Magic words

By Joe Moore

WARNING: This post is not about self-publishing or gatekeeping or Amazon or e-books or all the other stuff we’ve been thrashing about over the last week or so.

It’s about magic.

Recently I was invited to speak during career week to third and fifth graders at a local elementary school on what it’s like to be a writer. Frankly, I expected only a handful of kids to show any interest while most would probably react with boredom. After all, how could I compete with the fireman and his Dalmatian that were the previous guests? I was pleasantly surprised to find classroom after classroom packed with genuinely interested kids who paid attention, asked great questions, and promised to go home and start writing their stories. I found out a few days later that some actually did.

I began my presentation by telling them that at the end I would reveal the two magic words every great writer uses to create great stories. This was my hook that kept them listening, and it worked.

The two magic words are: What if?

I’ve used them to create the premise of 6 novels, my two current works-in-progress and many short stories. Here’s a sample:

What if someone used the DNA found in the Holy Grail to clone Christ? THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY

What if a 5000-year-old relic revealed the secret to surviving Armageddon? THE LAST SECRET

What if a quantum computer could bring down all the resources of the world and throw nations into chaos? THE HADES PROJECT

What if a group of state-sponsored terrorists could deliver a lethal virus with something as innocent as a cough or sneeze? THE 731 LEGACY

What if someone was stealing the burial remains of the most infamous mass murderers in history in order to genetically regenerate them into an army of killers? THE PHOENIX APOSTLES

What if the search for an Old Testament artifact uncovered a plot to destroy a major U.S. city with a nuclear device built by the Nazis at the end of WWII? THE BLADE

magicAs far as I’m concerned, those two words are magical. Repeating them is like an incantation that launches a spell and sets the imagination afire. They form a seed that can start growing from the moment the question is asked: What if? The two most powerful words in the craft of writing.

I keep a list of “what if” questions and ideas that I’ve accumulated over the years. They come from everywhere; the newspaper, TV, movies, books, articles. And I’ll be a lot of you guys have a similar list.

So why am I even talking about this? After all, writers already know the magic words. What I want to suggest is that you use them like I did to ignite the imagination of future writers of all ages. If revealing those two words sends a kid home with the fire to write a story, and they do, then there’s truly something magical going on. Pass on the magic words to others as often as you can. You just might be responsible for the next future New York Times bestseller. And wouldn’t that be magic!

13 thoughts on “Magic words

  1. Love this, Joe. Those words are magic, but engaging a kid & touching even one is the real deal. I’m so glad you are talking at schools.

    Reading & writing crime fiction has always been my thing, but since I’ve branched out into writing for teens, I see the magic in their eyes when you KNOW you’ve reached them. I’ve got a few who follow me to my personal appearances now who are writing their first novels. It always impresses me to hear these young kids attempting a full novel, something I would have found too daunting when I was their age. I only wrote short stories.

    Everything shows on a kid’s face. The inner light coming through their eyes when they tell me about their story is AMAZING to see. It’s why I write YA. I love getting their emails in the early morning hours after they’ve stayed up to finish my books too.

    My YA publisher – Harlequin Teen – is very generous with young readers. Whenever I attend the Texas Library Assoc annual conference & TEEN DAY, my house gives me 50-100 books to giveaway. I’ve got “repeat” kids who find me, stand in long lines, & catch me up on what they’re writing. I feel like a rock star, but these kids return the magic to me tenfold.

  2. Nice anecdote, Jordan. It’s terrific to hear about the generosity you and your publisher extend in giving time and materials. To watch the fire of imagination ignite in a young face is quite fulfilling. Next time, I’ll tell the kids about the secret writer’s handshake.

  3. Jordan – that is awesome and Joe, who knows what future you may have sparked.

    I guarantee there are a lot of bright, confused, and hurting kids in those audiences. I know, because I was one of them. If a “real writer” had given me a book all those years ago, I’d probably still have it. I always considered books as talismans against the bad stuff.

    And a word of praise or encouragement about a story? If I thought about it, I could probably recount every one of them.

    Congrats on magic making! Terri

  4. Joe, I learned those two magic words from writer Alton Gansky several years ago, and they’ve been the seed from which all my novels have sprung. Thanks for getting the word…or words…out.

  5. Awesome encouragement for the kids, which will in turn encourage them to read. Who knows what kind of spark you’ve might’ve lit that will manifest itself a few years from now.


  6. What If a new writer found a blog on the internet where writers exchanged killer information and inspired those that visited the blog to really think about what it means to be a writer, found new friends, learned insider information about the industry, and caught the spirit of inspiration from the commenters on that blog?

    I wonder what could happen?

    It might be like finding magic.

    Great post, Joe.

  7. Terri, Richard, BK and Paula, thanks for commenting. The really great thing about encouraging new authors, especially kids, is that established writers like myself have nothing to lose and everything to gain by doing so. Unlike sports, for instance, writers are not in competition with each other. So putting the spark into the eyes of young future authors means more stories will be told and more readers will buy and enjoy more books. We all benefit.

  8. Love this post, Joe. Kids have so much magic inside them, waiting to be tapped. Neuroscience has shown that the brains of infants are fully active, but lose areas of activity as they mature into adults. Part of being a writer, I’m convinced, involves exercising and re-igniting those “magic” areas in our brains. It’s why writing can be so much fun. It’s like the fun we had as children, doing creative play. Our work is play.

  9. Now that I’m awake and can think clearly, I’ll say that a major part of my life is working with children, helping them develop the ability to see the magic of life before them. There are few things in life more rewarding than seeing the connection, hearing the click in their mind, the electric snap in their eyes as they suddenly understand there are no limits but what they themselves make.

  10. What a wonderful post, Joe. Those ARE magic words, and thank you for pointing them out to us (or reminding us, as the case may be). It’s heartening that the students were so interested in what you had to say.

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