Having vague or fuzzy ideas can lead to self-doubt and discouragement, but self-doubt does not need to keep you from writing your book. In this episode, we’re playing with plot ideas by asking the question “what if?” and watching as a story begins to take shape.


Stephanie: (00:06)
Hello writers. Welcome to the Let’s Write Your Novel podcast. I’m Stephanie Dethlefs, writer and book coach, and this is the place to be if you’ve got a story on your heart, but you need a bit of clarity, accountability, and support to finally write your novel. In each episode, I’ll give you one skill or strategy to apply to your novel, and we’ll also take a peek into your mindset about the process. I’m here because your story matters. You deserve to write it, and you have a reader out there who needs it. I’m so glad you’re here. So let’s get to it. I’m in this funny place right now with my writing. I have an idea for a middle grade novel, or it could possibly be a young adult novel, but it’s so vague that it’s driving me bananas, . I feel like I’m reaching out into a fog and trying to grab onto something solid, but I keep coming up empty even though I know something is out there.

Stephanie: (01:07)
This idea that I have, it came to me months ago and it keeps hanging around. So I know it’s important, but it isn’t getting any clearer. If you’ve always wanted to write a novel, but you’ve got a few ideas, or maybe you’ve got one idea that’s really fuzzy like mine, then this episode is gonna give you a way to play with those ideas until you land on the one that is, you know, The One. So where I am right now is that I know what the catalyst is, or that main event that sends things into motion. There’s a physical altercation on a school bus on the way to school. I know that I also know the point of my story. It’s about how there’s always more to the situation than what we see, but I don’t know who all of the characters are or what they’re bringing to the table.

Stephanie: (02:00)
I also don’t know what’s going to happen next after the fight or before it. So I did a little research for myself and I came across a strategy in my beloved book, Story Genius by Lisa Cron, which I will link in the show notes and I’ve talked about it before. She suggests that we craft a what if scenario on which to build our plot. Here are a couple of familiar what ifs. What if two young people fell in love, then realized their families were mortal enemies? What if a young boy realized his destiny was to become a wizard? I’ll come back to Story Genius in a minute, but for now I’m taking this idea and I’m building my own strategy based on what I already have and what I know I need for my story. And this is what we should always do with writing advice, right?

Stephanie: (02:50)
Take it and then make it your own. Now, I haven’t actually done this work yet for my novel , so sharing this with you like a map of the adventure I’m planning to take while I’m still on the starting line. And if you’d like to play along, I would love for you to join me. Then next week I’ll report back to you and tell you what came from it. So the first thing I’m going to do is I’m gonna brainstorm as many what if possibilities as I can around that catalyst of the fight on the school bus. Basically, I’m gonna do a brain dump of all the what ifs from multiple points of view, the supposed aggressor, the other person or people involved and witnesses. Part of this idea generation might include merging to prior what ifs into a new one. So it’s okay if they sound familiar. Anything goes. My questions will all start with the words. What if chances are good that I won’t use most of them in the end, but the gold will be in the act of coming up with them. What I know from experience is that about two thirds of the way through it, an idea is gonna arise. That will surprise and delight me.

Stephanie: (04:06)
Okay, writers, it’s October of 2022 and we’re nearing that time when people say, Next year I’m gonna finally write my novel. If that is you, if you are tired of waiting for the right time, frustrated by feeling stuck, ready to get that story out of your head and onto the page, I hear you. It’s so hard to watch time go by and not make progress toward a goal that’s really on your heart. So I’m here to help you get over whatever obstacle has been in your way and take a big first step toward writing your novel in 2023. You can schedule your free coaching call today hellowriters.net/freecall. This is a no commitment opportunity for us to talk about your story and your writing life and get you on the path toward clarity and accountability. Again, that link is hellowriters.net/freecall schedule yours today. I just can’t wait to talk to you.

Stephanie: (05:07)
Okay, so my first step is going to be to squeeze my brain for all of the what if questions that I can come up with relating to a fight on a school bus. And I’m gonna keep going until one of two things have happened. Either I’ve exhausted everything I can come up with or that magical golden idea has presented itself. If the result is the first one, that doesn’t mean I’ve done anything wrong. Sometimes that, you know, light from the heavens doesn’t shine down on us right away. So all I’ll have to do is choose one or two to go with onto the next phase. We’re just being playful here. We’re not diving into anything head first or committing to an actual story plot. If you look at your brainstorm list and think, Ugh, none of these is “right”? Don’t worry, just pick one and move forward with it.

Stephanie: (06:00)
You never know what’ll happen. So once I’ve chosen, uh, what if or two that I’m gonna move forward with, the next step is that I’m gonna flesh it out. Likely what I’ll have in front of me is a short and kind of vague what if question. So let’s take that Romeo and Juliet question from the beginning. It was, what if two young people fell in love, then realized their families were mortal enemies? What we have here is the problem of the story, but we don’t know how it’s going to resolve. So that’s the first place we should go. If we could have looked over Shakespeare’s shoulder as he thought through this question, his next go at it might have sounded something like, what if two young people fell in love? Then upon realizing their families were mortal enemies, secretly got married and agreed to tell their families only to cause a further rift between the two and causing the deaths of the key players on both sides, followed by a misunderstanding that leads to both of their deaths, which ultimately heals the rifts between the families.

Stephanie: (07:01)
Shakespeare didn’t hold back on any of the trauma did he ? Anyway, you see where this is going, right? We’re gonna take another pass at our what if question and flesh it out in story genius, Lisa Cron suggests that a solid, what if we’ll have a context, a surprise, and a conflict which will ultimately lead the protagonist to learn the lesson. That is the point of the story. I’m gonna say that again. So a solid, what if will have a context, a surprise, and a conflict which will lead the protagonist to change. So in mine, I will have the context already, students are on the bus headed to school, but I’ll need to figure out what each of the participants is bringing to the table, so to speak. I know already that the surprise is that something will be revealed about the circumstances which led to the fight, but I still need to play with what that is.

Stephanie: (07:59)
And then of course I’ll need to figure out what the consequences are and how they lead the protagonist to learn that lesson, which is the point of my story, that there’s always more to the story than what we see. That sounds like a lot. So at this point I wanna remind you and myself , that we’re just being playful here. We’re not taking any of this too seriously. This is brainstorming fun work At most. My final what if question is gonna be a few sentences, and if I’m not feeling how it’s coming out, then I can pull another What if from my initial brainstorm and do the same thing again? Writers, remember, we are playing here. This is meant to be fun and experimental and connected to our point, which as we’ve talked about before, is something we should already feel passionate about showing to our reader.

Stephanie: (08:50)
Having vague or fuzzy ideas can lead to self-doubt and discouragement, but self-doubt does not need to keep you from writing your book. Play with your what ifs. And I will too, and we’ll reconnect about it next week. I’ll talk to you then. Thank you for being here. If you like what you heard, would you please take a moment to like share rape and review this podcast any or all of the things so they can reach more writers who like you could use a little support today. I appreciate it so much. Thank you and happy writing.