Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What If?

It’s a question that I generally try to avoid.
As humans, we tend to wonder what life would have been like if we had thought differently, decided differently, acted differently, or even loved differently.  And sometimes, the possibility that life could have been somehow different can pack a lot of pain.  It’s because of this that I try not to dwell on the “what if’s” in life, because I can’t change them and it’s an utter waste of time to try.
However, this one very perplexing question, which can prove so often be harmful to us as humans, can be immensely helpful to us as writers.  Sometimes, even, when we are stuck knee-deep in a plot or a scene and we’ve once more hit that proverbial brick wall, the best thing we can do is to ask, “What if?”
This has been the case for me, at least.  Over the years, I’ve derived countless tales from asking this question.
Take my most recent project, for example.  The tale of Theseus and the Minotaur had become a worn and faded yarn to me, nothing to merit even a second glance. It was the tale of two warring kings.  When King Minos of Crete finally won the war, he forced King Aegeus of Athens to sign a treaty stating that Aegues would send fourteen Athenian youths to Crete every year.  These youths would then be forced inside a maze where they would be preyed upon by a half-man and half-bull beast known as the Minotaur. When Prince Thesesus of Athens grew old enough, he decided to end this terrible practice forever by sailing to Crete and entering the maze himself to kill the Minotaur.  
I had heard this story several times growing up and had never thought much of it.  Altogether, I viewed it as rusty.
Yet, then I learned something.  I discovered that Theseus was a real person.  I also found that the Aegean Sea in Greece was named after his father, King Aegeus.  Furthermore, the evil king of Crete, King Minos, was also real.  You can still tour the ruins of his palace at Knossos to this very day.  The Minotaur, of course, could not be real, for how could such a beast exist in real life?
All of this was spectacular, to be sure, but then I discovered something else.  I learned that there, amidst the ruins at Knossos, was a structure that resembled a labyrinth.  And I began to wonder why on earth would someone build a labyrinth to house a monster that did not even exist. And this caused me to ask, “What if?”
What if all of it was a lie, a cover up? What if there was something deeper going on underneath, something that the storytellers somehow missed?  What if there truly was a monster hiding at the heart of the maze, and what if it was vastly different from the weary Minotaur of the myth?  What if these people were all very real with very tangible motives that all twisted and tangled around a very terrible secret?
These are the questions I began to ask, and the book that resulted was a direct product of such questions.
This relates directly back to what I have said.  In real life, I would normally try to avoid asking such questions, because they open doors that I would often rather remained closed.  Yet, as an author, sometimes the best thing you can possibly do is to pry open the doors that no one else dared to open, the doors that appear rusted and worn, for no one—not even you—knows what monster of a tale might be lurking on the other side.
Hannah Lokos is a sleep-deprived college student who writes books on the side.  Her first novel to be published, Labyrinth of Lies, is scheduled for release this December 2, 2013.  She keeps seven cats, and likes chemistry and writing songs, and thinks parasailing would be fun. She also has a website,, and a Facebook Page, both of which you should definitely check out.  Just saying….


January Bain said...

Hannah, what if indeed! Great post.

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

I see this in other people's works. They go flat out on the what ifs and create a great story.

Mary McCall said...

What a wonderful explanation of this critical creative tool. Thanks. Reminders like this really help.

Mary McCall said...

And PS, one historical author to another, you had to know I'd love a post from someone who had a "clew."

Liz Fountain said...

Great inspiration as I get ready to launch into another NaNoWriMo. "What if" can generate a lot of words!

Thanks - Liz