This morning, the first Monday after we changed the clocks to Daylight Savings Time, as I lay in bed resisting the imperative to get up and make lunches, just like that, a story came into my head.
It would take place in a location like Great Wolf Lodge, the kind of hotel that has an indoor waterpark. In addition to the waterpark, this hotel has something called Magiquest, where for $25 bucks, your kid gets to choose a magic wand and wanders through the hotel with an electronic quest to fulfill. Waving the wand causes the jewels to twinkle, the books to talk, the stuffed animals to move, the videos of wizards with clues to speak, an ogre king to hurl threats, a video dragon to breathe fire.
I don’t know where the story came from this morning, but the creative process started with these two simple words; What if.
What if there was this kid, visiting the hotel with his parents, on his own, doing this Magiquest?
What if the kid was a spoiled brat?
What if the kid was a big Harry-Potter-hugging, cape-wearing nerd?
What if he’s just lonely?
What if the Quest gets strangely personal?
What if the parents were absent and detached, having their own good time at the bar instead of spending time with their child?
What if his parents are getting divorced?
What if his mother has recently remarried, giving all her attention to her new husband?
What if the parents were good parents, with the best of intentions, but the game is alive…and evil?
I try on all of these possibilities like hats. Though the cast is the same, each shading of the characters brings a different conclusion, changing the story and its themes. They’re like numbers in a combination lock; you keep turning them, back and forth, until they fit together, there’s a click, the lock springs open, and you get that spooky little oooh feeling, when something inside your head cries eureka, the hairs go up on the back of your neck, and you run for a pencil and paper.
If I had to boil all of creativity down to two words, it would be these: What if…?