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From the Blog: Four Realistic Ways to Generate Ideas For Your Novel


July's Camp NaNoWriMo is right around the corner, and coming up with new ideas can be hard! YWP Participant Sahasra Nistala has some practical advice for writers looking for more material!

A long time ago, I decided I wanted to write a book. So I searched up “how to come up with a novel idea” and was immediately buried under piles of plot generators, mile-long lists of prompts, and creative flow frameworks I didn’t understand. When I went to my fellow writers for help, their advice usually went something like this: sit down and write anything. You’ll start writing something good eventually. But as we Wrimos know, there’s nothing more daunting than staring at a blank page, especially with the clock ticking down to the end of the month. Plus, we’re really busy—we don’t have time to write just anything.

Years later, after three false starts and long periods of “writer’s block,” I finally came up with an idea I couldn’t imagine letting go of. Here are some tried-and-true, realistic ways to come up with ideas for your next novel.

1. Think tropes.
Write down a list of your favorite tropes and think of ways you can make them fresh and interesting. What if the Chosen One had overprotective parents and a bunch of jealous siblings? What if the person organizing the gala was actually in on the big heist? When you’re finished with your list, take whichever ones seem interesting and find a way to connect them.  

2. Brainstorm elements.

In a notebook, doc, or something else you won’t lose, write down a list of random elements and scenes you want in your novel. Want your MC to have an epic battle at sunset with their hair billowing in the wind? Write it down. Want your MC’s hoodie to be green? Write it down! Don’t worry about connecting these things to your decided trope—you can do that later. For now, just write down things you’d love to see in a novel and make sure to include them in yours.

3. Record things your way.
When I first started to write for fun, lots of people told me to get a diary and write everything from my feelings to my “observations.” That way, I would have an endless supply of ideas whenever I wanted. Needless to say, I didn’t keep it up for very long. Things got better when I stopped trying to write daily entries and switched to something that was satisfying to create — comics! With two years of my life laid out in a simple narrative, it became easier for me to notice the differences in people’s habits and personalities. This inspired some characters. For the rest of Preptober, try recording your life in different ways, from voice memos to full-on essays analyzing your family members’ choice of breakfast. Trust me, you’ll find something that works for you.

4. Expand as much as possible.
Once you begin to get a general idea of where you want to go, expand on that as much as possible. If you’re a pantster, that might mean creating a Pinterest board or playlist to match your novel-to-be’s atmosphere. If you’re a plotter, you might want to think of major plot points that incorporate the scenes you already have in mind. 

Doing these four things really helped me come up with a great idea I’m definitely going to write come November (okay, maybe I’ve already written a little!). There is no cure for writer’s block, but having an idea before you start writing definitely helps. Good luck and have a great rest of Preptober!

Sahasra Nistala is a sophomore in high school. Her interests include writing (isn’t that crazy?), speech and debate, incessantly sampling new books in hopes of finding the perfect one, and making comics. During NaNoWriMo, you can find her fiddling around with title generators, filling entire pages with just dialogue, or doodling in her notebook.

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

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