Elizabeth Norris is the author of Unraveling and its follow-up, Unbreakable. She didn’t originally set out to write a YA series — but her editor wanted more — and knew the readers would want more, too. So Elizabeth had to figure out a way to continue to the story of Ben and Janelle. Where did she begin? With the very simple — and leading — question: What if?
Elizabeth shares her experience overcoming a bit of writer’s block to develop with a plot for Unbreakable. Check out her thoughts below. She just might help you break out of yours!
Hi Figment! Thank you so much for having me. When I first wrote Unraveling, I had envisioned it as a stand-alone novel, but my editor informed me it couldn’t end like that. She said: There has to be a sequel.
Despite the fact that I had a starting point, it was a sequel after all, and this meant I had to come up with a plot that would hopefully raise the stakes and top everything that had happened in the first book.
I brainstormed at coffee shops, listened to inspiring music, and took long walks, but nothing was quite coming to me. It was in this particular coffee shop and over a hot chocolate that I had my break through:
I was drinking a hot chocolate and relaxing with my boyfriend. Somehow we had started a “What if . . .” conversation. This is an informal game that we often amuse ourselves with. It’s simple: We come up with different scenarios and ask what the other one would do.
They can be inspired by movies, books, or television shows:
What if the zombie apocalypse broke out right here, right now? What’s your exit strategy?
What if you fell onto the subway tracks? How would you get out?
They can be about the world in general:
What if prohibition had never been repealed and alcohol was still illegal? How would the world be different?
Or they can be more person:
What if you found out your dog was really a human that had been trapped in a dog body?
Or they can even be straight from the imagination:
What if you found out your best friend was spending his/her nights hunting raccoons?
Most often, the stranger they are, the more interesting the answer can be.
Now, that day with my boyfriend and an awesome cup of hot chocolate, this “What if” question was posed to me:
What if the FBI came to you and said I had committed a horrible crime?
I don’t remember exactly what I said, and I didn’t see the connection between that scenario and my characters Ben and Janelle right away, but that situation stuck with me. Two people in a relationship—they know each other. Or at least, they think they do.
One night in front of my laptop, it hit me. That was the set up for Unbreakable. Janelle knows who Ben is. She knows his secrets, his dreams. And she loves him. How would she react and what would she do if suddenly someone told her she was wrong and that he had done something terrible?
She’d save him. Or at least, she’d try.
So what does all this mean for you?
It doesn’t take “How to Write” books or exercises or even writing classes for you to write an amazing story. All it takes is your imagination, and a lot of practice. So keep observing the world around you and asking yourself questions, like “what if…” and keep writing as much as you can.