Hunting for ideas for your fiction writing? Finding novel-worthy ideas can be challenging.
You find a brilliant idea today. Then you look at it tomorrow, and wonder what you were thinking. The idea has died for you.
So, how do you find ideas for fiction writing which are worth exploring in 50,000 or more words?
Start by watching for what fascinates you.
Fiction writing: ideas from things that fascinate you
Not only do you want “great” ideas, you want to find ideas which will hold your interest. So, watch for things which grab your attention. If something holds your attention for more than an hour or two, there might be an idea hiding in it somewhere.
I read a lot of nonfiction to help me with my fiction. A month ago, I read a biography which described an event which made me go… “hmmmm….” After doing a little more research, I found that the event had never (to my knowledge) been covered in fiction.
This idea may well turn into a series of novels in a few months, because I haven’t lost interest in the event, and find myself thinking about it several times a day.
Now let’s look at some quick tips for finding novel-worthy ideas.
1. Read the news: who’s doing what? Why? Where?
Global and national news is depressing. Murder, mayhem, misery, and politics… For me, it’s also useless as a source of ideas.
However, if you write thrillers, crime fiction or adventure novels (or even fantasy) you might find the headlines fascinating for your next “snatched from the headlines” idea.
I prefer local news for idea exploration, because (generally speaking) it’s more relatable. Also useful to me: magazines which cover psychology and science.
When you find yourself reading a news article, and looking for more information, ask yourself: who? and why? You may find an idea. Be sure to keep the information you’ve gathered. And if you find yourself thinking of the news story a week from now, hunt for a potential character, and a story question in your idea.
2. Nonfiction can be a wonderful source of ideas
Over the years, I’ve collected my own reference library which I should browse for ideas more than I do. Frankly, I’m scared that I’ll find ideas which intrigue me so much that I’m forced to revise my current publishing program.
Explore your local library. I’ve found novel-worthy ideas in recipe books, history books, autobiographies and biographies… If you find a book which captures your attention, either make notes from it immediately, or check it out of the library. (If a book is truly useful, buy your own copy.)
3. You may find novel-worthy ideas in fiction
I’m not suggesting that you plagiarize a recent or past bestseller. However, every genre has tropes, which readers love.
- The closed room mystery;
- A mysterious book, letter, or confession;
- Strange case: the primary suspect who couldn’t have done it because… (but yes, he did it, in a very clever way)
Fiction writing from your life: can you fictionalize real life events?
I’ve had many questions about this over the years. My answer is usually: find something else to write about.
- You may get stuck on what “really happened” and forget to add drama and suspense (I know one author-to-be who’s been obsessing about something that happened in her life for the past ten years, and no novel in sight);
- It’s challenging to write fiction about an event if any of the people concerned (or their relatives) are still alive;
- My instinct and experience tell me that it’s almost impossible to do well if you’re a new author. Fiction is telling lies, and finding truths. Fictionalizing a real event takes a lot of distance from the event, as well as the ability to find meaning in it, and create drama from it. Experienced authors can do this. A new author often can’t.
Does this mean you should never try to fictionalize people or events from your own life?
No — definitely not. Every author can only write from his own experience, and only you are the judge of what works for your fiction writing.
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