Part of a special month-long event featuring writing tips and NaNoWriMo strategies from guest writers and fellow NaNo participants.
By E. Van Lowe
Here’s an idea that not only can help you increase your NaNoWriMo daily word count, it can also add some amazing twists to your stories. I call this exercise What Ifs. The idea of a what if is to vary from the norm. Look at your outline and ask yourself what would happen if the character did the opposite of what was on the page.
When I was a series television writer, we writers would often sit around the conference table and throw out what ifs. What if Cliff, who was so good at helping his kids work through their problems, offered up a rash of bad advice. These what ifs would always spark conversation, and the conversation would lead us to some very interesting, and dare I say, funny writing.
Last night, when I was reading through my work for the day, I asked myself what if when Megan arrived at the castle, instead of finding the man she was expecting to meet, someone from her past emerged. My outline clearly stated: Megan goes to the castle, meets the man, makes a deal and leaves to tell her friends of the sacrifice she’s about to make. But I liked the twist of the what if and decided to go with it. When I finally finished for the night, I had six hundred more words, and a twist no one will see coming. Why am I so sure no one will see it coming? Because I couldn’t see it coming.
It takes guts to play the what if game with your work. Some what ifs take you so far away from the outline it’s hard to get back. It can feel quite uncomfortable. You’re in unfamiliar territory without a road map. But if you have the guts to play, not only can you add pages, you can add unforeseen enjoyment for your readers.
The first time I used a what if outside of TV writing, I was working on my very first YA paranormal novel, Never Slow Dance With A Zombie. I was near the end of my work day. I had Margot and her nemesis, mean girl, Amanda Culpepper, in the gymnasium, hanging side-by-side from the ropes with a swarm of hungry zombies waiting below. The next thing in the outline was for the girls to swing over to the other side and escape together before the slow moving zombies could make it across the gym. I was about to stop writing when I asked myself, what would happen if after Margot gave her big speech, instead of escaping with Amanda, she willingly let go of the ropes, and fell into the arms of the zombies. Here’s what I wrote:
I took a deep, cleansing breath and let it out slowly. It felt soo good. “By the way, I’m not a nobody. I’m somebody. The name’s Johnson, Margot Jean Johnson.” And with that, I released my grip on the rope and dropped, plummeting into the outstretched arms of the zombies below.