Yesterday I got to mark Ride in an Ambulance off my bucket list. This is the picture I posted to Facebook because I was whining about how the IV hurts. They do! I forgot about that pain, but I figure the four times I've had one in, I was distracted by, ya know, the stuff that requires you to have an IV.
No, the ride wasn't the lights and sirens scary ambulance ride. It was the "hey, this test usually indicates that you have something seriously wrong with you and there's the possibility you are a walking dead if we don't transfer you to a bigger hospital so we're going to take our time beause we can't know for sure that you are going to die. You could be just fine."
Thus enters the great what-if.
The what-if is one of the main tools of story telling. As a writer crafts a story, whether the author pays attention or not, there's a point -or several points -where he or she plays the what-if game. What if these characters kiss? What if this character dies? What if the character loses his or her job? What if the peaceful island of Guam suddenly turns mlitant and attacks Greece? In our stories, we constantly try to raise the stakes. What will push this character? What needs to happen to force this character to change something about him/herself? It needs to be a logical to stay with the character's personality. What will it take to get this mouse of a woman to stand up to the bullies? How far does she need to be pushed? One book slapped out of her hands probably won't do it. Will it take three? Four? Five and her adored grandmother dying? Six and losing her job that gives her the core of her identity?
The what-if is the most powerful means in crafting a story that lingers with the reader.
Well, this little tool isn't the most enjoyable when you're strapped in an ambulance for 45 minutes and sit waiting in a hospital bed for hours. I'm at the stage in my life where not only do I homeschool my three children, but I have another on the way. What-if I died? Who would educate them? The automatic answer that would pop into most people's minds is cart them off to public school. Unfortunately, they wouldn't do well. They aren't used to the sit-down, shut-up, learn-this-because-I-told-you-to-structure. Sure, they'd probably do fine, but I don't want fine for them. I want great. I want amazing. I want random field trips to play with snakes, learn about bubbles or just play. I want for them to be able to guide their own learning so they retain the spark of adventure and learn personal motivation for life-long education.
How many times will they get an experience like this in a large classroom? (Before anyone leaves me an angry comment about how public school teachers are amazing and they do the best they can, I already agree with you. Public school teachers' hands are tied by regulations, excessive testing and large classroom sizes stifling creativity and yet, somehow, children learn. I know many public school teachers and I love them all!)
I have a loving husband. How would he handle me being gone? Would he remarry right away? (I hope he'd find new love!) In the meantime, who's going to check the back of his hair after he cuts it and make sure it's straight? Who's going to force him to eat when he gets "hangry"? Who will be there to annoy him by tearing the house apart with some new project?
I'm in the middle of writing several books. Who will finish those?
Then again, what-if I live but only after a stroke. What if I'm confined to a wheelchair and need help doing basic functions? How would that impact my family? How would I handle that? Am I the type of person who would find a smile after having my whole life turned upside down or would it break my spirit? Would I become a bitter soul?
There's a lot of what-ifs out there, but it's really the "then" that scares us.
I read about the concept of If-Then and logical character development in this article by Lee Jessup. It's how the "if" drives us to change. How it becomes our "then". Our lives aren't the same and we <gulp> must evolve as people. We can't stay the way we were before. Life says, no more comfort zone for you missy (or mister)! If Sabrina dies, then her family is affected this way. If Sabrina can no longer walk, then she must give up many things she enjoys. Yikes! I dont like those and I'm pretty sure everyone reading this doesn't want those either.
Yesterday, I joked on Facebook and made light of the situation because that's my personality. Scared, worried, mind going a hundred miles per hour thinking of all the things I wished I'd done differently, I put on a happy face and stayed calm outwardly. That's the answer to what will Sabrina do if she's facing down some big what-ifs. If Sabrina's in an ambulance, then she will crack jokes to take her mind off the big scary what-ifs. I'll joke about it and make light with a few tears slipping out when the what-if running through my mind is too horrible to hold inside completely. That's the logic in my character.
Luckily, my "then" in this situation is only an inhaler and a changed perspective of what's important in life. My "then" isn't overwhelmingly scary and I know people are eduring far worse. However, my what-if session has changed me, even though it's small. Funny how character isn't usually those big "thens", it's the little ones that pile up and make small corrections over a lifetime.
How about you? What "If-Thens" have you used in writing? What "If-Thens" have changed your personal life?