The Power of ‘What if…”

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 🙂

About Christy Hayes

A wife, a mother and a writer of romantic women's fiction. I love dogs, exercise and cable news.

Posted on July 25, 2011, in Blog Posts and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. Christy, one day we were coming back from a trip to Houston and a truck with Arkansas plates had the oddest shaped cargo completely wrapped in a blue tarp and expertly tied with no flapping edges. (how’d they do that?) After some discussion of what it could be, I decided that it was prbably the remains of Jimmy Hoffa….. And that he had just been inherited by an unsuspecting last distant relative of the family chosen by the Family to hide him. I amused myself and my husband for several hours with this story.

    I guess other people think about who is gonna win Ameican idol or the Bachelor. Me, I am playing the what if game with you. Happy trails!

  2. Playing the “what if” game certainly made the trip go faster. I could have had a field day with that blue tarp.

  3. What an interesting experience, Christy. I come from a small town, so like you, wouldn’t even think of being mugged or robbed on the side of the highway. The cop who stopped and stayed with you until you were on your way would be great hero material.

    My sisters and I were just talking about how roadtrips seem to generate ideas. The ‘what if’ game always turns those ideas into a story worth writing about. It sounds to me like you found a bunch of future story ideas. Yay!

    So what I want to know is … did you take away your husband’s Blackberry for the remainder of the trip? 🙂

  4. Sheila, it would have been easier to cut off his arm! But we did make it there and back in one piece!

  5. The circle of thoughts has been like a hamster in a wheel inside my head since I was a kid. It has spurred on a soap opera series as I traveled the subway back and forth to work when I was a teenager and a young woman … it gave me a thousand worries as my kids grew older and it constantly nags me about … what if you wrote the beginning this way instead of that …

    Love it and listen to it and and glad I decided to write it down. Great post and a typical mind rut for one of us 🙂 What is the cop who stopped was a CIA operative and he planted something in your U-Haul?

  6. Florance,
    Love the way your mind works!

  7. Hi Christy,

    I played the same game in the airport during my trip home from Louisiana yesterday. So many interesting people whose stories and destinations generated the “what if” within my imagination. Funny how a seemingly normal situation can spin itself to the mysterious storyline. Are we strange, or does everyone do this?

  8. Strange or not, I’m just glad to have some company! Hope your mom came through surgery okay.

  9. I think the “what if” gene is inherent in those people who are considered creative. Some folks have it and some don’t. It’s kind of like that Myers-Briggs personality test. I am always amazed how two people can look a the same situation so differently. I like my “what if” component. It keeps the story ideas spinning in my head. Sounds like you have the beginning to an interesting new novel! 🙂

  10. Tracy,
    The problem is I have many, many beginnings of stories in my head. Now I just need the endings!

  11. Hey Christy! You have shaken my imagination here. I am not a “what if” writer, but I’m going to use this. I know that may sound weird, but I’ve never tried this as a prompt for a story. Thanks!
    With regard to your trip experience and what if’s, there is a great (in my opinion anyway) movie about a couple traveling on a deserted stretch of highway (Kurt Russell and someone else) and their car breaks down. Long story short, something REALLY weird happens and it has you on the edge of your seat. I WISH I could remember the title.

  12. Great post. I do this ALL the time.

  13. Patti,
    Let me know if you think of the title. Now that our trip is over, I can probably watch something like that.

  14. Thanks, Janie. I’m feeling less strange by the hour!

  15. Terrific post. I do that all the time, too. My husband and I even do it with movies or TV shows, until one of us (usually me) says, “It’s just a TV show!”

  16. There would be no end to the game if my husband got involved, too! Thanks for stopping by, Edie!

  17. Too funny and great post, Christy!! My immediate “what if” on your story was where my head always goes…the weird. I was thinking what if the wife suddenly realizes how much time has passed, and goes outside to find that her husband is gone. No trace, no phone, no nothing. Doesn’t answer her call. And she has nothing in the car to prove his existence. That’s where I went.

    One “what if” I had a while back that sticks with me is every time we are at our home town football games…we live in SE Texas, so the whole town is there. I always think what if someone wanted to take out the whole town, that would be the time to do it.

    And yet…those aren’t the stories I write, oddly enough. LOL!

  18. I like both your “what if” scenarios, Sharla, especially the one about the husband gone! I am definitely not alone!

  19. Where would we authors be without “what ifs?” Though I do try to keep mine away from the morbid. Tends to interfere with my over-active imagination during sleep (or lack thereof).

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