Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
Vision@sff.net

What If

By Gina R. Duvall
© 2004, Gina R. Duvall


Life changes us by a simple universal process.  It is never ending and breath-taking in its simplicity and effectiveness.  It is applied to every human being who ever drew breath and will apply to every human being who will ever be born.  It is unavoidable, irreversible, and our response to the process determines who we will become and how we will handle everything that will happen as we move forward through our timelines.

The process is called hitting.  From the time the first breath of air hits our lungs and we wail in surprise as our entire circulation shifts from fetal to neonatal, we face a world where change hits us and alters everything we were and thought we knew.  There is no escaping this, and acceptance of the fact actually does little to prepare us for the next hit.  One of the very few options that exist to smooth the process also forms the basis of all great literature.  We can, if we are sufficiently courageous, ask and then attempt to answer the following question. 

ďWhat if?Ē

Now Iím not talking about the "what ifs" that keep mothers awake at night wondering if Betty Louís boyfriend is taking liberties and detours on the way home from the movies, although it is wise to be aware of that "what if" and to have a back-up plan in place.  A good writer can take even that "what if" and write 100,000 words and sell it in any genre.  And Betty Louís Mom can either stay awake all night worrying about her answer -- or stay awake all night reading the 100,000-word novel and pick up a few ideas she hadnít thought about when the question first hit her between the eyes. 

When we, as writers, look at a scenario and ask ourselves those two words, our minds immediately begin grappling with the possibilities.   We sit down and begin to flesh out our answers; characters and worlds become real, new questions arise, sub-plots develop, and we learn something about our own dreams and fears.  We may be driven to research in order to answer our "what if."  We may learn to operate complicated machinery in our drive to respond to the question.  Hours pass and then days as the "what if" becomes a story that might answer our question.

The question is dangerous.  It changes us.  Having the temerity to ask the question demands that we give it serious consideration.  It leads us into new worlds and even if every writer ever born has asked the question, the process of asking and then attempting to find our own answers changes us.  We change from people who are hit by life and are unprepared for the shock into people who have consciously prepared, as best we can, to act and not blindly react.  In the areas we dare ask the question, we prepare ourselves for a future where our actions can actually help produce a better outcome.

 We send out our responses to our reading circle. From there, we submit them to a stranger, carefully attempting to follow editorial guidelines initially as unfamiliar as the first breath of air had been to our newborn lungs.  And being writers, we then put that "what if" in the "I canít worry about this now" box and move onto the next most pressing "what if" which nagged at us through the last three revisions and begin the next process of discovery. 

This is the common thread to all genres and all writing.  It is the conscious attempt to take lifeís inexorable, unavoidable process of hitting and to wrest a measure of control over the outcome.   And because we ask, we become participants rather than victims.

And we land men on the moon.  Or we develop fetal surgery.  Or we discover why Betty Louís father keeps a gun handy for cleaning when her dates come to pick her up.  Or, if weíre very, very lucky, the most wonderful editor in the world pays us a half-cent a word and we smile as we cross the invisible line and become professional writers with a publication credit and a check to show for it.

What if? 

"The acrid odor of concentrated urine broke his frozen tranceÖ"