One reason Saunders focuses on the classic Russian writers in his class at Syracuse, besides their excellence of craft, is that they weren’t afraid to “ask the big questions.” There’s a weight and depth to their stories. They’re epic in scale and scope. You can feel them wrestling with these questions at every turn. The degree of difficulty they’re pursuing in their art is off the charts.
If you’re looking for some writing inspiration, it might be helpful to pose the following “big” questions (I cut and paste them directly from Saunders’ book) to yourself and your characters:
(1) How are we supposed to be living down here?
(2) What were we put here to accomplish?
(3) What should we value?
(4) What is truth, anyway, and how might we recognize it?
(5) How can we feel any peace when some people have everything and others have nothing?
(6) How are we supposed to live with joy in a world that seems to want us to love other people but then roughly separates use from them in the end, no matter what?
Put your characters in a room and see how they duke these questions out. This might just be the fuel for your next play or story or novel. (And perhaps for your own life’s work.)