Then what?

Sometimes people flatter me by telling me that I’m creative. Some ask how I come  up with the plots for my novels. Part of the answer to that question is what I call the “then what?” method. When thinking about what might happen in one of my stories, I’ll start with a simple circumstance or action, and then ask myself, “then what?”  I answer the question and again ask, “then what?” I repeat the “then what” five to ten times until I’m satisfied that I’ve created a good scenario for my book. For example, in my short story, The Scenic Overlook, I decided to have Rhett and Toni take a walk on a  hiking trail behind the Bishop’s Lodge near Santa Fe.  Then what?  When they reach the top of a mountain, they see below what appears to be a man strangling a woman on a terrace behind a large house at least a half mile away. Then what? Rhett and Toni yell, but realize that from that distance they cannot be heard.  Then what? They have no cell phone, so Rhett and Toni determine that Rhett should stay on the mountain and watch what happens, and that Toni, who is  in much better shape, should jog down the trail and get to that house, with the police, as fast as possible. Then what?  Rhett sees the man drag the now limp body of the woman into the house.  Then what? Five minutes later a car leaves the garage from the house.  Then what?  Toni finally arrives with a policeman and finds an empty house. The use of “then what” forces the story to continue. If I answer the “then what” with something that I don’t like. I’ll change the answer until I’m satisfied.  In some cases the “then what” suggests what should naturally happen next. But what I like to do is answer the “then what” with what should happen next that the characters in the novel wouldn’t want to happen, or that it should be something unexpected. I hope the answer of what might happen next could be both credible and would peak the interest or concern of my readers. In short, the “then what” method I just a structured way of playing make believe. And it’s  something I can do when trying to fall asleep, or when taking one of my long walks in the afternoon, or when I’m driving cross country on a road trip. At some point I’ll stop and jot down notes so I don’t forget what I’ve created, because if I do forget………….then what?

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