Tag Archives: What If

There’s Something About Yesterday…

For a writer the most important element in any story is, what I call, the What if moment.

Without a great what if, it doesn’t matter how well you write, how compelling your characters are or how snappy your dialogue is – your story’s potential is handicapped.

For example:

What if an astronaut became stranded on Mars?

What if a post-civil war cavalry officer learns that all of the stereotypes about native Americans he had assumed were true were, in fact, patently false?

What if a great white shark staked a claim off the coast of a small New England island and terrorized swimmers during the Fourth-of-July weekend?

Obviously, these stories all did fairly well as books and as major motion pictures – largely in part to their incredible what ifs.

In fact, a truly captivating what if can transform a standard boy-meets-girl-boy-gets-girl-boy-loses-girl-boy-gets-girl-back love story into a story that will completely distract you from a plot you’ve seen a million times.

Such is the case with the movie Yesterday.

As a writer I will tell you, this movie has a huge what if…but as a music lover I say it’s got the mother of all what ifs!

What if The Beatles had never existed?

Think about it for a minute…

What if John had never met Paul?

What if those countless gigs at The Cavern had never happened?

What if Brian Epstein had never found them?

What if the greatest rock band EVER – never were.

The longer you think about it, the more difficult it is to fathom, but that’s the premise of this movie.

Jack Malik is a struggling musician who wakes, after a near death experience, to a world that has never known The Beatles.

No spoilers here – but it isn’t a bad dream.

The planet goes through some unexplained phenomenon at the precise moment Jack is struck by a bus – and as a result of said phenomenon…the Fabs never existed.

But Jack remembers them, and all of their songs.

When he plays Yesterday for his friends, they are rightly impressed with his song writing ability. His efforts to explain that the song was written by Paul McCartney are met with blank stares which get even more blank when he mentions The Beatles.

Immediately the viewer, at least this viewer, begins to contemplate the possibilities of a Beatle-less world.

It’s almost inconceivable, but in the movie, it is the new reality.

Needless to say, the world is duly impressed (again) with the catalog of material Jack comes up with, seemingly overnight, which leads to fame, potential fortune, etc., etc.

So how does Jack deal with his new found, albeit unearned, superstar status.

Well…he gets some very sage advice from a most unlikely source.

Naturally, the movie is not without its faults, but let’s face it…the concept of a “no Beatles” world could be turned into a NetFlix series and go on for twelve seasons…so it would be impossible to address every single after-effect.

For example – in one scene Jack plays a Beatles’ song for some friends…one of them remarks “Well, it’s not Coldplay…”

This is the first potentially major flaw with the story, because had The Beatles never existed the entire musical landscape we now know (including Coldplay) simply would not exist.

This may be my opinion, but I’m pretty sure there are people, much smarter than I, who would support the theory.

But the suspension of disbelief is powerful stuff – and the story manages to clear this seemingly impossible hurdle nicely.

Once again…no spoilers, but I will lay these truths on you:

You do not – repeat DO NOT – have to be a Beatles’ fan to enjoy this movie, but if you’re one of those misguided souls who believe the Fabs were over-rated (and the moon landing was staged) you probably won’t enjoy it very much.

The story is not as predictable as you might think.

There are a few moments when you’ll have to fight back the tears.

Finally – when you leave the cinema you will have yet another reminder of how four kids from Liverpool literally changed the world.

There you have it…my review of Yesterday.

It might not be the movie that changes your life…

…but what if it is?

 

As always – thank you for reading

 

 

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Writing Tips From the World Series

Warning: I’m going to talk about baseball for a minute, but only briefly, I promise.

I was watching game 1 of the World Series between the Red Sox and the Cardinals and something unusual happened in the first inning.

The Red Sox had runners on first and second when David Ortiz hit a ground ball to the second baseman which should have resulted in a routine double-play. Unfortunately (for the Cardinals) shortstop Pete Kozma failed to handle the toss from the second baseman, resulting in a bases-loaded/no out situation for the Red Sox as opposed to having a man on third with two outs.

Kozma

In baseball, and especially in the World Series, that is a huge difference.

The Red Sox went on to score three runs in the inning and eventually won the game 8-1.

Even before the game was over the baseball pundits started with the what ifs.

What if Kozma hadn’t dropped the ball?

They began giving their predictions and analyzing how the inning would have been different. When the game was over the talk was about how that play changed the game – and you can bet your bottom dollar that when the World Series is over they will pontificate for days, maybe even weeks, about how that one play affected the outcome of the series.

If the play had gone a different way (any different way) there would be as many potential results as there were fans in the seats…maybe more.

What does this have to do with writing?

Quite simply…you can crerate an entire story with those two words…What if.

what if

The What If  is a fiction writer’s best friend and if you aren’t asking yourself what if often, you should be.

I once saw an interview with Peter Benchley, author of Jaws, and he told about how he once read a newspaper article about a shark attack of the New Jersey shore…and he asked himself what if a shark decided to stake a claim in a certain place and stay there until the food source was gone…

jaws

That is not an exact quote – but the what if part is. When I heard him say those two words a bell went off in my head.

What if…is the key to mapping out your story.

You start with a basic what if concept and build on it by asking what if whenever you get to a fork in the road.

Asking it once will create a ripple effect, and each answer will bring about its own what ifs. Some of them will be dead ends, you may have to back-track and change an answer here and there to create a new path…but eventually you’ll have a story.

Like the baseball game, the number of potential answers is virtually unlimited, as are the outcomes.

The beauty of writing fiction is – unlike baseball – you get to ask the what ifs before it’s too late.

That’s why I tell people I don’t believe in writer’s block. If you find yourself stuck…just ask yourself what if. And keep asking it (and answering it, of course) until you are writing again.

It’s not a shortcut – there are no shortcuts in writing – it’s more like a navigational tool that will allow you to predict the outcome of the game before it’s played.

Now if we could only put down a few bets…

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