The truth is, one idea is seldom enough.
Suppose you have come up with a wonderful idea on which to base a story, one that keeps nudging at your brain, demanding to be written. But all you have is a fragment—an image of an old woman riding a train, an offhand comment made by a friend, a glimpse of an old house that surely must be haunted. The flour just sits there in the bowl, waiting for you to decide on the next ingredient.
When you figure out what you want to add to the flour, that's when the story begins to come alive. The story develops from the synergy that occurs when two ideas mesh.
Karen Cushman, author of the The Ballad ofLucy Whipple, has said that the idea for that story came to her in a museum bookstore in California's gold country. Reading about the gold rush, she was struck by the statistic that ninety percent of the people who flooded into California in the early 1850s were men. That meant that ten percent were women and children, but one rarely heard about them. What would life have been like for a girl, she wondered, in such a rough, raw territory? Cushman herself had endured an unwelcome cross-country move as a child. So now she had two elements to work with: the notion of a child's perspective on an exciting moment in history, coupled with her own experience and feelings as a twelve-year-old uprooted from a familiar and comfortable home. When these ideas teamed up, the character of Lucy Whipple was born.
Margaret Atwood commented in a radio interview that she thinks a lot of stories begin as questions. One that she asked herself was: "If you were going to take over the United States, how would you do it?" Another was: "If women's place isn't in the home, how are you going to get them to go back there when they don't want to go?" Either question by itself had the potential to lead to an intriguing story. But it was when Atwood combined the two that the story process began in earnest, resulting in her novel, The Handmaid's Tale.
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