My writing at the moment involves characters finding themselves in places and situations where they are not supposed to be. None of them has chosen this. It has been forced upon them – but not by other people. The outcome of events in their lives have simply turned out differently from what was expected to happen.
I love to bring the unexpected into my stories, because it mirrors real life. Life can sometimes seem to resemble a labyrinth of different turning points. The junctions are always challenges, and we deal with them as best we can, but in different ways. Often there is no obvious right way.
Here, one of my characters is raging against what has happened, adamant about doing something to change it.
“I have to try! I can’t sit around and do nothing. I do nothing as it is, day after day! I don’t fit into this time. I’m old, yet I’m young. Do you see? Can you understand me?”
Another character attempts to find the source:
“Is anyone else involved in this – this tangle of disasters?” she asked nobody in particular.
Both of these reactions are very human: rage, blame and self-blame, we’ve all experienced them when things go wrong. The missed train, the wrong turning, the words spoken which cannot be unsaid. We respond similarly to life-altering events. Sometimes our shock is delayed, or we begin to collapse emotionally. In the majority of cases we invoke the words: “what if…?"
I use the words ‘what if?’ in a very different context when I am writing. Sometimes they can invoke a change of gear, pushing the entire story into unknown territory. In these circumstances, I’m not asking ‘what would have happened if…?' alluding to the past, but ‘what might happen if?’ in the future. It serves to push me back further from the various sections of narrative and look differently at the whole picture.
Which brings me to my final point: what if we try out such a question on ourselves? It has, actually, just happened on a massive scale in the United Kingdom. The ‘what if we leave the European Union?’ has become a reality, not just with all the negative baggage which has been attached to the result, but with a courageous, brave and positive shout from those who voted to leave.
So are these two words in fact an enabling device for changing something in one’s life? I believe they can be. What if I take this train instead of that one? What if I move to this place instead of that place? What if I make a decision and actually do the thing which has been hanging over me? What if I don't? Once you begin to consider the dilemma from a different viewpoint, you automatically move into a better position to make a more rational decision.
In fact, don’t just ‘what if?’ it. Be brave! Go and DO it!