20 Places to Find a Plot for Your Novel

Most would-be novelists spend too much time thinking about writing and tire themselves out by the time it comes time to actually write. I know I’m guilty of doing that. Why? Lots of reasons!

7 things to do that are more fun than actually writing

  1. Thinking about writing
  1. Talking about writing
  1. Reading How-to books and blog posts about writing
  1. Making Pinterest boards for inspiration
  1. Rereading your favorite books for inspiration
  1. Watching films in the genre you want to write to drum up ideas
  1. Napping…because you’re hoping to dream the perfect storyline like Stephenie Meyer did with Twilight

You get the point! There are all sorts of things (mostly) related to writing that can eat up time and distract you from starting (or finishing) your manuscript. But these things really are avoidance techniques. We put off writing because we’re lazy or afraid of failure or “not in the mood” to write, or for whatever excuse we tell ourselves. So, in cases like this, what do we need? Inspiration!

20 Great Places to Find Plot Ideas for Your Novel

  1. Make a list of the most interesting things that have ever happened to you and see if there’s a story there somewhere. You can twist and embellish the details to make it more interesting. No one cares. You’re simply using the memory as a foundation for your story.
  1. Read old love letters. If you don’t have any, read your parents’ letters. If they don’t have any, and no one you know does, there are plenty of them posted online. Here’s one example of some of the best love letters you’ll ever read. Surely, you can draw inspiration from one of these!
  1. Look through your high school yearbooks. The hair! The trends that are no longer cool (were they ever?)! Your archnemesis! I’m going to go out on a limb and say, there’s a story somewhere in those pages! Even if it’s one you have to rewrite to be juicier, more relevant, or to have a better ending!
  1. Ask the couples you know how they met. Think of When Harry Met Sally. Invite the couples you know to lunch or for coffee, or heck, go to their house and ask them to sit on their sofa, and tell you all about how they met.
  1. Make a list of your favorite books or movies in the genre you’re interested in writing. Could you create a mash-up from 2 or 3 of these? Imagine the romance in Love Actually, with the fear in a slasher film such as Friday the 13th. Mash them up, and you might get a pretty interesting premise!
  1. Read some famous (or not famous) poems and see if any of them inspire an idea for a full-length novel. For example, Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven, could be written into a full-length novel, changing up a few things to get an original story. Instead of the raven haunting a lonely man, maybe change the raven into a scorned woman and the lonely man into a philandering husband. The heartbroken woman stages her death (maybe by making it look as if she jumped from The Golden Gate Bridge) and then “haunts” her no-good husband, making him think he’s being punished by his wife’s ghost for causing her suicide. Perhaps the man goes mad, finally freeing the woman! Very different than The Raven, but it was Poe’s poem that sparked the idea.
  1. Pinpoint the theme of your novel first. What overarching message do you want to convey through your story? For example, if your theme is “Forgiveness is the gift you give yourself,” you could stop all other daydreaming and research on other types of stories. You can now focus solely on stories that revolve around forgiveness.
  1. Read the newspaper. You can always pick a general concept you want to write about, such as a missing woman. Then, type in “missing woman found” to get some ideas that will give you a complete plot to the story, like who took her, what he did with her, and if she made it home dead or alive. Gillian Flynn drew inspiration for the novel Gone Girl from the Laci Peterson case.
  1. People watch. Next time you see a homeless man, a teenager sitting next to you and texting at a red light, or a woman coming out of a hair salon with a big smile on her face, try to imagine what his or her story is. My husband and I get fast food or ice cream and sit in a parking lot watching people coming in and out of stores in the plaza. We take turns naming the person, explaining why he or she is out that day, what’s in their bag, and who they’re going home to that afternoon. It’s such fun, and always stirs story ideas!
  1. Think about your favorite events in history. Do any of them spark an idea for a historical fiction novel or even something original that you can squeeze from the event? Historical fiction writer, Marie Benedict, writes wonderful and fascinating stories based people like Albert Einstein’s wife and Agatha Christie. Benedict basically fills in the blanks in real people’s stories, like the time Agatha Christie went missing for 11 days. No one knows for sure what happened to Christie, so why not make it up? Sounds like a blast to me, and you already have somewhat of an audience because of the fame surrounding the original event or person. 
Order on Amazon
  1. What are your favorite songs? Songs usually have great titles that can often trigger a memory or an idea for a great story. Novels such as Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill, Love the One You’re With by Emily Griffin, and Hungry Heart by Jennifer Weiner, all started off as hit songs!
  1. Pick a few hot-button issues (legalization of marijuana, abortion, same-sex marriage, gun control) and read a few stories online about the times those issues made news in towns across America. Stories with the inclusion of controversial subject matter do well because readers usually have a strong opinion one way or another on the issues.
  1. Recall some strange dreams you had. Is there anything there you can use, even if you rewrite the ending or change some things around? Stephenie Meyer, author of the Twilight saga, claims to have gotten the idea for the series in a random dream. Apparently, she woke up and wrote the dream down so she wouldn’t forget it. That dream, ended up being chapter 13 of the first Twilight novel.
  1. Rewrite your favorite story, but change everything from the genders to the setting to the decade it takes place. Ex. Rewrite The Shawshank Redemption, changing the details to fit a YA romance. Make Dufresne a teenage girl who gets wrongly sent to juvenile detention or into the foster care system. There, instead of meeting Red and becoming best friends with him, she meets Colin and they fall in love. Rather than carving a hole in the wall to escape from, she…(you get my point!). Now, instead of a dramatic feature film (which actually started as a Stephen King short story) it’s a YA romance thriller. By flipping a well-loved story, you know the plot will work, and you have a structure (outline) to follow, knowing where to put the various pinch points, arcs, and climax.
  1. Check out television shows such as Hoarders and My Strange Obsession to get gloriously rich character inspiration! Once you figure out what character you want to write, a plot might follow by placing him/her in a sticky situation. An example would be someone with a hoarding problem who meets a wonderful potential mate on a dating site, but learns that his/her suitor suffers from OCD, and needs everything to be in meticulous order.
  1. Look into your favorite tried and true children’s stories. In particular, Aesop’s Fables is rich in theme and ripe for picking out some great story plots. Consider The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs. Imagine now, that instead of a goose, it is a young girl with a supernatural power or ability. Rather than a farmer and his wife, the greed is coming from this child’s uncle who (perhaps unknowingly) killed her parents to keep all of the benefits of her power for himself. Instead of killing the little girl (like what happened to the goose in Aesop’s Fables) the girl digs deep within herself to discover her real power, which is self-worth, and uses it to escape the terrible uncle.
Order on Amazon
  1. Pick an occupation you’re fascinated with (for me, it’s always been pathology) and look up challenges these men and women face on the job. For example, John is performing an autopsy on a man that looks familiar to him. He can’t place the man, but things come into painful focus when he removes his wife’s engraved wedding band from the man’s esophagus.
  1. Imagine what would happen if animals could talk? What, for example, would your cat have to say if he could tell your husband, wife, daughter, or roommate, what you really do on the computer after everyone goes to bed? Now, change the cat into a human who accidentally overhears one of the protagonist’s very private conversations, and decides to blackmail him/her. The blackmail doesn’t have to be about money any more than the cat has to be made human. Have fun with it! It’s your story after all!
  1. Pick someone on social media and spend a few minutes browsing their posts. Write their story. Of course, change up a few details to make it your own. Even better, pick 2 random people on social media (say, Instagram), and imagine they connect on the platform and fall in love. You’ll have fertile soil to establish their personalities since you can glean insight from their plethora of photos and videos.
  1. Do a possible book title brainstorm. Sometimes the title alone can unlock your creativity and give you plot ideas. Make a list of 10 (or more) interesting book titles on Amazon. Now, change a word or two in the title to make it something unique. For example, change The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, to The Three Dead Wives of Albert Fish. How about changing It Ends With Us, to It Starts With You, or It Ends With Me.

As you can see, there is no shortage of brainstorming exercises you can try to get your creative writing juices flowing! What do I always say? Most of our writer’s block comes from the same thing: fear. Fear of success, fear of failure, fear of being laughed at, fear of ___________ (fill in the blank).

If you really want to write a story, you can. There are plenty of how-to guides on story structure and character development, instructional books and videos on how to improve your technical skills, and countless plot prompts. It all comes down to how badly you want it. Are you willing to work for it?

There is no secret formula. You just need to put pen to paper, and not stop until your novel is finished.