Richard T. Kelly’s Writing Exercise for Faber Members

‘The most interesting situations’, wrote Stephen King, ‘can usually be expressed as a What-if question’.

Any written story you admire has ‘What if?’ at its core – as a premise or a launching point. (Writing teachers often speak of the ‘inciting incident’ as the thing that gets a story truly underway.) Playing a game of ‘What if?’ can be a simple portal into your imagination as a writer.

If you are stuck, then typing ‘What if . . .’ into a search engine will generate prompts of all kinds. (You could ask AI for a prompt, but remember that it will only predict what it thinks most other people would tell you, and you don’t want to be predictable.)

A ‘What if’ can seem absurd: not everyone would have the nerve to explore what might happen if a travelling salesman woke up one morning transformed into a beetle; but luckily for us, a writer once did just that. Once you start to flesh out a premise it can soon take on a surprising plausibility and substance.

So you might ask of your ‘What if’: Who is going to be the main character of your premise, and what are they like? Where do you imagine the action taking place, and in how many different sorts of settings? When is the action happening (now, years ago, a distant future)? Then, think about why you might want to take the story further. What would its compelling interest be to you, and therefore to a reader?

Join Members, or sign in, to read on

Become a Faber Member for free and join a community that brings together great novelists, poets, playwrights, thinkers, musicians and artists with readers in the UK and around the world. Faber Members have access to live and online events, special editions and book promotions, and articles and quizzes through our weekly e-newsletter.

Faber Members Event on the roof terrace at The Bindery, London
Layout of Faber Members Editions
Bookshelf at Faber offices at The Bindery
Members Events

Join us to hear Faber authors discuss and read from their work in our Members live and online events.

Members Shop

Get exclusive access to beautifully-produced Members editions of classic works and letterpress prints.

Members Discounts

Special Discounts. New Members get ten per cent off their first order and regular book bundle and discount offers.