Stephen King’s On Writing is probably my favorite writing book. (Followed closely by The Comic Toolbox and Writing The Breakout Novel.) I’m not sure that it added many technical how-to folders to the mental filing cabinet, but a lot of the books really resonated with me. One noteable exception is this passage:
A strong enough situation renders the whole question of plot moot, which is fine with me. The most interesting situations can usually be expressed as a What-if question:
What if vampires invaded a small New England village? (‘Salems’s Lot)
What if a policeman in a remote Nevada town went berserk and started killing everyone in sight? (Desperation)
What if a cleaning woman suspected of a murder she got away with (her husband) fell under suspicion for a murder she did not commit (her employer)? (Dolores Claiborne)
What if a young mother and her son became trapped in their stalled car by a rabid dog? (Cujo)
Then he goes on to mention how these nifty little questions just pop into his head while he’s driving, showering, etc. And he makes it sound so damn easy! At first I was inclined to dismiss that entire passage as literary professor bunk—after all, Cujo is a masterpiece. Perhaps a little rough around the edges writing-wise, but the DRAMA!
But…when you boil it right down, it’s about nothing more than a young mother and her son trapped in their stalled car by a big-ass rabid dog.
That’s it. A what-if question equals a book. A good book.
I can’t do it! I can only boil one of mine down to a what-if question, and that’s the only one that actually came to me premise first—a true what-if question, although the muse didn’t phrase it that way. The others came to me scene or character first.
I think how all other writers write is fascinating, but especially Stephen King.
In other news, I just today learned what 4-20 Day is—I had no idea. Interesting. Why 4-20? Why not 4-16 or 11-22 or 7-23?