101 Fabulous Plot Resources For Novelists

woman - thumbs upMany authors find it challenging to generate great new plotlines book after book, especially when trying to write two or three full-length novels every year. Not there yet? Chances are you will be someday. So, if you’re not one of those people whose heads burst with fantastic tales and you just can’t write them down fast enough, how do you come up with ideas?

Look around. The world is full of stories – true and contrived – that you can use as fodder for your imagination. One way to stave off “plot block” is to start a file and fill it with scenarios you can tap for inspiration down the road. Another way is to bookmark this post and use it to flex your creative muscle next time you’re in need.

Okay, so I didn’t actually list 101, but in truth there are more than that among this list of go-to sources you can mine for future storylines:

Books, short stories, and novellas
Successful authors read a lot. That’s one of the best ways to learn the craft: by studying how really good writers use description and dialogue and build character and plot. Not only that, you can milk other peoples’ stories for bits to use in your own books – not to poach the plotlines themselves, but to spark ideas. And don’t discount the value of nonfiction; memoirs and biographies are rich with potential.

Magazines
Magazines like People and Vanity Fair often publish unique crime stories. National Geographic can provide inspiration about possible locations. Even tabloid magazines, the AAA magazine, Gun Aficionado or Ladies Home Journal will tickle your creative imagination with things you can build on – if you look!

Movies, television, plays
Movies and TV plots and their characters and dialogue are often super inspiring and can be wonderful sources – again, not to use the writers’ content, but to inspire a whole new tangent of your own.

Newspapers
I once clipped out a story about a man who dragged his wife behind his car (I know! It’s awful!) because I was blown away when I thought about how ANGRY someone would have to be to do something like that. Keep a file of newspaper articles. They don’t have to be as bizarre as mine.

Local and national news
Yes, it can be depressing to watch a lot of news, but it’s an amazing source of whodunit ideas and character traits and Good Samaritan stuff.

Blogs and websites
Perez Hilton, E! Online and Entertainment Weekly post oodles of cool gossip news, both past and present. You know how celebrities like to get in trouble. And isn’t the truth sometimes better than anything we can make up? Things like “Jake Gyllenhaal hospitalized after punching a mirror on set” should fire up the old creativity mill. Couldn’t that bad boy who’s dating your protagonist’s daughter do the same? And oh, look: what’s that on the wall behind the broken mirror … a safe? An envelope, yellowed and brittle with age? A gate into the past? You take it from here.

Here’s a GREAT example of how blogs can bring you super ideas: Must-Have Research Tools Beyond Google and Wikipedia, by Ruth Harris via Anne. R. Allen’s blog. Talk about great resources, whew! This is one of my favorites included in the article: The New York Times Searchable Article Archive, 1851 – present.

Photographs and images
For me personally, photographs, illustrations, and graphic images often encourage a character or story. I’m creating my own book covers now, and while I was plotting my 2014 release I looked through pages on photo sale websites Depositphotos and Dreamstime for ideas. I actually found an image for the cover that inspired the title, Paint Me Gone.

Personal experiences
Anything you think, feel, do, watch, plan, learn, and participate in has the potential to be turned into part of a plot. Become an observer when you’re out in the world. People are fascinating, and people-watching can fill you with ideas. Be sure to carry paper and pen wherever you go! You’ll never be bored again.

The gossip grapevine
So-and-so’s mother was at the airport and saw this couple fighting … My neighbor was remodeling their master bedroom and found an antique trinket hidden in the wall … There was a nasty screaming fight down the street Saturday night. We were all shocked because it’s such a quiet neighborhood … Hmmmm. Yeah. (Credit for this idea goes to author Toby Neal, who blogged about this once. See? Blogs are great sources.)

And how about manufactured conversations? Have you ever thought of creating a “mastermind” group that meets for scheduled braniac sessions designed to think up great plots?

Dreams
Think twice before you use actual dream sequences in a plot, but don’t ignore their value. I once dreamed I was walking through a field with a hundred other people and we were bombed by helicopters. I can use the feelings and the visuals if I ever include a bombing scene in a novel.

True crime stories
Again, it doesn’t get much better than the real thing. Browsing online files might just make you sick to your stomach, but it can also feed the macabre inner workings of your author’s mind. Bwaaaaa-ha-ha-ha-ha …. Try these:
FBI white collar crime story archive
Los Angeles Time white collar crime stories
Listverse crime archives
Journalists’ Toolbox crime sites
Crime library

Random plot generators
Chances are good you won’t actually USE the exact plotlines these random generators pump out, but they certainly will stoke your imagination and they can be fun.
Story generator
Seventh Sanctum story generator
Random Logline Generator

Readers, what have I missed? Do you have plot and character sources you depend on for ideas? Leave a comment and share!

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23 Responses to 101 Fabulous Plot Resources For Novelists

  1. Anne R. Allen January 27, 2014 at 3:17 pm #

    What a goldmine, Molly! I love Vanity Fair for plotlines about the rich and famous behaving badly. But lots of these are new to me.

    • Molly Greene January 27, 2014 at 3:20 pm #

      Thanks so much, Anne! This list is heavy on crime. We should do another one for happy – I wonder which sells more books? ;-)

  2. James L'Etoile January 27, 2014 at 3:52 pm #

    What a great list of resources and creative fodder!

    • Molly Greene January 27, 2014 at 3:54 pm #

      Thank you so much, James! We’ll never run out of ideas again.

  3. Jay January 27, 2014 at 6:29 pm #

    Excellent points here for any writer, novelist or screenwriter. Thanks for all the info.

  4. Joanna Aislinn January 27, 2014 at 6:58 pm #

    Nice, comprehensive round-up, Molly. Thanks so much–love the FBI white collar archive. Will be checking that out :)

    Sometimes I like to watch that investigative 48 Hours show. That seems to get me thinking more than some others. And any episode of Law & Order SVU gets my brain cranking too.

    • Molly Greene January 27, 2014 at 7:02 pm #

      Thanks, Joanna! Now we can chalk up our TV time as research – yaaay!

  5. Rebecca January 27, 2014 at 9:32 pm #

    I always find great ideas from ScienceDaily.com–I have all the latest studies emailed directly to me, and they are FULL of awesome story ideas! There are studies from around the globe about the human brain and our behavior, and what happens when subjects are put in a controlled situation provoking a response–great catalyst and reaction material, and solid sci-fi facts for world-building.

    • Molly Greene January 28, 2014 at 8:26 am #

      Wow, Rebecca, that’s a fabulous idea, thanks so much for sharing! I hadn’t thought of scientific studies. Pew Research, as Ruth Harris noted in her article on Anne Allen’s blog, also provides some great stuff. Thanks so much!

  6. joybelle2012 January 28, 2014 at 12:32 am #

    Thanks Molly. Yes things are happening all around us that could easily be turned into stories.
    I have a little notebook in which I jot down interesting things that people tell me and a number of these one liners have already been turned into short stories.
    I.m presently working a story that involves a London bus. It was something that struck me one day when I was sitting on a bus as a tourist. There was suddenly a commotion on the pavement below and my writer’s mind immediately thought, – Ah, what if…

    • Molly Greene January 28, 2014 at 8:27 am #

      Yes, a notebook!! Every writer needs a notebook to jot down what our imagination feeds us. Thanks so much for sharing!

  7. Mary Tod January 28, 2014 at 5:13 am #

    I have several intriguing obituaries in a file I call “story ideas’. Some people live amazing lives which as a historical fiction writer can be food for plot!

    • Molly Greene January 28, 2014 at 8:34 am #

      Mary, obituaries! Another fabulous idea. Thank you so mcuh for sharing!

  8. Shirley Ford January 28, 2014 at 7:26 am #

    Thanks Molly for another great article.

  9. Darla G. Denton January 28, 2014 at 11:35 am #

    Love these suggestions. Thanks for sharing :-)

  10. Claude Nougat January 29, 2014 at 7:48 am #

    A treasure trove, Molly, well done! I would add the NYT obituaries to your list, absolutely fantastic gold mine of characters and you get their whole lifeline and what mattered in their lives, what they stood for. Perfect!

  11. Dan Erickson January 30, 2014 at 5:30 am #

    Great list. I especially like photos and images. A couple you could add: nature, music, songs.

    • Molly Greene January 30, 2014 at 9:23 am #

      Perfect, Dan! So true. Thanks so much for sharing!

  12. Belinda Pollard January 31, 2014 at 11:20 pm #

    What a fab selection!

    For me the big one is news articles. Can’t help it, former journo. But instead of burying myself in a house full of newsprint (former situation) I now have an Evernote folder on my computer full of great ideas for sinister goings on. (Bwa-ha-haa.) I save stories related to locations and events that might be relevant to one of my upcoming plot lines. e.g. my next novel is set on the Great Barrier Reef, so every new scientific discovery or small disaster related to the Great Barrier Reef goes in that file, so I can forage for inspiration.

    • Molly Greene February 1, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

      Thanks, Belinda! Seriously good idea, using Evernote – beats the wad of paper in my hardcopy file, for sure. Thanks so much for the great idea!

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