How to Brainstorm the Perfect Novel Idea
What happens when the idea well runs dry? When you open up that shiny new notebook or blank document and all your brain has to offer are cobwebs, dust bunnies, and a giant block of your creativity?
It is absolutely possible to experience writer’s block in the brainstorming phase. And it sucks. After all, the idea is supposed to be the easy part! They’re everywhere! You’re a writer. You should be overflowing with them, right? Clearly, you’ll never write again!
Whew! Now that we let out our inner dramatic side, let’s take a collective deep breath. We promise your brain is not broken and you will have ideas again. Many, many, many ideas…all you have to do now is keep reading. We’ll give you the strategies you need to get around that block.
Strategies for Brainstorming New Ideas
Stop trying to have ideas
As counterproductive as it may sound, the first thing you should do when your ideas aren’t flowing is to take a break. Unless it’s an extreme scenario and your entire writing career hinges on having an idea right this minute, it’s okay to take a day or two off. Maybe even a full week if you can manage it. Do other things. Clean your house, go for a walk, or spend time with friends. Keep your mind focused on other things. Errands, video games, catching up on celebrity gossip, or all the albums, movies, TV shows, and books you’re behind on. The point is to let yourself relax and take off some of the pressure that’s demanding an idea.
Pull inspiration from your own life
Fiction is a way of looking at the world differently. What parts of your life could you exaggerate or expand on to create a new story? What places or people in your life are most memorable? What memories are most interesting to you? Write them down, and ask yourself why you're drawn to these people, places, or memories. How can you make them even more interesting?
For example, say you have a childhood memory of getting lost at the zoo on a school field trip. How can you exaggerate that memory? Maybe the protagonist of your story doesn't get lost, but instead runs away to live in the elephant enclosure. Or you could twist the memory to make it scarier— children start disappearing at the zoo without a trace! Let yourself play with different genres or narrators to make your memory larger than life.
Analyze your favorites
Grab a notebook or your phone—something that will let you keep all your ideas in one place—and start a list of everything you love. Your favorite books, movies, TV shows, characters, ships, tropes, genres, authors, songs, etc.
Now see if any patterns stand out to you. Do a lot of your favorite movies and books take place in galaxies far, far away? Is the protagonist of most of the stories a teenage girl who arrives in a new place and shakes everything up? Do your favorite authors write long series or are they known for their standalone novels? Does your list have a lot of action and adventure or quiet, interpersonal plots? Is there anything on the list that surprises you? Maybe you didn’t realize how much you liked stories set in a small town.
At this point, you might already be getting ideas. On the other hand, maybe you don’t see any way to make the stories on the list new and different from what’s already been brilliantly executed. If that’s the case, we’ve got you covered.
Look for ways to twist the premise
All ideas have been done in some form or another. That’s why tropes and archetypes and the phrase “the same, but different” exist. But that doesn’t mean you can’t create something that no one else could. Cinder and Geekerella are both Cinderella retellings and they could not be more different. In one, Cinderella is a cyborg in the dystopian future, and in the other, she’s a geek who loves cosplay and comic conventions. Same source material, wildly different execution.
Start mixing and matching some of the ideas on your list. Say you want to set your story in a small town. How can you twist that idea? Maybe it’s on a ringed planet in another universe, and your protagonist— the teenage new girl— fell through a wormhole to get there. Maybe your favorite song lyrics are already creating scenes for that girl as she meets the planet’s inhabitants.
Try mixing up your favorite books and shows, too! What if…Pretty Little Liars was set in King Arthur’s Camelot? The anonymous "A" wouldn’t be sending her messages via text…how would she communicate her threats? How would the main characters know one another? What could they be covering up? Keep twisting until you've created something entirely new.
Imagine you’re a spy
Grab a notebook or your phone once more and go somewhere where there are a lot of people. Try a coffee shop, a train/bus/subway, the gym, your local shopping center, a restaurant, or a public park—the more crowded, the better!
Then, start watching (and listening). Maybe you’ll catch snippets of conversation or see the body language of a couple in love or two friends in a fight. Take notes. Write down anything that intrigues you. Why is the man across the coffee shop scowling? Why is the woman with an expensive bag asking to borrow change for the bus? Where did that kid get the chocolate cake? Use the questions to start creating scenarios of your own.
As always, the point is to jumpstart your imagination. Maybe you don't like the first few ideas that come to you. That's okay! Don't hold yourself back by criticizing your thoughts— just let them flow.
- Ripped from the headlines: Grab a newspaper or magazine (or open a web browser to their homepages) and only read the article headlines. Don’t dig any further. See what ideas they spark.
- First sentences: Borrow someone else’s first sentence. Either open a book from your shelves, use the Amazon feature that lets you look inside a book, or even turn on a movie or TV show. Take the first sentence and then write another one. See where your imagination goes (and if an entire book comes out, make sure you change the sentence later—no stealing!).
- Keep asking questions: Develop your creativity by asking yourself questions as you continue brainstorming. What if? Why do we care? What happens next? Keep going until your ideas grow into something that can carry a full-length story.
Coming up with new ideas is one of the best parts of being a writer. Use our tips to stop writer’s block from ruining your fun and don’t be discouraged if it takes more than one strategy to find new ideas. They are everywhere…if you give yourself a chance to notice them.
Want to learn the proven methods for generating a bestselling book idea in minutes? Check out Writing Mastery Academy's course Develop Blockbuster Ideas that Sell!