Question Method

“Many of my books come from what-if questions that I can’t answer, things that I’m worried about as either a woman, a wife, a mom, an American.” – Jodi Picoult

It was the start of October ’09. Various things were happening in my life, but one of the biggest was soon to come – my very first NaNoWriMo. Nerves. Oh, the nerves.

I’d never written anything over 15K before, and it certainly took a lot longer than a month to do so but hey – Challenge Accepted. I wasn’t really sure what I should write about, and after going through the different ideas I’d been stewing over, I kept coming up empty.

I was fairly certain that I wanted to write science fiction. Since this was a special thing, I read up about the genre, and saw a split – a lot of it seemed focused on extrapolating the view of the world from here and now. Not a lot changed in the advancements, and quite often, it sounded like the story being told was a parable for an issue in the modern world. I can’t remember the article very clearly, but I know it was the trigger for me adopting what I refer to as ‘Question Method’.

The quote wasn’t the inspiration, but it definitely fits. I realised what I wanted to do was have the novel I would write ask a question. I don’t pretend to be the first person to have done it. Okay, sometimes I pretend to be the first person and ask “What if we couldn’t see colour at all?”, whatever. There’s no crime in make-believe! Unless it’s pretending to be a cop. Sometimes.

The question I used for that first NaNo was “What if people weren’t at the top of the food chain? How would society change?” and (obviously) extrapolated that into glowing space maggots on a predominantly jungle planet. The point I was going for in that question though, was how that could change. Would it be seen to be as commonplace as death, just a fact of life, or something else? The story went somewhere else entirely, but it was how I got the idea.

Sometimes a question does little more than provide a setting. While not exactly questions, I believe that Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics are similar in how they prod at a statement (or question), by asking what could go wrong. Most of the stories I’d written before then had been either overall ideas that had come to me, or stories that formed out of one of the other idea-creation methods I use.  It isn’t the only way, but if you’re lacking for ideas, start questioning the world more.

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