Hold a book in your hand. Where did it come from? The publisher, of course. The publisher probably got it from a literary agent. The agent represented an author. The author had a story to tell. But where did the story come from? Stories start as a spark of an idea. And a story idea can be distilled down to ‘what if?’
Classic ‘What Ifs’
Take a look at some classics:
Romeo and Juliet – what if two kids from feuding families fell in love?
Pride and Prejudice – what if a man of good fortune did move into a neighborhood with too many eligible ladies? Or if you’re more cynical, what if a woman could marry for love and money?
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – what if an ignorant (but not unwise) white boy and a runaway black man could teach this world a thing or two about the evils of slavery?
‘What if?’ is especially true for a story idea in fantasy and science fiction.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – what if there were doors between worlds and four kids just happened to trip through one?
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – what if rabbits wore waistcoats and could tell time?
Dune – what if you could ride a giant earthworm?
A Spark of an Idea
When I was but a young lad, a ‘what if?’ sparked the story idea for what would become my own science fantasy novel, Curious Origins of a Restless World.
I wondered what another planet’s history would be like. How would civilizations develop? Where would cities sprout and borders go? What wars would happen and what empires would crumble? The questions led to maps but not necessarily to stories.
Thinking Some Thoughts
As I became older, I questioned what constitutes history. When reading Earth’s history, I discovered the stories of struggle, of battle and loss, of advancement and decay, of justice and evil.
The conclusion: History is conflict.
But where does conflict come from? Is it etched in our universe? And if so, why?
Conflict comes from our own selfish desires.
Our desires are planted deep in our psyche. They take root within us and bear the fruits of covetousness and fear and hate. These fruits are the seeds of the evil not only in the world but within each of us.
Would another world have these same problems? I’ve discussed the four spiritual states of inhabitable planets. The summary: Any planet that has a history like ours, full of suffering and death, must be a fallen world.
Fallen from what, you may ask.
Fallen from a perfect existence.
But the mystery is that humans think there is a perfection not yet attained. Earth is as it is. Why should we think this planet and its cultures are not perfect? The very word ‘perfect’ leads to all sorts of philosophic problems. Yet the evils recorded in our own history books drive each of us to believe that surely the world should not be this way. This tension between ‘what is’ and ‘what should be’ is the basis of morality.
Modern man doesn’t much like the term ‘morality’ but there it is. The existence of the word ‘should’ unlocks the word ‘morality.’ At its lowest level of meaning, morality simply questions why life and people aren’t the way one thinks life and people would be better being.
My problem (and the problem of mankind) is I tend to think morality is for the next guy. Unfortunately, Jesus doesn’t see it that way. Never did. He always starts with me.
A Story Idea Ignites
Thus my thoughts camped out on my imaginary ‘what if’ planet. What might it mean to another world to have an ‘imperfect’ past just like on Earth? What if there were another sentient but selfish species out in the cosmos?
I put aside working out the story of another planet’s history, and I pondered the moment when events turn from the ideal to the not-so-great.
The story idea is not wings nor planetary rings, not two suns nor three moons, not maps nor empires, but the simple question of how would a planet get from ‘was once’ to ‘wish was again.’
That ‘what if’ stepped me out on the path toward a book.
And hopefully the book finds a publisher at some point. I’ll keep you updated.