The Write Way: Finding Ideas for your Novel

30 Foster from picmonkeyI’m sitting at my desk in my new writing home. I wish I could tell you it’s the perfect study, soundproof, light-filled, roomy enough for all my books and research material but not the least bit barny.

Actually this room is light-filled, because I’m working in the glassed-in porch of our old, old cottage in New York. And it is a good size, only it’s also filled with sofas and my husband’s desk and at times very much like Grand Central Station.

I was chased out of my real study by a leak in the brand-new ceiling from a brand-new air conditioner and since no major repairs are allowed here until the end of the summer season, I’m temporarily displaced. It’s a small inconvenience, but it does play havoc with my work schedule. There is so much going on.

For instance, right now children are whizzing by my windows on their bicycles on their way to Boys and Girls Club. Club is where children at Chautauqua Institution go to have fun so their parents can have fun elsewhere on the grounds. We live on one of the busiest bike lanes, so I witness this migration every  morning, smiling at the variety of bikes and helmets and at the very small children who feel safe enough to find their way around these 70 acres.

I watch the multitude of dog walkers.I listen to snatches of conversation, and quite often the cell phone calls of adults who like the crossroads in front of our house because it’s sunny and warm and our temperatures have frequently been in the 50s at night this summer.

What does any of this have to do with finding ideas for your novel?

Let’s backtrack, shall we? What are the possibilities in the mundane details of my incredibly ordinary morning?

1–A temporary displacement can suddenly change the way a character sees the world.

2–The fate of a child who leaves home in a perfectly safe environment and doesn’t return that afternoon because:

  1. He runs away.
  2. He is kidnapped (non-custodial parent? Angry grandparent?  Stranger who is worried he/she is not being well cared for?)
  3. When he crosses Thunder Bridge (it does sound like thunder, by the way) on his way to activities he enters a new dimension, or he is sent back to another time in history.

3–Someone inadvertently eavesdrops on a telephone call at my sunny intersection and becomes worried that:

  1. A possible terror attack is about to ensue.
  2. A spouse is about to leave him/her
  3. Somebody she loves is keeping an important secret that could change her life.
  4. A friend is about to do something foolish and should be stopped.

4–That innocent dog walker who’s gone back and forth in front of my house is actually a private investigator trying to get information about a neighbor who:

  1. Left his wife without child support
  2. Is drawing hefty disability checks but managed to run the annual 5K this weekend

Or maybe he’s checking the area to see how secure it is because the president is about to make a surprise visit.

Are any of these ideas good ones? Well, I see possibilities in a couple. Of course they have to be padded, twisted and turned inside out. But if I needed a new story, these might give me a place to start, a jumping off point, a glimmer.

Don’t ever let anybody tell you that you need more than a glimmer to begin your story. Because that’s where a story always begins. One idea, maybe not even a good idea, but a notion that intrigues you and sets your imagination free.

Don’t wait for lightning to strike. It rarely does. Sit down with a cup of tea and stare out your window. Then pay attention, and if your mind wanders, so much the better.

We novelists call that working.


  1. Teel Blust on August 6, 2013 at 8:38 am

    Your discussion this morning opens my longing for the window, cup of tea and a story. I am starting with little stories found everywhere in our lives. Wish I had more time to read every book by you, Emilie and also write the snippets of my life!

    • Emilie Richards on August 6, 2013 at 8:48 am

      Write a snippet every day in the time you have. They will add up. Good luck.

  2. Nancy on August 6, 2013 at 9:06 am

    Chautauqua is certainly a busy place during this summer! A lot of interesting people for “people watching”. In September, the quilters take over for our annual Quilt Show. Will you still be here Sept. 28 & 29?

    your friend from Chautauqua Region Quilt Guild, Nancy Nordwall

    • Emilie Richards on August 6, 2013 at 12:13 pm

      It’s looking more and more like I will be, Nancy. I want to finish my book before moving back to FL for the winter. The quilt show will be a special treat, in fact I thought about checking with your vendors to see if any of them would like me to do a booksigning. Does your quilt guild have a webpage? I’d love to attend a meeting if I can.

  3. Lynn Ross on August 6, 2013 at 5:33 pm

    You make the mundane into magic! I enjoyed reading this so much.

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