Many 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 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.
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.
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?
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
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.
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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