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So What If …?

At what age are we when we start wondering, What if …?

At which particular stage of life have we reached when we begin to consider, in a musing, abstruse kind of way,

Supposing I had taken that job.

Or supposing I’d accepted that invitation to that particular party

Or supposing I’d not noticed that particular person looking at me in that particular way ….

Doors that opened to us might not have opened, but remained closed and consequently our future lives could have been so very different.

That broken relationship – supposing it had succeeded? That rash invitation – supposing it had been accepted?

On and on we can go wondering endlessly – and pointlessly, it has to be said – about the other directions our lives could have taken if chance or choice had been different.

Writing fiction is all about What Ifs?

It’s one of the delights of writing a novel that you, as the author, get the right to give birth to numerous characters, shape them according to your will (unlike your own real life children who perversely have wills of their own …)and send them in directions that suit plot, whim, dramatic context and effect.

As I am at the early, first draft stages of my fifth novel, I am still evolving my characters and getting to know them. I am not a hugely organised writer.

Many are.

Many will have their characters, plot, climaxes, denouements, rising incidents, falling incidents et al all mapped and suitably placed on a spreadsheet so that they can start to write, entirely sure of direction.

I can’t do that.

(For a start, I don’t know how to create a spreadsheet …)

I have to feel my way with my characters.

I know who they are and do have numerous notes about dates of birth, features, upbringing, likes/dislikes etc.

But they grow. They take on aspects that I am not sure about before I start writing. They adopt habits that come to me as I write – as I sit and think, What if …?

I wonder if all writers SEE their characters and scenes as they write them.

I do.

Just as when I am reading a book, I have to be able to imagine rooms, houses, scenery, setting, to enjoy the novel, so when I am writing I need to have a clear image of all these aspects.

I need to root them in an imagined reality.

So the What Ifs at the start of writing a new novel are enormous in number.

If I wrote thrillers or mysteries, I suspect I would have to be entirely organised and spreadsheets would be my forte.

But fortunately, I don’t.

Instead, my study is currently littered with notes from my research over the summer: dates, events, incidents, facts about WW2, rather randomly pinned to walls and cork boards. A file full of hopefully useful print-outs, letters, personal experiences to give the novel, hopefully, authenticity.

And my characters – well, I know when and where the protagonists were born.

Where they grew up. Who their parents were and what social conditioning led to the people they are now as the novel starts.

But for everything else?

The voice in my head is able to say, repeatedly, at this early stage …

Well, what if?

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