroine is the ultimate extreme loner....

Then the fun starts. First, I research the research books, looking at online reviews, going to the bookstore and reading back cover copy. From there I choose three or four books about my subject.

And then I start reading. Using sticky arrows, post-its large and small, and colored pens, I notate any informational tidbit that I find fascinating and compile little facts in my head. And the seeds of the plot begin to take shape.

I like to find historical facts in my research and use them for the foundation of backstory. But then I twist and turn those facts, constantly asking...what if? From there the idea grows. And with every bit of knowledge I absorb, I think...what if?

What if?

From my ‘what ifs?’ the idea grows until I need to start doing research on the internet. Which I love. I double check everything. Even things I’m fairly sure I know, I re-confirm through the internet. (Which is why I will never write a historical romance. The research worry would kill me!)

When the World Wide Web was new, there wasn’t a lot of material uploaded but I distinctly remember looking at a list of contents of a library at Oxford, in England. I remember that moment of awe, as I realized I was sitting in my little suburban California living room, one son watching Barney and the other napping, and I was accessing a library at Oxford. The idea was so heady. Of course, at that time, the text wasn’t on the internet, but I knew one day it would be.

Sometimes I go off on tangents, bizarre little side trips that might not be related to my original search. And frequently within those tangents, a new ‘What if?’ occurs to me, spinning my story in another direction.

What if? One of the most thought provoking phrases I know. :)


L.G.C. Smith said...

Two 'what if?' questions started me down the Warlord path. After visiting Bangor-on-Dee and thinking about the seventh century massacre there of over a thousand monks (according to Bede), I was thinking about the Northumbrian king who ordered that done. What if that guy landed in our world? One other 'what if?'and I was off.

Love that photo of your wings. :)

Tom Neely said...

I think 'what if?' is the driving force behind everything I write. Who needs a muse when you've got endless possibility.

Dana Fredsti said...

'What if' used to be the most dreaded two words I could hear back when I was writing for a low-budget film company run by a crazy executive producer. His 'what ifs' always involved strip clubs, naked hooters, and things like 'what if the ONLY way to kill a vampire was with a magic sword? Wielded by a werewolf?' And that was one of the better ones...

Unknown said...

Jeff Arch (screenwriter) talked about the power of 'what if/who does that'...he said he was looking at photos of all the dead soldiers in a Civil War era photograph, and he thought "what was it like to be the guy who had to bury all those dead boys?"

My what ifs tend to come from my worst mistakes, not my research.

-- What if I can't get this car off the ice in this national park that the sign said was closed until summer? Can a bear really peel open a compact car? Will someone shoot a bullet companion to the shell I just found?

-- What if I drown in this current that everyone warned me about on my honeymoon?

-- What if everytime you cry over a dead person and wish they were there to help you, it drags their soul back to earth. Would they be mad at you?

Now that I'm all soft and middle-aged, I'm going to have to work harder for those what ifs.

Thank you all for inspiring me!!!!

Martha Flynn said...

You gotta show me one of these marked up post-it noted books!

Sophie Littlefield said...

i've seen those marked-up book s- they are intimidating!

Unknown said...

They may have been dreaded at the time but they are really funny now :) :)

Mysti--hmmm, some of those What If?'s are also suited to Worst Case Scenario thinking (of which I am a champion!) *vbg*

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