Twisted History: Playing the “What If” Game

TwistMost story plots are based on previously written fiction or our own history. Writers love to reach out and give the past a little twist, playing the “what if” game in the hopes of creating ideas unique enough to propel their story onto the best seller lists. You see “what if” all the time in Science Fiction where the ordinary and known world is flipped upside down. The lure of Science Fiction is the possibility that what you’re reading might actually materialize in the future. We readers are fascinated and disturbed at the same time.

Look at some of Science Fiction’s “what If” possibilities. What if man could fly? What if man could go to the moon? What if people could actually see each other over the telephone? I know. Those things used to be fodder for Science Fiction, but that genre has a disconcerting habit of coming true.

Hollywood loves the fantastic scientific twists. One of my favorites–What if someoneJurassic Park actually extracted dinosaur DNA and recreated those animals? Oh, that one’s crazy. That could never happen. It’s just a story. Right? Don’t be so hasty with your denials. History has taught us to beware of the word, impossible. Think cloning!

Laboratories are wonderful incubators for possible twists. Things happen there that can change our lives, often as the result of a mistake. In 2012, an accident at a pharmaceutical firm caused the death of 40 people. See Fungal Meningitis. There are more than a few stories waiting to be told there.

So, feel free to use your imagination. Search through actual historical events and then twist away to add excitement and suspense to your story. Devise a reality-based danger. Nothing is more terrifying than inserting a believable and deadly possibility into an ordinary setting. Take, for instance, Britt Vasarhelyi’s three-part story about the two young women who disappeared into the exotic Panama jungle, Britt’s Story. jungle wordle

She details the chilling story of two women who simply went for a walk and never returned. What happened to them? Depending on your genre, you can come up with different scenarios, each one more terrifying than the other. The hook is that the explanations are plausible. Unless, of course, aliens or fantasy creatures are involved. Although. . . In any case, after reading the story, I resolved to stay away from jungles, no matter how beautiful they are.

MoonOnce you try it, you’ll find that the history-twist method can be very entertaining. Just for fun, take some important events in history and tweak them to see what you can come up with. You might look at major events like the Apollo 11 moon landing or the set-up of the International Space Station. But, perhaps you want something less sensational. Government regulations make great literary fodder. Then you have local politics and politicians. They can always inspire a little fear. Having trouble trying to make a politician more dangerous? Anybody read, Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter?

One method I often use when I’m looking for inspiration, is to work up a reasonable history or back story for my characters. Who might their ancestors have been? In what types of activity might those ancestors have been involved? Then I play with keywords on the internet. I let my browser wander from one article to another until I find something that piques my curiosity, no matter how weird it might be. I want something that will add a unique twist to my manuscript.

My mind analyzes the information and then asks questions. “What if something terrible happened here or something terrible simply waited?” What if some person did something a little differently? What if someone didn’t do what they were supposed to? How will that little change affect my characters, my story?

Sometimes an insignificant-seeming twist in the past can effect a major alteration in the future. When you play the “what if” game, it’s amazing how satisfying changing theWhat If future can be.

Remember, keep writing!



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6 thoughts on “Twisted History: Playing the “What If” Game

  1. Okay, okay, I’m inspired!!!!! Great post, Margo. It really got me thinking about Rosie and the girls and all those “what ifs.” Oh, the possibilities…

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