Writing about Writing: What if?

As Pliny the Guy I’m Quoting Again once said, “True glory consists in doing what deserves to be written; in writing what deserves to be read.”  Once you decide to write, how do you achieve true glory?

Stories can all be boiled down to two big concepts: What Happened? and What If?  Non-fiction writing is about What Happened.  Histories and biographies are the obvious examples, but almost any book of facts is at its core a history of what happened before.  If you get a book on birdwatching, the author has basically written down what he found out when he looked for birds.

Fiction is different.  Fiction is about What If?  What if a one-legged sea captain got obsessed with the white whale that injured him?  What if a freak tornado dropped a little girl’s house on a witch?  What if an ordinary guy got put in an iron mask because he coincidentally looked like the king?

What If? stories are a staple of science fiction.  You can find whole anthologies of stories written about what would have happened if the South won the Civil War, or the Nazis had won World War II. Continue reading