Shannon Stacey

What if…it was that easy?

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?

14 comments to “What if…it was that easy?”

  1. Anna Lucia
      · April 21st, 2005 at 3:50 am · Link

    I think most of mine are what-if ideas…. but, Lord, that doesn’t always mean no plot problems. Far from it….

  2. Jaynie R
      · April 21st, 2005 at 6:09 am · Link

    :wtf:So what is 4/20 day? I have no idea :oops:

  3. AngieW
      · April 21st, 2005 at 8:20 am · Link

    :wtf: What Jaynie said ;)

    And I think, if I were to write a book, I’d need a what if question to jump things off. But you know, I think that’s because that’s what drives my mind and my curiosity. It’s the ”what if” things that really spark me and provide some great conversations between Josh and I. But that’s how MY imagination works. And not near on the level of Stephen King’s :rofl:

  4. Steph T.
      · April 21st, 2005 at 8:29 am · Link

    Am obsessed with On Writing these days. *sigh* :crazy:

    On a side note, I do like this blog skin, because the pillow looks nice and comfy. :baby:

  5. Shannon
      · April 21st, 2005 at 9:14 am · Link

    From what I gather (not celebrating the holiday myself) 4-20 Day is for the celebration of the smoking of marijuana. Probably has something to do with the legalization, as well. I guess in some places they stage peaceful, pot-smoking sit-ins at statehouses and such.

    As for why 4-20 and not 7-23 or 9-6, I’ve heard 3 different stories on the radio: 1—There was a song or something that put forth that 4:20 was the perfect time to light up. 2—420 chemical compounds in the MJ plant (and one would celebrate that why? And 3—The police code for marijuana is/was 420 (that’s my personal fave, though I have no idea if it’s true.)

    And On Writing is a funny book. I love it, and I don’t think it’s only because I’m a Stephen King fan. I think his dedication to the story is so important, and it makes the whole On Writing section of the book really pop for me. So I’m with him on the big picture, but I don’t agree with him on so many of the ‘little picture’ things.

    But I’ll be having to order my second copy pretty soon. :nod:

  6. Alison
      · April 21st, 2005 at 10:19 am · Link

    Oh, yeah. With a family of 4 20-something kids (hey, another 4 20), the date is QUITE well known around here!

  7. Charlene T
      · April 21st, 2005 at 1:28 pm · Link

    I had to read the 4-20 thing twice before I grasped what it was about. Sheesh.

    The “what if” part never stood out to me in On Writing, probably because it’s what I do so it didn’t seem unusual. It may have to do with being an unconscious/fly by the seat of the pants type writer than a conscious plan in advance writer. All I know is, if I had to figure out everything before I wrote, I would never get anything written. And other writers would never get anything written if they didn’t have it planned in advance. Whatever gets words on the page, that’s my motto! :thumb:

  8. kacey
      · April 21st, 2005 at 2:45 pm · Link

    Hey, I just heard about the 420 thing yesterday too. I was actually riding with my 20 something son and someone called him at 4:20 and said “happy 420 at 4:20”. So he had to explain to his clueless mom… (hm, need a smilie with blinders on ) :wink:

  9. Maili
      · April 21st, 2005 at 3:08 pm · Link

    Here’s the version I’d heard: in San Franciso or San Rafael during early 1970s there was a group of people who named themselves ‘the Waldos’ that met every day at 4:20 to smoke mj. They decided to make a tradition out of this by encouraging others to meet at the same time by circulating leaflets and flyers at live music concerts and other places. Hence the 4:20 Day. I have no idea if there’s any truth to this, but that’s the story I heard from time to time. :)

  10. Maili
      · April 21st, 2005 at 3:12 pm · Link

    P.S. I first heard about this from a film. I cannot remember which film, though. I think it was DAZED AND CONFUSED, perhaps? I remember that scene where a character theorises about George Washington, marjiuana and a dollar banknote. Has he mentioned 4:20? I can’t remember. I’m getting old. :roll:

  11. Ronn
      · April 21st, 2005 at 3:31 pm · Link

    4-20 Day: Learn something new every day. Thanks, I think.

    I too loved On Writing. It’s the only thing I’ve ever read by Stephen King, but I liked both his advice and the way it was presented. Good stuff.

  12. Renee Luke
      · April 21st, 2005 at 4:34 pm · Link

    Born in ’72, I grew up with hippy parents. :angel: You’d think I’d know what 4:20 is, but I’d never heard of her before yesterday.

    King, On Writing. :cheer: One of the best writing books I’ve ever read. He made me feel connected to the craft. I’ve never been a real fan of scary, so I don’t do his books often, but I do play the *what if* game all the time while :type: Even during the process, when hitting a slow point, or a snag, I *what if* my way out of it.

    On Writing made me feel like a real author. I saw myself in many of his items, including sucking down tea like no tomorrow, :thumb: To King.

  13. Shannon
      · April 21st, 2005 at 9:26 pm · Link

    George Washington, marijuana and a dollar banknote? I’ve gotta rent that movie. :nod:

    Isn’t funny that there are so many theories behind 4:20 Day? I guess that’s what happens with a pot-smoker’s holiday, eh? :lmao:

    (No offense to those who celebrate, of course.)

    Now a Stephen King Day, I could celebrate. :cheer:

  14. Walt
      · April 21st, 2005 at 11:59 pm · Link

    4-20 is a legal reference, like 10-4 is.

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