What if penguins swam in lava?

So many writing books offer this simple advice to find ideas: Ask yourself “what if”. It is a fantastic idea to come up with new ideas for fiction. It also reminds us of a very important aspect of writing fiction: we must approach the world as children. Unfortunately, it is all to easy to get lost in a great idea, but lose the story.

This is in no way an opinion that a writer should look past novelty of a premise and focus only on the plot. Instead, start by embracing the questions and facts. Doing this will help you look for holes in the plot. I offer the following points about penguins in lava:

  • they would be very hungry since fish are cold blooded
  • they would probably not have very many white feathers
  • they might be more motivated to develop their flight wings
  • they would be more frightening than cute.

And yet the images of flaming penguins diving through the lava pools into the magma rivers below (it’s only lava when it comes out) may captivate the writer. In his or her mind’s eye, she can picture them as they fly through substrata channels under volcanoes. Ah, the danger of diving too deep after the worms they eat and being trapped under a skin of rock when they surface. What beautiful images he has created! Maybe he should just set the whole world inside the lava and magma then.

Of course, none of the characters seems to talk. They are also apparently invincible as well. Is this an issue? Maybe, and maybe not. If the author lets his imagination run away with imagery, he will miss the true conflict.

There is no conflict without character weaknesses.

For instance, it would be logical that at least one of he penguins would want to move to a cooler climate. If water were to start pouring into their magma tunnels, we have a major conflict.

When a premise springs to the mind, or we ask ourselves “What if dinosaurs had developed the automobile?”, we must be careful to look at why this matters. “What if” is not purely an academic exercise, but a question that MUST be answered.

NEXT WEEK: The pros and cons of fatalism in fiction


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