Wednesday, May 15, 2013

What If? A Method for Developing Ideas

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig
MorgueFile--The Success
I’m one of those neighbors that would be the perfect witness in a murder mystery.  Because, if I’m not driving my kids and their friends around, I’m staring blankly out the windows as I write.
One morning I saw our middle school neighbor from across the street leave the house to walk to the school bus stop.  His folks had put out a large television for a charity to pick up and the remote sat on the top of the TV by the street.  He walked past the television, looking at it. Then he abruptly turned around, reached for the remote, and pointed it at the television.   You could just see what was going through his head: what if the television suddenly turned on?
Writing is like that.  What if___happened?

You can brainstorm this way.  You can even outline this way.  You can get yourself out of plot holes this way.
So I’m starting a new mystery.  Since I had such a disastrous pantster experience for the last book, I’ve decided to put some time and thought into planning this new book before I write.  I don’t ordinarily like writing that way, but I will admit that out of the four novels I’ve outlined, I’ve never had a major rewrite. 
This is Outlining Light.  So my process is something like this (and I give myself permission to change it as I go along.)
I start out with my victim…because she determines everything in a mystery.  Who wants to kill her?  This is how suspects are developed. What if she’s the kind of person who rubs everyone the wrong way? What if she is responsible for breaking up someone’s marriage?  What if her neighbor was engaged in a property dispute with her? What if she has a grown daughter living with her who likes to cause trouble? 
The rest of the story develops in much the same way.  What if Suspect 1 claims she was somewhere else the night of the murder but Suspect 2 spotted her arriving at the victim’s house when she was leaving it? What if Suspect 3 has a secret that she’s desperate to protect…which has nothing to do with the murder?
This rambling what-if process can lead to many different ideas.  I take all the ideas.  I’ll take outlandish ones, mediocre ones, great ones.  I list them all on a separate document and look for the strongest ideas…the ones with the most possibilities to develop.  Even better if some of the ideas could intersect with each other in some way (surprising connections between suspects, surprising facts about the victim connected to one of the suspects.)
When I run into problems, I can brainstorm my way out of it in the same way.  In one of my recently finished books, I thought featuring two different married couples was confusing…especially with similar motives involved.  Plus, there really wasn’t enough conflict.  What if one of the couples weren’t married?  What if one member of the couple was in love and the other member just wanted out? It made the story more complex and interesting and it was only a small tweak.
How do you brainstorm and plot?

And...I'm trying a new jump break (read more)  feature for my blog to make it easier to scroll through posts (since some posts are pretty long.)  Hoping this will make it easier for a visitor to my blog's homepage to scan blog titles.  Please let me know how it works for you.  Thanks!