Things that make me wonder
I'm often asked where I come up with ideas for stories. That's not really hard to answer because I have this inner "wonder" gene that makes me ask those "how" and "why" questions. I have an intense interest in history, in stories of real people. I'll give you an example of a snippet of story that might end up in a book someday. The other night I was looking for some old poetry I wrote years ago. I pulled out my under bed box and began searching, but found instead some envelopes with old photos and news clippings, some originals, some copies of a fatal car accident in the 1930s. A young couple was killed in the accident - she instantly, but he clung to life for three days. She was 22. He was 27.
That story wouldn't mean much to us except that he was my husband's uncle. Some family history - tales that were passed down - give us a few clues to what might have happened, but no one living knows for sure. Kind of how it is with the people in the Bible.
Anyway, there were some other pictures with names and dates on the back. One I'd seen before of a young woman in that same family who died at age 18. She just missed her high school graduation. Now considering she died in 1924 or 25 and he in 1931, under completely different circumstances, I never tried to connect their lives in one of those "I wonder" moments.
But last night I also found a very faded picture that I tried to enhance to show here. The little boy and girl were those same two young adults who later died far before their time. Norma and Bill. How old they were here, I don't know. But I wonder...were they close? When Norma got sick, how did Bill react? Did Norma's death affect Bill for years in such a way that changed him? Did that grief lead to his untimely accident?
Do you see how it starts? With enough research and more family and friends added to the story, and you have at the very least the beginning of characterization.
I also have pictures from my grandmother as a little girl with her younger sister, each holding a favorite doll. In her case, I have a story from her that told me how she felt about that doll and even more how she felt when her mom made her give her doll to her niece a year later. I don't have to speculate as much in her case. But I can wonder how her nieces felt receiving those dolls. I can wonder if that one act was why my grandmother couldn't keep anything more than a year if she hadn't used it during that year.
There are so many factors that shape our lives. No one can ever step inside the head of another person and hear what they are really thinking. No one can tell the motivations of that person or understand why they do or say what they do or say. But that's exactly what novelists try to do with real people and fictional ones. It's how stories begin.
"I wonder" works a lot better for me than "once upon a time" or even "what if". But we all come at storytelling differently. This is just what works for me. And if you look into the eyes of the kids in these old photos, what do you see?