Last week, my husband and I traveled across the country with a pull-behind U-Haul. At one point in our journey, he almost ran into the back of another vehicle (shocking considering he’d been reading emails on his blackberry) and we pulled over a short time later to check on the stuff we’d packed in the trailer.
I stayed in the car with our two dogs while he got out to inspect our cargo. He left the car running (it was nearly 100 degrees outside) and I filled his ten minute absence by reading. When he got back in the car, he told me that a police officer had approached him and advised him he wasn’t in the best neighborhood to have his back turned inside a U-Haul. The cop stayed right by our car until my husband was finished and we were on our way a few minutes later.
Needless to say, I was shocked. I’d imagined all sorts of disasters before we left for our adventure, but never once did I dream we might get robbed or killed at gunpoint in broad daylight along a busy stretch of highway for the crap we’d packed inside the U-haul. We discussed the incident for a few minutes and then my husband didn’t think another thing about it for the remainder of our trip. But I’m not built that way, so our brush with fate spurred a series of “what if” questions so familiar to writers.
Here is just a sampling of the things that went through my mind: what if the hero of my imaginary story had been killed on a cross country trip while his wife sat innocently in the car? What if the hero had only been wounded and the wife kidnapped? What if the dogs had been children and the heroine and the kids had been kidnapped? What if the couple were on the verge of divorce? What if the hero were a cop? What if the hero and heroine weren’t married, but had only been dating a few weeks? What if they were brother and sister? What if their attacker wasn’t a bad guy at all, but someone looking for a quick escape from trouble? What if he were a cop? What if the U-haul had been filled with stolen goods or the secret cure to an epidemic or a dead body? What if…what if…what if…
“What if” has led to every novel I’ve ever written and the ideas for all the novels I have yet to write. Some days I envy people who don’t have a thousand “what if” questions running through their heads, but mostly I wonder what would fill my mind if all the “what if” questions went away.
What about you? If you’re a writer, are you plagued by “what if” questions throughout your day? And if you’re not a writer and you do experience “what if” moments, have you ever thought of penning your thoughts? Let me know, if only to make me feel better about all the questions floating around my head