You want to write, but when you sit down to get started, you realize you don't have a novel idea. Or perhaps you have so many, you're having a hard time choosing the best novel idea. Or maybe, you already have a novel idea, but you just aren't sure if it's any good. Never fear, that's what we're here for.
Below are ten questions to help you get started finding your best novel idea. Use them as creative writing prompts or as a way to make your current idea better. Then, I have ninety more ideas for each type of story that will inspire that book you've been dreaming about for years.
Don't let the blank page win. Get started writing your book today with these book ideas!
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Need nonfiction or memoir book ideas? Check out this list of nonfiction and memoir book ideas instead!
Make Your Best Novel Idea Better
If you're like me, you don't just want to write a book. You want to write a really great book, hopefully a book that will be published and maybe even become a bestseller.
What I've learned over the last ten years teaching writers is that the first step to writing a great book is to develop a really great novel idea.
The best novel idea doesn't just come from a moment of inspiration. It might begin like that, but you also have to do the hard work to process, develop, and hone that creative idea.
These ten novel ideas below will help you take the ideas you already have and develop them into a solid plan for your novel. You can also use them as writing prompts to get started with your novel.
Here are the ten novel ideas (you can also get these as a free download here):
- SET YOUR STORY IN TWO DIFFERENT WORLDS. Of the nine bestselling novels of all time, all nine are set in two different worlds. Think Harry Potter’s Muggle vs. Wizarding world. Or A Tale of Two Cities’ stable London and revolutionary Paris. Craft two compelling settings and you'll challenge your characters and capture your reader.
- WHAT SCARS DOES YOUR CHARACTER HAVE? We all have scars. To be a writer, Stephen King says, “the only requirement is the ability to remember every scar.” Tap into your own scars and personal stories to unlock the scars in your characters.
- WHO DIES? Good writers don’t turn away from death, which is, after all, the universal human experience. Instead, they look directly into its dark face and describe what they see on the page. Let death cause an existential crisis in your characters.
- MAKE YOUR MAIN CHARACTER AN ORPHAN. Think for a moment about all the great stories about orphans in literature and film. Orphans are uniquely vulnerable and thus have the most potential for growth.
- YOUR CHARACTER SEES A GHOST. What do Edgar Allen Poe, Ron Weasley, King Saul from the Bible, Odysseus, and Ebenezer Scrooge have in common? They all saw ghosts! Everyone wonders about the afterlife. Have fun with it!
- WHAT IS YOUR CHARACTER MOST AFRAID OF? Your character’s biggest fear is your story’s secret weapon. Don’t run from it. Write about it and let it drive a compelling story.
- YOUR CHARACTER COMES INTO AN UNEXPECTED FORTUNE. HOW DOES IT CHANGE HIS OR HER LIFE? Not all fortunes are good. Sometimes discovering a fortune will destroy you–in fiction and real life.
- YOUR CHARACTER BUMPS INTO HIS OR HER SOULMATE (literally, bumps into). This is called the “meet cute,” when the hero bumps into the heroine in the hallway, knocking her books to the floor and forcing them into conversation. And before you say you aren't writing a love story, know the most popular subplot of ANY genre is a love story.
- YOUR CHARACTER BEGINS A JOURNEY. Is that journey interrupted by disaster? Who hasn’t been longing to get to a destination only to be delayed by something unexpected? This is the plot of Gravity, The Odyssey, and even The Lord of the Rings. Check out our Hero's Journey article here for help.
- MONSTER. Monsters, whether people who do monstrous things or scaly beasts or natural disasters, always reveal what’s inside a person. Let your character fall into the path of a monster and see how they handle themselves.
Want to download a free novel ideas guide? You can get these ten novel ideas as a free download here.
90 Novel Ideas For Every Genre
Need more novel ideas? Here are more fictional story ideas based on the literary genre you write:
20 Mystery Story Ideas
Enjoy a good detective novel? (Personally, Inspector Gamache is my favorite.) If you like mysteries and want to write one, you’ll love these mystery novel ideas
My favorite: “Ever heard the phrase, ‘It is not who fired the shot but who paid for the bullet?’ This is a philosophy Tomoe Gozen lives by. Brave and clever, Tomoe follows clues until she learns who ordered the murder: Emperor Antoku himself. But why would the emperor of Japan want to kill a lowly soldier?”
20 Sci-Fi Novel Ideas
From the minimum-wage-earning, ancient-artifact-hunting time traveler to the space-exploring, sentient dinosaurs, these sci-fi story ideas will get you set loose your inner nerd.
20 Fantasy Novel Ideas
Uncomfortable wedding preparation between magic-wielding family members and those more on the Muggle side of things? A fairy prince who decides to abandon his responsibilities to become a street musician? Bored teenaged wizards throwing a graduation celebration?
Just try to not have fun writing (or even just reading!) these fantasy story ideas.
10 Thriller Novel Ideas
A thriller traditionally is a crime story meets horror story, but today, the thriller dips freely into other genres. In other words, expect the unexpected!
20 Romance Novel Ideas
Hint: When it comes to romance, a sense of humor is always a good idea. Have fun!
Here’s one of my favorites from this list: “She’s a cop. He’s the owner of a jewelry store. A sudden rash of break-ins brings her to his store over and over and over again, until it becomes obvious that he might be tripping the alarm on purpose—just to see her. That’s illegal—but she’s kind of falling for him, too. Write the moment she realizes she has to do something about this crazy illicit courtship.”
But Wait… How Do You Actually FINISH a Novel
Because it's not enough to have an idea, right. You also have to finish writing your novel!
In our 100 Day Book program, I lead writers through a proven process to finish their novels. We've helped thousands of writers take their idea and turn it into a finished book, often for the first time.
And what I've learned is that there really is a set of steps to ensure you actually finish. Here's the process:
- Build a team. If you want to actually finish writing your book idea, don’t make the mistake of trying to do it all on your own. Get a writing group. Find a writing class. Hire an editor to coach you through the process. Whatever you do, don't try to write a book on your own. That's a good way to never finish!
- Set a consequence. Set a deadline for when you're going to finish your book (I recommend writing your first draft in 100 days), and then create a consequence for if you fail to finish by your deadline. Choose something painful. For example, for my last book, I wrote a $1,000 check to the presidential candidate I really didn't want to win, gave it to a fellow writer, and told her to send it if I didn't hit my deadline. I've never been more focused!
- Make a plan. Think through each step of the writing process, from the initial idea to how much you’ll write every day to the editing and even publishing process. A good book plan is more than just an outline. Learn how to write a book plan and get our free book plan worksheet here.
- Write! Now that you've laid a strong foundation, you're ready to write! If you have a team, a hard consequence, and a plan, you'll find that you're focused, prepared, and ready to finish your book!
- Don't stop. Most people want to write a book, but most people quit. Whatever you do, once you start, don't stop writing (not even if you come up with a new, better book idea). If you keep writing and keep trusting the process, you'll finish your book. Now, it might not be a very good book, but that's what second drafts are for!
My biggest encouragement is this: don't get discouraged, and don't get too excited either. Finishing a novel doesn't rely on feelings. It relies on a good process.
You can finish a novel if you follow the write process (sorry, I had to).
It's Time to Finish Your Novel Idea
Do you need to use all of the ideas above in your novel? Of course not! But one or more of them might help you take your inkling of a novel idea and turn it into the basis of an amazing story.
Once you have your novel idea, your team, your consequence, and your plan, there's just one thing left: write.
Don't save your best idea for some later date. Write it now.
Don't get stuck trying to write a perfect story. Just write.
Don't put your story down halfway through. Ask your team for support, remember your consequence, and revisit your plan — then keep writing.
And soon, you'll turn your amazing novel idea into a finished novel!
What do you consider when developing your novel ideas? Let us know in the comments.
Think about your novel idea in light of these ten ideas. Don't have a novel idea? Use one or more of the prompts to develop one.
Be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers!