In his memoir On Writing, Steven King describes the inspiration for his 2002 novel From a Buick 8. A fall behind a Mobile station on the Pennsylvania Turnpike sets him wondering about how long his car would sit at the pump before someone would investigate his disappearance if he hadn’t saved himself.
While I haven’t had such a dramatic epiphany, I can relate to King’s description of playing “what if?” While working in Russia, I read an article by Richard Preston in the March 9, 1998 New Yorker–“Annals of Warfare: The Bioweaponeers.” In it, he describes Iran’s recruitment of unemployed scientists from the former Soviet Union’s weapons laboratories—both biological and nuclear. My first thought was “why would someone accept such a job offer?” I gave my main character no job, a sick child, and friends with underworld connections—and Saving Hope was born.
Beyond putting my character in a situation with no job, I have to provide the motivation–the problem s/he wishes to resolve. Then make it difficult for them to get there and force them to change in the process. These elements–character, conflict and change—provide the backbone for any story. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has a beautiful quote I try to take to heart as I write. “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Thus, the more difficult the problems and choices confronted, the better. In Saving Hope, the main character must choose between taking a job offering hope for her daughter and helping the FSB (formerly the KBG) save the world from a deadly virus.
From a one-word question—why?—a whole novel is born.