Last night my wife and I watched the movie Delores Claiborne, based on the book of the same name by Stephen King, who I will admit is one of my favorite writers. We had seen it when it first came out, and I had read the book years ago, again when it first came out. Of course that was before I became serious about my own writing.
Last night I watched the movie as a writer and when Delores quoted Vera with the line "Sometimes being a bitch is all a woman has to hang onto." I was floored with the realization that the entire book had been built around that simple statement.
I became excited as I explored all of the connections that led back to that quote, following the line of reason, the questions of Who? What? When? Where? And most importantly, Why? It was then that I understood what he had meant in his book On Writing, when he likened the act of writing a story as a process of uncovering a fossil.
We expand on the initial spark of an idea with a series of questions. What's happening, who it is happening to, where is the story taking place and when. Then we come to the why.
Why were the authorities so anxious to charge Delores with the death of Vera? Because they rightly suspected that she was implicit in the death of her husband years ago and wanted to make her pay in whatever way possible.
Why did Delores kill her husband? To protect her daughter.
These were the two most important questions of the tale and served as the foundation upon which the framework of the story rested. They were not the only two.
Why did Delores' daughter hate her so much? Because as a child of abuse she had effectively blocked all instances of the abuse from her mind, misinterpreting her mothers acts to protect her from her father as a wedge that drove them further apart.
Why were Delores and Vera such close friends? Beneath the surface where it really mattered they were both the same and they shared the knowledge of their husband's untimely demise.
There were many other questions answered in the course of the story but the four above served to move the story towards its eventual conclusion.