Like most people I’ve been fascinated (and saddened) by the mystery of the Malaysian airliner that went missing on March 8. And I’ve also been intrigued by the speculation on exactly what might have happened. Because of the extraordinary situation and the fact that so much is unknown, 24/7 cable news outlets like CNN have been piling on the theories with little or no hard information to back them up. Suppositions and assumptions are the name of the game and ratings only increase as tantalizing new scenarios are pulled out of a hat.
Did the jet turn into a “ghost” or “zombie” plane? Was it struck by a meteor? Or what if it were sabotage by the pilot? After all, he had a flight simulator at home. Had he rehearsed this scenario weeks or months before? Was he in cahoots with terrorists who wanted to use the plane for nefarious purposes at a later time? Did he land the jet at a hidden airstrip in a top-secret location? What if the passengers were still alive but unable to contact loved ones?
And what about that mysterious phone call the pilot made right before the plane took off? He also had close ties with an opposition leader in Malaysia who had recently been arrested on a sodomy charge that could have been a frame-up by those currently in power. And what about the fact that his family moved out of their house the day before the incident? Did he have serious personal problems that led him to commit suicide and cause an intentional crash?
Or was he a hero? Did he divert that plane off course because of smoke or some other problem in the cockpit to get closer to where he could make an emergency landing? Did he fly at a lower altitude, not to avoid detection, but to try and save the lives of the passengers?
These theories and unanswered questions remind me of what I do when I’m brainstorming plot points, character motivations, conflicts and complications for a novel. I open up a document and write a series of “what if” and “why” questions. Then I’ll put it away and read it another day and add to the list. At this point nothing is too outlandish to delete; I just let my imagination run wild. Eventually I pare it down to something more focused and throw out what I don’t need. While it might not work for every writer, it’s what works for me.
I’m not so sure it works well for the news. And, of course, I’m dealing with fiction.
Girlfriends, do you use brainstorming techniques when you write your novels? Do you think there’s a place for theorizing on the news?
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