Brainstorming Ideas Collage

How to Find Ideas for Your Novel

If you want to know how to find ideas for your novel, look around. Novel ideas can really be found almost everywhere. You just have to know where to look and how to tune in to your environment. That’s what is covered in detail here.

One of the most important characteristics that a writer should have is an interest in and awareness of what is happening in the world around her.

But don’t worry if you’re not already good at picking things up in your environment. You can certainly train yourself to become better at it. And that training can start now, by learning to see and feel all the wonderful ideas present in your life.

Below are twenty-five suggestions for ways to find novel ideas. These should get you off to a good start. I’ll also dig into:

  • How to capture and keep track of your ideas
  • How to decide which idea to choose from among those you gather
  • What to do if your idea has been written about before

Finally, I end with a little quiz to see if you recognize some best-selling novels based on their ideas.

25 Ways to Find Novel Ideas

1) The first thing you should consider is the genre you’re interested in. Romance? Thriller, Fantasy? Women’s Lit? Every genre is different and will have special considerations. You can read more about genres in “What Is Literary Fiction?” here on Writers Imagine.

Take mysteries, for example. They almost always have a crime involved, usually murder. So think about who might murder whom and why. Or if you want to write a romance, you need a good love story. Google your genre to get some ideas for going deeper.

2) Think about someone who has had a big impact on your life, now or in the distant past. How did they touch or move you? What were they like? What lessons did they teach you?

3) Consider your personal life and the challenges you have faced. Ask yourself what is going on in your life or what has happened that might interest others because it’s so different or really stands out. 

If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.

Toni Morrison

Or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, think of something in your life that many other people might relate to. An example: maybe you’re dealing with a difficult teenage son or daughter who has taught you some life lessons. 

4) Consider an interesting person in your life: a friend, relative, or co-worker. For example, do you suspect that the neighbors on your block are having an affair? Write a novel based on that.

Just be careful to make it not so obvious who you’re basing your story on. Switch things up and add some of your own imagination to the tale.

5) Create a character or story based on something memorable or exciting that you hear in a podcast. Do some research to further extend the idea.

Good idea lightbulb

6) Consider some of the interesting characters in the broader world around you such as politicians, artists, writers, and musicians. Google or read about their lives and then create a similar character or life story. Be sure to switch things up and add details from your own imagination.

7) Visit places you enjoy for inspiration and ideas, like art galleries, museums, and recreational parks. Relax while you’re there, and let your mind wander freely.

After the visit is over, think about what you saw and how it made you feel. Jot down your thoughts over the next few days. Eventually, something should stand out and hook you.

8) Check the news for current events to find a compelling story that grabs your attention. Read about it further in other sources such as books and magazines. Then add your own thoughts and details to create a unique story.

9) Ask yourself “what if?” What if someone was out walking her dog and witnessed a hit and run accident? What if a man and woman who were childhood sweethearts suddenly ran into each other thirty years later? Let your imagination wander until it feels like you might have a novel idea.

10) Use other forms of art, like music or a favorite painting as a jump-off point for a novel. For example, you could create a character with a passion for the art form. What might his or her life be like? What challenges might she face?

11) Consider quotes from famous people. Use Google to find them. There are tons out there. Pick one to use as the theme or setting for your novel. You can get started with this list of the 101 Inspiring Quotes From the Most Successful People in History.

12) How about social or political issues that you care deeply about? Create a character and throw her or him into the mix.

Woman Reading Novel in Library

13) You can even come up with an idea from another book that you liked, as long as you take the basic idea and change things around to make it your own.

14) Is there something that really rattles or upsets you? Annoys you? Or gnaws at your very soul? Create a character with the same feelings you have and show how he or she deals with those feelings.

15) Base your novel on something centered around your career or hobby. This can work especially well because you’re so familiar with it and can add lots of interesting details that will enrich the story.

16) Do you have vivid dreams? Consider fleshing one of them out by asking yourself, what if? And then go on from there.

17) Use your own life dramas or take an incident from your own life and blow it up into something dramatic and interesting.

18) Try mind mapping to brainstorm a story idea. A mind map is simply a diagram that arranges your thoughts around a central topic or concept. You can create one with pen and paper or use one of the many software programs and apps available. 

Google something like “how to brainstorm a story idea” to learn more about mind mapping.

“I can’t write five words but that I change seven.”

Dorothy Parker

19) Use writing prompts. Hundreds, maybe even thousands, of these can be found online. Google “fiction writing prompts,” “novel prompts,” or “story prompts.” Maybe something will inspire you and get your imagination going.

20) Consider your areas of expertise for something you’re as familiar with as the back of your hand. For example, maybe you’re a social worker and an expert in child behavior. Use that as a jumping-off point for a novel about a child and the family or neighborhood around him or her.

21) Think back to things you loved as a child or teenager such as a favorite activity or pastime like fishing or playing a sport. Use that as a starting point to create a story.

22) Think about a meaningful place such as the neighborhood where you grew up or your grandmother’s house in the country.

23) Consider a thing or object that fascinates you. Do some research to find out more about it. Maybe something will trigger your imagination.

24) Combine ideas from multiple sources above into one story.

25) And finally, one of my favorite ways of finding good novel ideas: use a slice of history.

Some of these suggestions are more involved than others. That’s OK. For now, you just need somewhere to START. Something to get the creative juices flowing. Later you can do research to expand your idea.

Hopefully one or more of these suggestions will get your thoughts going. If you want to become an author, the one thing you need most of all is a good imagination. Now is the time to use it!

Capture and Keep Track of Your Novel Ideas

Once you begin to exercise the muscles of your imagination, the novel ideas should begin to flow. They will pop into your head at all sorts of weird times of the day, and you’ll want to keep a small notebook handy. 

Some of the best novel ideas will come to you in the middle of the night or when you first wake up in the morning. If you don’t write them down immediately you WILL forget them. Keep a pad or notebook near your bed and jot them down the minute they come to you. 

Decide Which Idea to Choose

If you end up with multiple novel ideas that you like, ask yourself the following questions to guide yourself in choosing from among them. 

  • Which idea do you know the most about? Being able to add details from personal knowledge will make for a richer story.
  • Which idea do you have the most real-life experience with? Being able to add detail based on your own experiences cannot be beaten. The details you’ll be able to include will help you make your story more believable. It will also make it easier to write.
  • Which idea moves you the most? If you’re really into the story, you won’t mind spending the time to research and learn more about the topic or the setting or anything else you need to learn about.

Say you narrow the choice down to two or three choices but still can’t pick one. Do a little research on each to learn more about it. Google them. Visit the library or bookstore. One of the ideas is likely to eventually stand out above the rest.

What if Your Idea Has Been Written About Before?

Don’t even worry about this. Every idea HAS been written about before. Your personal experiences, thoughts, and feelings will make your story unique and special, regardless of what you write about. Or who else has written about it before you.

Some Ideas From Best-selling Novels That May Inspire You

And now for a little FUN.

Here are the ideas from several contemporary, best-selling novels. Can you name the titles?

  1. In this story, several powerful families vie for control of seven kingdoms in order to sit atop the Iron Throne. 
  1. A story of friendship among four African-American women who support each other while waiting for the man of their dreams, a man who will take their breath away.
  1. In Paris, a Harvard trained specialist in symbology investigates the murder of the curator of the Louvre, whose body is found inside the museum covered with bizarre symbols. He then follows a trail of clues hidden in the paintings of Leonardo da Vinci.
  1. A dystopian novel set in a totalitarian state known as Gilead that has overthrown the United States government. 
  1. This novel, based on fact, follows the life of an 18th-century African male who is captured as an adolescent in The Gambia, then transported to North America and sold into slavery, as well as the lives of his descendants leading up to the author himself.

Answers: (1) Game of Thrones, based on the book series, by George R. R. Martin; (2) Waiting to Exhale, by Terry McMillan, 1992; (3) The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown, 2003; (4) The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood, 1985; and (5) Roots, The Saga of An American Family, by Alex Haley, 1976.

Want further help in developing a compelling idea for your novel? We’ve got resources for you right here on Writers Imagine!

First, you’ll want to check out “How to Turn Your Novel Idea Into a Strong Concept (and Why You Need To).” You’ll also want to check out our download From Idea to Concept in the Resource Room. It includes four exercises that will help you find and then tweak an idea for your novel even if you’ve struggled with this.