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Novel Writing Workshop: 4 Ways to Get Story Ideas

Getting ahead of myself.

Howdy! In my last post, I promised to discuss the process of writing a query letter and synopsis. Well, I realize I may have been getting a bit ahead of myself.

Before we can even think of writing a query or synopsis, we have to write a novel, and I’ve yet to cover that on this site. Because it’s a long process, I’ve decided to break it into mini novel writing workshops.

So, how do we write a novel, anyway?

There’s no step-by-step instruction manual for writing a novel. Every writer is a bit different, from the writer who meticulously writes in sequential order to the writer who prefers to fly by the seat of their pants.

What every writer has in common is that every writer has a story to tell, and every story begins with an idea. So where do ideas come from?


How to write a novel part one: ideas

Story ideas can come from anywhere. Some people dream them up while others borrow from real life and the world around them.

There’s no one specific way to gather ideas, but below are 4 ways to get you started:

  • Newspapers and feeds
  • Wikipedia jumping
  • Personal interests
  • Eavesdropping

Where you mine your story ideas may be determined by the type of story you want to write. Character-driven stories may benefit from drawing closely from your lived experiences or the experiences of those around you while plot-driven stories may begin with something purely imagined. (You’ll notice I’m not separating this out into genre vs literary fiction. Good fiction, no matter the type, will have a sound plot and sound character development. The weight of each varies, but both are needed to write a solid story.)

Let’s delve a little deeper into the four bullet points above

Newspapers and feeds

Newspapers are far from dead. Be it digital reads or handheld newsprint, newspapers are full of stories waiting to be written. Look beyond the obvious headlines to browse the classifieds, job advertisements, and real estate sections (homes for sale are often filled with furniture and knickknacks, all of which tell a story. Check the online section of your local newspaper or a home-finding site like zillow to help you build characters.)

As for feeds, Facebook and Instagram are here for a reason. While you definitely should not take from anyone’s captions, feeds can be a great jumping off point for character ideas. For example, try typing in a random word in the search bar and see what you come up with or create a story around a photo someone’s posted (there’s precedent for it. Who doesn’t love a good ekphrasis?)

Pinterest is another wonderful place to gather this type of information (recipes, fashion, and travel photos are fine inspirations, but avoid taking from writer/artist storyboards.)

Clip from my pinterest recommendations.
Food, crafts, and natural hairstyles. That about sums me up.
Wikipedia

Did you know that Wikipedia has a random article button? Click it and take a journey down the rabbit hole of facts, oddities, and treasures. For example, I hit the randomizer and got this article on Irinia Bogacheva then clicked a link to The Tsar’s Bride. From there, I clicked another link to Ivan the Terrible, who was appointed Grand Prince of Russia at the age of three (don’t worry. I fact checked before I typed that ;).) I’ve no background in Russian history (yet), but with three clicks I have a potential story idea: a three-year old American boy whose mother believes he’s the incarnation of Ivan the Terrible.

Personal interests
Skillset
Cookies: baking, eating, and sharing :D.

Don’t box yourself in. Make a list of things you’re good at, things you enjoy (for me, there’s sometimes a difference 😅), and things you’d like to learn.

The fun part about being a writer is that you can try on many different hats. Have an interest in photography but never got around to learning it? Well, now’s your chance. Take a class (or watch a tutorial/read a book) and learn a skill while gathering information for your next manuscript. I’ve picked up so many hobbies and interests this way.

 

Eavesdropping

Some writers love it, some writers loathe it. My opinion is that if people didn’t want you to use their personal lives for plot, they probably wouldn’t have been shouting about them in the airport. Always be on the listen; you never know what you might overhear. But don’t stop with sounds alone. Observe the way people dress. Observe their body language. Who are they with and why might that be?


There are numerous other ways to gather material for your stories, but hopefully you find this helpful. No matter what method you choose, always be respectful of others (don’t take from storyboards!) and perform your due diligence (at some point, I’ll write a post about writing outside of your lived experiences and the responsibility that goes along with it.)

That’s a wrap! What are some of your favorite ways to discover story ideas? What does your novel writing process look like?

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