About those ‘what ifs’….

The path ahead

The path ahead

Every story is based on this: “What if xxx happens?”

Here’s a ‘what if’ for you, and it’s one of my favorites:

What if a spaceship lands in your yard and aliens get out of it?

Here’s a list of stories that have been created, using that ‘what if’:

Micromegas by Voltaire, 1752
The Battle of Dorking by George Tomkins Chesney, 1871
The Germ Growers by Robert Potter, 1892
War of the Worlds by Jules Verne, 1898.
War of the Worlds radio broadcast on Hallowe’en by Orson Welles Oct. 30, 1938
War of the Worlds – 1953 movie with Gene Barry
War of the Worlds – 2005 movie with Tom Cruise
Have Spacesuit — Will Travel by Robert Heinlein, 1956
Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein, 1959
Starship Troopers movie 1997
“V” (for Visitors) – 1984 TV series and remake 2012 series
Day of the Triffids – novel by John Wyndham 1951, and subsequent 1962 movie, three radio series 1957, 1968 and 2008, and two TV series 1981 and 2009
The Day the Earth Stood Still – 1951 movie with Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal and Sam Jaffe and the remake in 2008 with Keanu Reeve
A very long series of 1950s black and white alien invasion movies that included “Teenage Aliens from Outer Space”, “The Thing”, “The Blob” and “It Came From Beyond the Moon”
Independence Day – 1996 movie with Will Smith
Men in Black I, II, and III with Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith
Mars Attacks – 1996 film combining actors and CGI creatures

… and there are many more besides those. I sometimes think it’s almost an infinte number of variations.

The point to this is not that your idea is not original, or that it’s been done before, or done to death. Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest” has been done over and over in more variations than most of us know in the form of novels involving forbidden or impossible love. Incest and murder all in one story? Hamlet and Oedipus the King address both issues. So what do you do?

Let’s take the plight of Hamlet. He’s the heir to the Danish throne. His father was murdered and is now appearing as a ghost demanding revenge. Meanwhile, Gertrude, Hamlet’s mom has gone from having an affair with her brother-in-law to being his wife. In those days, that was considered incest. Unfortunately, Gertrude is menopausal and can’t have any babies, so Claudius, who is now the king, needs to find a way to get rid of Hamlet, the legitimate heir to the throne, and establish his own line. And Claudius isn’t getting any younger. Claudius, who is a murdering bastard, will do whatever is necessary to achieve his goal, so he sends Hamlet off to England to school and two henchmen with him (Rosencrantz and Gildenstern) to kill him.

This has been a standard of acting excellence for hundreds of years. Can you make Hamlet human, a living breathing person, instead of just a character in a play?

But what would happen to the tension in this well-known story if Hamlet was a young woman of child-bearing age instead of a young man?

Think about it for a minute.

Ah…. now you see how much more dangerous it becomes.

So what you do with that list of ‘what ifs’ is keep adding to it. Add something every day. Take a few of them and begin to flesh them out into storylines. Keep a notebook full of them — yes, pen/pencil and paper, or a typewriter and paper, but not your computer. Why? Because when you’ve written a story or several stories based on one of those ‘what if’ ideas, you can draw a line through it and go on to another one. And then one day, you’ll look at that notebook and see how much you’ve accomplished.


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