The 'What If?' Guide to Growing a Story

Published on: 10 June 2020

How can you grow a story? Whether you're an experienced writer or setting out to being a story for the first time, it can be difficult to know where to go - the only limit is your imagination! Andy Shepherd, author of The Boy Who Grew Dragons, shares her own method for developing a story - by asking 'what if?'

Stories can be almost as difficult to grow as dragons. But one thing that can really help is to be curious and ask lots of questions. Then your little seed of an idea will take root and start to bloom.

A really good question to start off with is ‘What if?’

The books I loved as a child were usually set in the real world but had a sprinkling of magic. And there was a giant ‘What if?’ question at their heart.

What if I went to bed and my noticeboard fell on me and flattened me just like Flat Stanley?

What if I shrank right down so I was as small as Mrs Pepperpot?

What if I found a wardrobe and opened the door to another world?

I absolutely love a good ‘What if?’ question because it immediately kickstarts my imagination and helps turn even the most ordinary things extraordinary. 

What if park benches could talk when we sat on them and they told us all about the people who had sat there before? Would they complain about everyone or be good listeners, offering comfort and advice?

What if the rusty gate in the corner of the park opened into the past a hundred years ago? A thousand years ago?  

What if we all grew wings when we turned eleven?

The question that started ‘The Boy Who Grew Dragons’ series was: what if dragons really did grow in dragon fruit?

And with that one little what if, my story grew too.

Here are some of my recent favourite books that have a ‘what if?’ at their heart:

Bloom by Nicola Skinner

What if... flowers grew out of our heads?

This was one of my favourite reads from last year. Funny, imaginative and utterly original.

Sorrel Fallowfield is usually very good at following rules but when she discovers a packet of Surprising Seeds buried under a tree all that starts to change.

Read our review


Pages & Co: Tilly and the Book Wanderers by Anna James

What if... your favourite characters suddenly turned up in your house? And what if you could follow them back to their world?

When we curl up and read we can feel like we’re lost in the world of the book we’re clutching, but who hasn’t dreamed of actually spending an afternoon with one of those beloved characters? This is such a wonderful premise and Tilly’s adventures and the mystery of what happened to her mother can’t fail to keep the pages turning in this fabulous story.

Read our review


The Imaginary by A F Harrold, illustrated by Emily Gravett

What if... you could suddenly see your imaginary friend?

In A F Harrold’s story Amanda finds out what that’s like. But can she help her imaginary friend Rudger, before the sinister Mr Bunting who is hunting him sniffs him out?

A funny, at times scary, and deeply moving story that is beautifully illustrated by Emily Gravett. 

Read our review


The Land of Roar by Jenny McLachlan

What if... your imaginary world, where you happily played make-believe, wasn’t imaginary after all?

When Arthur and Rose return to their Grandad’s attic they find themselves pulled back into the Land of Roar and so begins a wonderfully vivid adventure.

Read our review


The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson 

What if... you woke up one day and found you had bear legs?

Yanka was abandoned in a bear cave as a baby and has always wondered where she came from and where she belongs. Join her as she sets out on a journey to find answers to her questions and get ready for a truly enchanting adventure. A story to treasure and share, this beautifully written book about belonging and family is utterly magical. 

Read our review

Do you have an idea for a 'what if'? Let us know on Twitter @BookTrust!

Topics: Features

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