CraftSavvyBlogWriting Life

The Big Box of Writing Ideas by Karoline Barrett

Thank you for allowing me to blog today! As a writer, I get asked a lot, “Where do you get your ideas?” and, “How did you come up with such a plot?” If only  the answer to where I found my ideas was as simple as, “There’s a store, just for writers, where  you can buy a big box full of writing ideas.”

When my debut novel came out and people began reading it, I got, “Avram, Rebekkah’s husband, is a very seedy character. How did you conceive such a negative, controlling person?” and, “Did you know anyone like him?” and last, but not least, “I didn’t know you had such a conniving mind.”

So, where do my ideas come from? I think most writers, like myself, are blessed fertile imaginations. My own ideas are usually based on snippets of conversation I overhear; a person I find interesting; past life experiences; an event, like a wedding, or funeral; sometimes, even a good dream. Once in a while they just appear out of nowhere.

I began writing later in life. I started with short stories, and the ideas for them came from various places. The first story I ever had published was called Chinese Noodles. The idea came from my uncle, who at the time, suffered from Alzheimer’s.  Later, I had a romantic short story published whose idea came from a visit my husband and I took to James Dean’s grave, in Fairmount, Indiana.

When I decided to devote all my time to writing novels, I took a short story I had written, which had never been published, and turned it into my first novel. I based one of the lead male characters’ looks and name on a man who came to my in-laws Queens, New York co-op to take away stuff they no longer wanted. When he walked in the door of their apartment, I knew I had my Dominick.

My current work-in-progress, is a cozy mystery. My agent suggested I tackle one since I enjoy reading them. She helped me brainstorm ideas, and suggested a story revolving around hybrid peppers. It was a challenge taking those two words and weaving a novel around  them. But that’s where imagination, life experience, people you’ve met, places you’ve been, all come in to play. They hybrid pepper turned into a hybrid apple and AN APPLE A DAY CAN BE MURDER was launched.

I’m not sure about other writers, but I like the challenge of coming up with a single sentence description of a book I want to write, then expanding it into a short synopsis, long synopsis, then a full length outline.

Unfortunately, there are times when our muses dry up, inspiration is nowhere to be found, and we sit and stare at a blank computer screen, or piece of paper for minutes, hours, or days.

For those times, I offer the following list to lure your muse back:

  1. Carry a notebook with you everywhere (This is not original. I think I’ve actually seen this on every “How To” writing list there is).
  2. Never take a shower. If you’re anything like me, your best ideas ever, will come to you the moment the water begins cascading. I honestly don’t know what happens when the water turns off, because I immediately lose the idea I had when the water was running mere seconds ago. And it was an awesome one, I do remember that.
  3. Let your imagination run free. Don’t be afraid to consider all and any possibilities when it comes to your characters, plot, and setting. One of them will work.
  4. Write what you’re comfortable writing/write what you know. I won’t touch science fiction with a ten foot pole. I don’t enjoy reading it, I have no clue how to write it. You might as well ask me to understand calculus. I grew up reading Enid Blyton, the Nancy Drew series, The Black Stallion, and the Little House on the Prairie series, among others. As I got older, I gravitated toward romance, women’s fiction, and mysteries. Since  that’s what I like reading, that’s what I would do best writing. If you positively hate vampires, werewolves, and mermaids, for heaven’s sake don’t write about them. It will be agony.
  5. Write what you’re not  comfortable writing/write what you don’t know. Yes, this a direct contradiction of number four, but I also admit it’s good to write out of your comfort zone at least once in your life. Consider it exercising your brain. I had a story published called The Legend of Lilly March. It came from a dream I had about the destruction of two men chasing a woman who didn’t exist. It was sexually weird, dark, frightening, and rather macabre. Even a little science fiction-y.  It involved all the things I don’t read or write. Ever. Until I did.
  6. Don’t try too hard. I find that when I try and force an idea, that’s when I can’t think of one. That’s why I believe in the notebook thing; you never know when an idea will strike.
  7. Brainstorming, or as I call it, “writestorming.” Give yourself ten minutes to just scribble anything; don’t worry if it makes sense or not. You may be able to take a grain of what you’ve scribbled and turn it into something very viable.
  8. Think, “What If…” and don’t limit your thoughts. You’re not sharing with them with anyone, so no need to worry how people will react.
  9. Be a people watcher. Listen to conversations. Be open to inspiration from anywhere and anyone.
  10.  Look for writing prompts. They can be a  great way to get your creative juices flowing.
  11.  Go to your writing place. This one may just be me, but I find it easier to come up with ideas when I’m in my own little corner of the couch with my laptop on, dressed in my favorite writing outfit, also known as my pajamas. If my husband has gone out, and it’s raining, all the better. I throw open the window and write. There’s something about the rain that I find very inspiring.

Back to my readers’ questions about Avram. He came straight out of my imagination. I don’t like him, and definitely don’t feel sorry for him, but I had fun developing and revealing his character, to both Rebekkah and my readers. It wasn’t hard to give him traits that made him totally unlikeable. I am happy to say I don’t know anyone like him.

In the end, we don’t really need a big box with an endless supply of ideas. All we need is ourselves. END.


karoline barrett pic

Karoline Barrett’s debut novel, THE ART OF BEING REBEKKAH, was published in December 2013 by E-Lit Books. She is currently  working on a cozy mystery set in upstate N.Y. 

She was born in upstate New York and has lived in South America, Indiana, Florida, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. At the moment, she lives in  a small Connecticut town with her husband.  When not writing, she enjoys reading, spending time by the water, traveling, and doing anything that has nothing to do with math. To reach Karoline, or to learn more about her or her writing, please visit her website here.  To follow her on Twitter, where she tries to be pithy, click here.


The+Art+of+Being+RebekkahWhen talented Jewish artist, Rebekkah Gelles finds out her husband has a frightening dark side, she wants out of her marriage; but her life gets complicated when she moves back to her parents’ home in Park Slope, Brooklyn and falls for the charming Italian detective who’s investigating her estranged husband. Convinced he’s all wrong for her—he’s not Jewish for one thing—Rebekkah struggles with love, faith, family, and a surprise pregnancy.

Buy ‘The Art of Being Rebekkah’ click here.