How to Brainstorm Ideas for a Novel

Three Methods:Doing Writing ExercisesFocusing on Character and SettingUsing Genre and Plot

Writing a novel can seem like a daunting task, especially if you struggle with writer’s block. You may also feel you do not have any good story ideas or any ideas worth writing a novel about. You can brainstorm ideas to get started by doing writing exercises and by focusing on character and setting. You can also use genre and plot to generate story ideas and help you get your novel down on the page.

Method 1
Doing Writing Exercises

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    Respond to a writing prompt. One way to get your brain ready for writing is to respond to a writing prompt. You may come up with your own writing prompt or use an existing writing prompt. Writing prompts are a good way to develop plot or character in your novel. You may try responding to the prompt using the voice of a character or use the prompt to explore a plot point in your novel.[1]
    • Sometimes it can help you get inspired by putting on a certain style of music while you write. You may try putting on music in the background as you respond to the prompt to encourage your creativity.
    • You can find lists of writing prompts on the Writing Prompts tumblr and the Daily Writing Prompts tumblr.
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    Do a freewrite. You can get your creative juices flowing by doing a freewrite, which is an exercise where you sit down and write down whatever comes to mind. Freewrites are ideal if you are struggling to organize your thoughts and are not sure how to get started.[2]
    • You should have a quantitative goal for your freewrite, such as writing five pages in five minutes or writing continuously for ten minutes without stopping or pausing. Try not to read over what you are writing during the freewrite or edit it in any way. Instead, focus on writing your thoughts down and letting them run free on the page.
    • Limit distractions. Try writing the freewrite on a piece of paper with a pen or pencil instead of on your computer. If you decide to do the freewrite on your computer, you should turn off your Internet connection and any other windows or tabs. This will help you focus on just the freewrite for the set amount of time.
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    Try a cubing exercise. You can also try doing a cubing writing exercise, where you look at one idea or topic from six different viewpoints. You should first think of a topic or subject and then approach it in six ways. You may use a broad topic like “wealth” or a specific subject like “millennial frustration.”[3]
    • Describe the topic. What is it? How would I describe the topic to someone who has never heard of it before?
    • Compare the topic. What is the topic most like? What is it most unlike?
    • Associate the topic. What does the topic make me think of? What is the first thing or things that pop into my mind when I think of the topic?
    • Analyze the topic. What is made of? How is it made? Where is it made?
    • Apply the topic. How is it used? Who uses and where do they use it?
    • Argue for or against the topic. How can you support the topic? How can you oppose the topic? Why would you support or oppose it?
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    Make a list of potential novel ideas. Listing ideas can help you identify possible story ideas and get you to think about how you might approach these ideas. Sit down and try to write out a list of potential novel ideas on a piece of paper.[4]
    • Make sure you list all of your ideas, even ones that sound ridiculous or silly. You may come up with an idea so absurd, you have to try to write a novel about it.
    • You may then read over the list of ideas and highlight or star ideas that seem worth pursuing. You may then list more ideas under the ones you have highlighted or starred. You could then choose the idea that has the most notes and terms associated with it, as you clearly have a lot to say about it.
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    Do a mapping exercise. You can also try doing a mapping exercise, where you put down a key term on a piece of paper. Then, you write down other terms around it and draw lines connecting certain terms to each other. You can use different colored pens to connect the terms, circles, highlighters, or lines.[5]
    • Once you have a complete map of terms, you may look it over and see if any patterns or relationships between the terms emerge. You may then be able to use these connections as the basis for your novel idea.

Method 2
Focusing on Character and Setting

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    Use a real life person as inspiration. You can draw on the people you encounter in real life to help you get ideas for your novel, using real life people as the basis for characters. Perhaps you have a friend, a family member, or a colleague that you find interesting, strange, or intriguing. You may then use them as the basis for a character in your novel or combine several of their qualities and traits to create a character.[6]
    • You may also take some time to people watch on a busy city street or in a public park. You may then notice details about the people around you and incorporate them into a character in your novel.
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    Start with a unique character voice. Some writers find inspiration by focusing on the voice of their narrator or main character. The character may have a certain way of narrating or a certain style and language that they use to express themselves. You may start by writing in the voice of the character and then see where the character takes you in terms of plot and setting.[7]
    • For example, maybe you get inspired to write a paragraph in the voice of a child narrator who is describing the death of a family member. You may then continue to write as this narrator and see where the voice takes you. You may be able to use this voice as a key narrative in your novel and have the death of the family member be the plot of the novel.
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    Research an interesting time period. You may find yourself inspired by an interesting time period in history. Do some research on this time period and look for any interesting historical figures or settings that could be the basis of your novel. [8]
    • You may need to spend time at your local library, research the time period online, and talk to historical experts about the time period. Collecting information on the time period can help you get inspired and ensure the setting feels authentic in your novel.
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    Spend the day in a setting. You could also get some novel material by spending the day in a particular setting or environment. Take notes while you are in the setting and focus on details of the setting that could serve as the backdrop for a novel.[9]
    • You may have a setting in mind that you think might help to stimulate your thoughts and ideas, such as the city aquarium, the zoo, a local theme park, or even a neighborhood park. Try to choose a unique setting, as they often contain sights and details that can be inspiring.

Method 3
Using Genre and Plot

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    Choose a specific genre to focus on. Sometimes it can help to limit yourself by choosing a specific genre of writing to focus on in your novel. Once you choose a genre, try to stick to the genre so you have limitations on your writing and are able to lean on the rules of the genre to start writing.[10]
    • You may decide to try writing a historical fiction novel, a science fiction novel, a fantasy novel, or a romance novel. You could also try your hand at writing a horror novel, a humorous novel, or a young adult novel.
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    Blend several genres together. Many writers are also experimenting with blending several genres together to create “cross-genre” novels and stories. You may be more inspired by combining several genres together so you have more options in your novel and can play around with several different genres in your novel.[11]
    • For example, you may try blending together fantasy and romance to create a fantasy-romance novel, or blending science fiction and horror together to create a sci-fi-horror novel. Often, readers respond well to interesting cross-genre novels as they offer several elements of different genres in one story.
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    Start with the main situation or conflict. Some writers begin their stories by creating the core conflict. The core conflict is the situation or premise of the story. It should contain a challenge or a struggle for the protagonist or main character of your novel. Having the core conflict in place might help you then determine the plot of your novel and how you are going to put your characters in a scene.[12]
    • Your core conflict should have an external element. This is a problem or issue the protagonist is dealing with externally, in the outside world. This problem should be resolved or at least addressed by the end of the novel.
    • There should also be an internal element to the core conflict. This is a problem or issue your protagonist is dealing with internally, within themselves. Giving your main character an internal struggle will add to the tension of the novel and help to build the plot.
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    Create a plot outline. It may help to nail down your story idea by trying to create an outline of the plot of your novel. This can help you get a general sense of where your characters are heading in the story. The plot outline can act as a map or guide for your story, though you may end up deviating from the outline if inspiration strikes as you write your novel. [13]
    • You may use a plot diagram to create the outline. The plot diagram will have six distinct sections, forming the shape of a triangle, with the climax at the top of the triangle. The six sections are: the set up, the inciting incident, the rising action, the climax, the falling action, and the resolution.
    • You can also use the snowflake method to create the outline. You will do this by creating a one sentence summary of the plot, followed by a one paragraph summary of the plot, and then a spreadsheet of scenes.

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