Thursday, 4 November 2010

Playing Around with What If

I've come to a tricky moment in my current novel.  I've written a lot of it, then realised that I needed to start earlier, so I'm writing the beginning section at the moment.  This means I know where I need my character to end up but I'm not 100% sure how she's going to get there.  In this case, she needs to leave her job - but why? and how?

I'm playing What If.  

There are usually limited choices for characters at any one time.  So I'm going to start with Does my character like her current job, or not?  That's two options. I write them both down on a piece of paper.  Then I choose one of the options.  What if she likes her job?  Why would she leave it?

what if she was fired?
what if she was offered a better job elsewhere?
what if she was persuaded to apply for another job?
what if she did something dreadful and had to leave?
what if she had an affair with a colleague and was forced out?
what if she's inherited some money and doesn't need to work?
what if her family need her to return home?

Each What If suggests more questions, more What Ifs...for example, why would she be fired?  I write them all down, seeing where they lead me.

Then I do the same process with the other starting option: What if she doesn't like her job? There the prompt has to be, Why hasn't she left it so far?

what if she has no qualifications?
what if she's trying to apply for lots of jobs, but can't get interviews?
what if it's only recently she hasn't liked her job?
what if a work colleague has been promoted to boss and is now making her life hell?

I like this option the least, because it puts her in a negative or victim situation.  I'd rather my character was making positive choices.  On the other hand, I want her to move forwards so the last couple of options could work.  

On the first option, I'm aware that Natalie in A Single to Rome loves her job but gets fired, so that's not a route I'm keen on. 

I'll show a possible route tomorrow, along with the questions/possibilities it suggests.


Fiona Faith Maddock said...

I understand why you have designated the second option (that she doesn't like her job) as a negative option but it doesn't necessarily make her a 'victim'. It might be an opportunity to reveal a feisty and resolute streak in her character which might surprise her (and you - the author) as she overcomes the hurdle in a spectacular way which you might not have thought of. Whilst you are doing a 'what if' analysis,it might not be obvious but if you then go into free writing mode, a dramatic and triumphant response to her situation might emerge. Just a thought.

Sarah Duncan said...

I accept absolutely that it doesn't make her a victim, but there's a danger of victim mentality creeping in, certainly into *my* writing. I have a tendency to write "Poor Little Me" characters which I have to rigorously stamp out.

If she doesn't like her job, especially at the start, I can just see her moaning away to her best friend about how grim it is, how awful, how terrible. My default character mode is whinger and I have to fight it. It's not a great introduction to a character.

Oooh, I feel a blog post coming on.

Julie Cohen said...

I love doing this. The perfect answer comes out of left field sometimes, and I always think that if I surprise myself, I'm more likely to surprise the reader.

Sarah Duncan said...

Yes, it's really good for making you open up to ideas instead of getting stuck on a single track.