Writing: What if…

I blame my mother for the depths of creativity I have. She started me at an early age asking “what if…” Fire drills at home. Tornado drills (not as many). “what if you couldn’t find me in the grocery store” quizzes. I don’t remember a time she didn’t ask “what if…” scenarios.  And not all of them were the warnings of a scary world.  “what if we had a million dollars” (or 300 million…) is still a favorite around my family’s dinner table sometimes.

These what if’s have a dark side for sure. I do think of scenarios that most of my friends seem to shrug away

  • If I ever leave my purse at a table when I go to the bathroom/drink refill: I trust you.
  • If I ever return from the bathroom and drink from my glass of [drink]: I trust you.
  • If I let you drive: I trust you. (shocker right?)
  • If I take my shoes off in your house (assuming you don’t insist when I walk in): I am comfortable around you.
  • If I walk up to your pet (especially dogs) and pet them: I trust you.
  • If I lean on a fence/rail/open-faced-fall-down-and-die space with you behind me: I trust you. A lot.

Ever thought about any of those being dangerous? I have. I do. I’ve run through the scenarios of threat and reward. I have been on a date and on my way back from the restroom made sure to catch the server and ask for a clean glass of water/soda/tea/whatever. Male servers give me a funny look. I’ve had a female server ask if I was alright. I replied, “First date with someone I met on the internet. I’m suffering from an over-abundance of caution.”

Now, the light side of these what ifs is how they inform my writing:

  • What if a dragon came in through that skylight?
  • Could a troll survive a three-story drop into that courtyard?
  • What a gorgeous tree, what if a dryad lived there? What would she see?
  • What causes that man to look so morose? Why is he here?
  • What causes that woman to look so lost and confused? Why is she here?
  • What if the president walked into this building and demanded to speak to a random person?

All of these scenarios start with a what-if. Then I start filling in the “why’s” that make up the world. Why is there a dragon attacking this mall? Are there always dragons? Why is the president coming to this building? Why is the helicopter landing on the courtyard instead of the pad on the roof? What leads to these people being here? Why? Why? WHY?

I am only satisfied when I have answered enough to tell the story. Sometimes I just keep walking. Sometimes I find myself chewing the what-ifs and why-fors for days. Those are usually the ones juicy enough I want to write something out.

Hence, when my friends look at me a little weird because I carried my purse to go to the bathroom I just shrug. I’m trying to accommodate for all three lives competing in my head of how this life might work out:  “what if that girl over there is actually a master thief looking for an easy ID to snitch” and “what if the waitress is a little careless and drops those steaming fajitas right onto my tablet?” AND “what if I just don’t want anyone to ever know when I need to take my purse versus when I actually think there might be a threat”

I feel sorry for people who are living such singular lives they never ask “what if…”