Today’s guest blogger is Laura Childs, New York Times Bestselling Author of the Tea Shop Mysteries, Scrapbook Mysteries, and Cackleberry Club Mysteries. Thank you, Laura, for taking time to write to us. Laura is going to discuss "what-if".
As a mystery author, I owe a tip of the hat (click of the mouse?) to innumerable mystery and thriller authors who have spilled various little puddles of light to help show me the way. John Sandford and his terrific Prey series comes to mind for textbook-perfect gritty characters. Michael Connelly is a master at deft plotting with beaucoup subplots tossed in for good measure. Jeffery Deaver taught us all Forensics 101. And Mary Higgins Clark continues to demonstrate that ordinary women are easily ensnared in dangerous life or death struggles. (I also have Mary to thank for the agent we share.)
But the one author that really knocks my socks off is Stephen King. When I met King years ago, he talked about how his stories always begin with a what-if.
What the heck is a what-if?
It’s an author’s basic jumping off point. In one of King’s earliest books, Salem’s Lot, he asked himself, What if vampires invaded a small New England town? In The Green Mile he posed the question, What if a death row murderer possessed paranormal powers to do good? In Misery, his what-if gave us a hapless, damaged mystery writer held hostage by his biggest fan.
What-ifs are like log lines for a TV show - an elevator test for a killer sales pitch. In novel writing, what-ifs help you hone in on a single, compelling premise that forces you to confront the very essence of your story line. A what-if premise strips your story down to bare bones, preceding even words and internal architecture.
Years ago, after much mumbling and grumbling and analysis of other author’s novels, the proverbial light bulb flickered on above my head. I realized that I needed to figure out the what-if, then dissect the rest of the novel like a leopard frog in biology class. Once I did that, the blue print for writing a novel was laid out before me!
In Tragic Magic, my newest Scrapbook Mystery, I asked myself, What if a scrapbooker tasked to design a haunted house interior encountered a flaming body tossed from a third floor tower? That launched me head first into a first chapter filled with non-stop action. No fussy back story, no long-winded character introductions.
That crazy what-if premise really works like a charm.
And now, when I’m hunched over my computer, wind whispering through my attic and bare branches tickling at the windows, I smile to myself and think, Thank you, Stephen. Because my brain just binged out another what-if idea that ought to jump-start my first chapter from zero to sixty!
Thank you, Laura! Laura Childs' website is www.laurachilds.com
Tragic Magic by Laura Childs. Penguin Group (USA), ©2009. ISBN
9780425229897 (hardcover), 320p.