Using What If to Plot A Novel

Someone has said there are only a few story plots out there, and everything else is a variation on those plots. Whether you’re following the hero’s journey, the classic three-act structure or the story arc of Inciting Incident-Complications-Climax-Resolution, your story is likely to be a take on some existing theme. How do you take a story line and make it your own?
Writing Tip for Today:

  • Those two little words–what if–can take a tired story line and pump new life into it. So you might ask, “What if Little Red Riding Hood was actually in league with the wolf?” Not that we want our sweet Red to be a baddie, but you get the idea.
  • Ask what if for each element of your story (Main Character, Goal, Antagonist, Problem, Setting) and see if you can devise a fresh twist on a pat story.
  • The resource book What If, by Ann Bernays and Pamela Painter, contains a wealth of exercises and ideas geared toward helping you be original.

Try This! Read over your opening chapter. Now, play the “What if?” game with each element: Character, Goal, Setting, Antagonist, Problem. Change each one and see if any makes the story sharper or more interesting.

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

2 comments on “Using What If to Plot A Novel

  1. I agree, Cheryl. I’ve been playing this game since I was ten. I got a discarded novel from the district library and discovered the last few pages were missing. I asked, “What if?” to reimagine the story’s outcome in different ways. Glad to help. –Linda

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