The "What If" Factor
I'm convinced that we all are imaginative people. We all have the "what if". Writers, though, can't let go of the "what if." They can't just meet the Russian girl traveling solo across the country by herself at a remote trailhead and just think, that's interesting! How brave! Writers (or maybe it's just me) start to imagine...what if she walked into the wilderness and disappeared? Or maybe less sinister--what if she meets the park ranger driving the Rhino over the sand dunes and falls hopelessly in love? (Too romance novel? OK). What if she mistakenly wanders onto the Missile Range?
I don't know if other writers are like this, but my mind always swirls with what-ifs, or at least, what's that story? Who was that woman pulling a canoe up on the beach near Juneau accompanied by two little children? She obviously was coming from a remote homestead. What was her life like? Or, what would happen if you were sitting all by yourself in the El Paso airport and someone walked by who looked just like you?
This is how novels are born. At any one time I have scraps of ideas floating around which may or may not form into something real. The "what if" is just practice, but it's something I can't really stop myself from doing, any more than I can stop scanning any woods for campsites after years of being a wilderness ranger. You never really know which ideas you might use later, so I keep them just in case.
If you're not a writer, my only advice is to lead such an interesting life that it radiates from you, and someday a writer will see you and think, what if....