Asking “What If?” To Find Novel Ideas

Finding ideas for novels isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Yes, ideas are everywhere as long as you keep your eyes and ears open. However, are they good enough to be novel ideas?

Fiction is a genre of made-up stories. Unfortunately, animals can’t talk and dragons aren’t real. Still, there’s some truth to each and every fiction piece out there.

This can be a real-life location that’s the setting of the novel or it can be something as simple as researching sword fighting and going to war in the book.

In my opinion, ideas come in all shapes and sizes throughout the day. It’s just a matter of turning those ideas into stories with one simple question:

What if?

Mystery Month | Asking "What If?" To Find Ideas

“What if” makes you think about what could happen in an alternate universe (a.k.a. your book). “What if” makes you ponder what may possibly be. And most of this can happen through people-watching.

For example…

A young man and young woman are walking through the park. They sit down at a bench and chit-chat.

  • What if they’re brother and sister? Maybe they live in different houses with their partners and children and they’re catching up with each other.
  • What if they’re boyfriend and girlfriend? Maybe they’re talking about moving in together. Maybe an argument in unfolding.
  • What if they’re just friends? Maybe they’re two high school friends home on break from their respective colleges and they’re catching up.

Now ask: What if this happens…? This will create conflict and tension in your story adding more depth and a new direction to go in.

  • A brother and sister are catching up when one of them gets an urgent call from their mother. Something is wrong, they have to leave right away.
  • A boyfriend and girlfriend are discussing plans to move in together when an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend happens to walk by. And they decide to stop and chat with them for whatever reason. Maybe they say something their ex- doesn’t want their current partner to know.
  • Two friends are talking about their first semester of college when they realize they dated the same person the summer before going away.

It’s fun to go out and make-up stories based on what the strangers around you are doing. So, how does this imply to mystery writing?

You’re sitting in a coffee shop and there’s a man (or woman) sitting at the table opposite of you.

  • He’s sitting alone with nothing but a cup of coffee in his hand
  • He’s alone with a cup of a coffee and his laptop open and turned on
  • He’s alone with two cups of coffee

What if…

  • As he’s drinking his coffee, he gets a phone call? Little did you know he’s a detective and he just got a call about a new case or new evidence for a case.
  • With his laptop, he’s looking up news articles and trying to find evidence for a case. Maybe he’s a detective trying to figure things out or maybe he’s a civilian whose friend went missing and he’s trying to find them on his own.
  • Sipping on one coffee, he has the other in front of the second chair at the table. He’s waiting to meet someone. Maybe they come and it’s a fellow officer or maybe it’s a witness. Maybe this person has more to do with the case than the detective thought, or maybe not at all,
  • OR, he sips his own coffee constantly checking the time. After a while, he takes the second cup and either drinks it himself and leaves with it

When it comes to ideas and “what if” scenarios, anything is possible.

How many stories have you come up with by asking “what if” to real life situations? Let me know in the comments below.

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8 thoughts on “Asking “What If?” To Find Novel Ideas

  1. My mind does this automatically haha. It’s great as my mind then just goes off on a tangent and I sit/stand there thinking “Oh yes that’s amazing! Let’s write it!”

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