NaNoWriMo is right around the corner, so now is the time to take that groundbreaking story idea you have and develop it into a full-blown plot!
What’s that, you say? You don’t have a story idea???
Breathe, friend…I’ve got you covered!
Today, I’m sharing five tips and resources to aid you in your search for the perfect NaNoWriMo story idea. Some of them serve you ideas on a silver platter and others require a little more brainpower. But rest assured that all of them can provide the inspiration you need to write a novel this November.
Start With the Theme
Choosing a theme is a vital part of your novel’s development. No matter how fun or interesting your story is, if it doesn’t have a theme — an overarching message that gives the story meaning — then it will lack the punch every great novel has.
So why not make the theme your starting point and build your story around it?
For instance, let’s say you’re drawn to the theme “love is blind.” Spend some time thinking of all the ways you can use a story to illustrate this point. Do you want to show that love transcends differences, like race, religion, or socioeconomic status? Does this theme bring a Beauty and the Beast-style tale bubbling to the surface of your imagination? Let your theme tumble around in your mind for a day or two, and make note of any ideas that come to the surface. Before long, one of those ideas will hit all the right notes, and you’ll know you’ve found The One.
If the thought of choosing a theme is even more daunting than finding a story idea, then give this recent post a quick read-through to brush up on the topic. Finding your story’s theme is not as hard as it sounds (trust me!), and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how choosing the theme can make the rest of the dominoes in your story development train start to topple.
Use a Plot Generator
With a good plot generator and just a few keystrokes, you can find a wealth of story ideas for your NaNo project. The beauty of these online tools is that they often come up with ideas you would never think of on your own.
When it comes to plot generators, however, you have to wade through a lot of muck to find the ones that offer some real value to writers. Most of the online plot generators I tested for this post spewed out story ideas that were complete—
Well, let’s just say you’ll never see them on a bestseller list. Anywhere. Ever.
But I did find two online plot generators that are well worth a look. With the simple click of a button, The Writer’s Plot Idea Generator popped out some pretty decent (if basic) story ideas. And this website also offers several other generators — character names, plot twists, and more — so it’s worth bookmarking to refer to throughout your planning process.
But, in my opinion, the cream of the crop is Reedsy’s Plot Generator. This easy-to-use tool has a very attractive interface, and I found the story ideas it generated much more plausible and appealing than some of the other online generators I tested. As you can see from the screenshot above, this tool provides a protagonist, an antagonist, a plot, and a twist! And clicking on any of the underlined elements will lock it, so when you click on “Generate” again, that element will be included in the new plot. A few rounds of locking elements and regenerating the plot will leave you with a solid story idea to work from.
So if your brain is fried from trying to come up with a story idea on your own, then give these plot generators a try. You never know — the next Great American Novel may be lurking in their vaults.
Sift Through Writing Prompts
Writing prompts are typically used for daily writing practice, but a prompt that really sparks your imagination can be a fantastic springboard for your NaNoWriMo project.
Writing prompts can be found by the hundreds online, but I found the most creative ones at:
Find Inspiration in Movies or Books
Have you ever watched a movie or read a book and thought, “I would have made the MC a one-legged gypsy” or “This story would work better set in a women’s prison on Mars”? If so, you’re not alone; I think most writers do this.
So why not use that as inspiration for your NaNo novel?
But Amy, isn’t that plagiarism?
I’ve heard it said again and again that there are no original stories these days, and I would tend to agree. Everything in the entertainment world (books, movies, TV) was inspired by something else. Just take, for example, the Cinderella story, which has been redone a thousand times.
But while using another book or movie as inspiration is a common practice, copying essential elements of someone else’s work crosses the line. So I am not suggesting it’s okay to copy the entire plot of The Mandalorian (Baby Yoda!!!), but you could certainly write a story about a lone bounty hunter in a galaxy far, far away. As long as your characters, settings, and series of events are your own, then you won’t have to worry about being labeled a plagiarist.
Use the “What if…” Method
Many writers use the “What if…” method during the planning process to help them choose the right plot points for their novel. But “What If…” can also be used to brainstorm your story’s premise.
For instance, suppose you know you want to write a story about the struggles of being a single mom. To nail down your story’s premise (and other elements), brainstorm a series of “What if…” questions, such as:
- What if the main character is single because her husband died?
- What if she’s single because her partner is in jail?
- What if she’s 17 years old and her parents kick her out when she tells them she’s pregnant?
- What if she’s the daughter of a politician?
- What if she’s a pastor’s daughter?
- What if the MC is the pregnant 15 year old daughter of a 30 year old single mom?
The sky’s the limit here! Write down every “What if…” that pops into your head, no matter how outlandish it is. Sometimes, the more “out there” ideas are the ones that actually pull the whole story together.
Once you have your list of questions, spend a few days letting all of those ideas marinate. This often involves a healthy amount of daydreaming (the benefits of which I discuss in this post). After a day or two of ruminating, you’ll likely have a solid grasp of your story’s premise.
Turn to the Experts
If none of the above suggestions help you discover the perfect NaNoWriMo story idea – or you just don’t have the time or brainpower to go through them – then it may be time to turn to the experts for advice.
The Writer’s Idea Thesaurus: An Interactive Guide for Developing Ideas for Novels and Short Stories by Fred White is a hefty volume (320 pages!) offering 2000 creative story ideas as well as tips for how to put your own twist on them.
And 5000 Writing Prompts: A Master List of Plot Ideas, Creative Exercises, and More by Bryn Donovan, the queen of master lists for writers, offers a bounty of suggestions for those trapped in “story purgatory.”
Both books are a great investment for writers! Not only will they help you choose and develop a story idea that will keep you motivated all the way through NaNoWriMo, but they’ll also be ready and waiting the next time you’re searching for the perfect premise for a new work in progress.
Penny for your thoughts…
How do you choose ideas for your novels? Share your favorite methods with me in the comments below!
Next week, we’ll be talking all about Menu Planning & Meal Prep for NaNoWriMo, and I’ll share a couple of fabulous and free resources that will free up oodles of writing time for you! Want a reminder when the post goes live?? Sign up for my email list (it’s spam-free…pinky swear!) in the box below, and I’ll let you know whenever a new post is available or I have exciting news to share with you.
So nail down that story idea, my friend, and I’ll see you back here next week. Until then, buckle up, buttercup, and let’s write!
In case you missed it: In last week’s post, I shared my free printable Preptober Checklist outlining all the steps you can take now to help you sail through NaNoWriMo! Click on over and print it out today!