The first step on the road to writing a stellar novel is coming up with a solid story idea. But where do you find an idea big enough to write an entire novel about? Whether you’ve got an inkling of an idea bouncing around or a just a burning desire to write and no story in sight, these idea generation tips and tricks will help you find and harness stellar novel ideas. If you know how to look, you’ll find inspiration all around you!
Keep a notebook or special file just for your ideas. Jot down ideas as they come to you, but also be sure to set aside time each week or month specifically for idea generation. Novelists must be a fount of ideas. It’s necessary to prime the pump regularly.
7 Places to Find Ideas for Plot and Story
- Scan newspaper headlines, blog post titles, and other forms of media.
- Listen to the crazy escapades of friends and coworkers.
- Read history books. There are so many strange occurrences in decades and centuries past that are too strange to be true and ripe for the picking!
- Watch documentaries. What’s going on in the world or went on in the past that could be
- Track your dreams. How did your subconscious spin the world around you?
- Look around! That abandoned house across the street may just be the spark you need for a scary story of creeps and creaks or tale of a rivalry fixer-uppers who fall in love.
- Keep a pen and paper with you on vacation. Oftentimes, when we’re out of our routines, we’ll see or think of new things that provide a needed spark.
Don’t steal, but let everything around you influence and inspire you. Take notes of the things that make your heart beat a little faster or bring tears to your eyes. Think about what brought on this physical or emotional response. How can you use that nugget in your story?
Teri Coyne’s first novel was inspired by an odd sight she saw:
The Last Bridge was inspired by an image that appeared to me one day of a farmhouse kitchen with garbage bags taped to the walls. I sat down and started to write about what I saw in my head and what I thought it meant.
6 Spots to Find Ideas for Characters
- Check out magazines for a certain style or air that catches your eye. What is it about that person or outfit that made you stop?
- People watch at malls or in parks for unique looks or mannerisms.
- Steal characteristics from people you know–with caution! If you’re stealing negative traits outright, you could offend. If you’re stealing your sister’s tendency to nibble on her hair when she’s concentrating, you’ll probably be okay.
- Watch people in waiting rooms. No longer are those hours lost in doctors’ offices wasted! Check out those around you and take notes on what stands out.
- Scan the wanted adds. Everyone needs a job, right? Look for interesting ones that suit your character and add a little spice to your story.
- And again, the news or newspapers can give you a glimpse into the motivations and personalities of everyone from a killer to a cleaner.
An odd bit of trivia set the mind of Erin Hart, award-winning mystery novelist, spinning:
My inspiration for The Book of Killowen came from a real artifact known as the Faddan More psalter, a ninth-century book of psalms discovered in an Irish bog in July 2006… So of course I wondered about the person who’d been carrying the Faddan More psalter. (You know crime writers, always on the lookout for a corpse… ) Had the book-carrier escaped a Viking raid? Or become the victim of a secret and unlawful killing?
A character is so much more than blue eyes and brown hair. Your character needs to have all the little faults and quirks of a regular person, like a habit of twisting an earring when she’s stretching the truth and a hatred of fruity ice creams. The best place to find these many layers is to watch the world around you. People are fascinating.
The better study you become of humans and their motivations, the better writer you will become.
What to Do with Your Brilliant Ideas
- Let them simmer. Good ideas need time to grow and expand.
- Read through your notebook or file regularly. Mark the ideas that still catch your eyes.
- Choose two or three ideas randomly, combine them. Does it work? How does it present a new twist or interesting aspect? Write that down.
- Start up a new file for your favorite ideas. Continue to brainstorm.
- Add layers. While you don’t want your novel to become busy or convoluted, you need a multilayered story idea to keep your readers interested to the end.
How Do You Know When Your Ready for the Next Step?
This is a great question and the honest answer is that it’s going to be different for every person and every book. I’ve pulled together some stories from idea to outline in a few weeks. Other novels haven’t taken me months or even years. Like finding the love your life, “you just know.” So if you’re questioning whether or not it’s ready, it’s probably not.
Want to know more about the methods behind idea generation? Check out Tip #1 in James Scott Bell’s Write Your Novel From the Middle. He’s one of my favorite writing masters, and his methodical approach to idea generation and collection have inspired many of my own methods.
Keep adding new ideas to mix. Ask yourself, “How would X (a car crash, a sudden influx of cash, an illness) affect my story?” Be crazy! Don’t censor yourself. Just keep brainstorming until something clicks and it feels right.
When it does, I’ll be here! Come back next week for an overview of story structure, and how it is crucial to your novel’s success. And don’t forget to pick up a copy of the From Novice to Novelist Workbook, which will walk you through novel creation from rough idea to polished finish.