12 Fabulous Plot Resources for Novelists

One of the toughest things about writing a novel is plotting. No doubt about it. We’ve all struggled with plot ideas (at least, I know I have!)

It’s been a while since I’ve hosted a guest post, so I’d love for you to join me in welcoming the wonderful and insightful Molly Greene to crimsonleague.com. Molly is an author-blogger with a new release called “Rapunzel” and a FABULOUS blogging handbook called “Blog It” that has helped me a ton!

Molly is here to share 12 fabulous plot resources for novelists. How awesome is that?

light-bulb-1433914-mMany authors agree that after writing a couple of books, it’s sometimes tough to generate great new plotlines – especially if you’re attempting to complete two or three full-length novels every year. Yikes! It’s a challenge to come up with new ideas book after book. That’s where I am right now, and if you’re not there yet, chances are you will be someday. I suggest you prepare, and I’m going to tell you how.

If you’re not one of those people whose heads burst with ideas and they just can’t write them down fast enough, look around. The world is full of stories – true and contrived – that you can use as fodder for your imagination.

One way to stave off “plot block” is to start a file and fill it with scenarios you can tap for inspiration down the road. Here’s a list of go-to sources you can mine for future storylines. Happy writing!

1. Books, short stories, novellas. Successful authors read a lot. That’s one of the best ways to learn the craft: by studying how really good writers use description and dialogue and build character and plot. Not only that, you can milk other peoples’ stories for bits to use in your own books – not to poach the plotlines themselves, but to spark ideas. And don’t discount the value of nonfiction; memoirs and biographies are rich with potential.

2. Magazines. Magazines like People and Vanity Fair often publish unique crime stories. National Geographic can provide inspiration about possible locations. Even tabloid magazines, the AAA magazine, gun aficionado or Ladies Home Journal will tickle your creative imagination with things you can build on – if you look!

3. Movies, television, plays. Movies and TV plots and their characters and dialogue are often super inspiring and can be wonderful sources – again, not to use the writers’ content, but to launch you on a whole new tangent of your own.

4. Newspapers. I once clipped out a story about a man who dragged his wife behind his car (I know! It’s awful!) because I was blown away when I thought about how ANGRY someone would have to be to do something like that. Keep a file of newspaper articles. They don’t have to be as bizarre as mine.

5. Local and national news. Yes, it can be depressing to watch a lot of news, but it’s an amazing source of whodunit ideas and character traits and Good Samaritan stuff.

6. Blogs, websites. Perez Hilton, E! Online and Entertainment Weekly post oodles of cool gossip news, both past and present. You know how celebrities like to get in trouble. And isn’t the truth sometimes better than anything we can make up? Things like “Jake Gyllenhaal hospitalized after punching a mirror on set” should fire up the old creativity mill. Couldn’t that bad boy who’s dating your protagonist’s daughter do the same? And oh, look: what’s that on the wall behind the broken mirror … a safe? An envelope, yellowed and brittle with age? A gate into the past? You take it from here.

7. Photographs and images. For me personally, photographs, illustrations, and graphic images often encourage a character or story. I’m creating my own book covers now, and while I was plotting my 2014 release I looked through pages on photo sale websites Depositphotos and Dreamstime for ideas. I actually found an image for the cover that inspired the title, Paint Me Gone.

8. Personal experiences. Anything you think, feel, do, watch, plan, learn, and participate in has the potential to be turned into part of a plot. Become an observer when you’re out in the world. People are fascinating, and people-watching can fill you with ideas. Be sure to carry paper and pen wherever you go! You’ll never be bored again.

9. The gossip grapevine. So-and-so’s mother was at the airport and saw this couple fighting … My neighbor was remodeling their master bedroom and found an antique trinket hidden in the wall … There was a nasty screaming fight down the street Saturday night. We were all shocked because it’s such a quiet neighborhood … Hmmmm. Yeah. (Credit for this idea goes to author Toby Neal, who blogged about this once. See? Blogs are greats sources of ideas.)

10. Dreams. Think twice before you use actual dream sequences in a plot, but don’t ignore their value. I once dreamed I was walking through a field with a hundred other people and we were bombed by helicopters. I can use the feelings and the visuals if I ever include a bombing scene in a novel.

11. True crime stories. Again, it doesn’t get much better than the real thing. Browsing online files might just make you sick to your stomach, but it can also feed the macabre inner workings of your author’s mind. Bwaaaaa-ha-ha-ha-ha …. Try these:

FBI white collar crime story archive

Los Angeles Time white collar crime stories

Listverse  crime archives

Journalists’ Toolbox: crime sites

Crime library

12. Random plot generators. Chances are good you won’t actually USE the exact plotlines these random generators pump out, but they certainly will stoke your imagination and they can be fun.




While you’re at it, try a random character name generator:



Need ideas about what your characters do for a living? A-Z list of careers

Readers, what have I missed? Do you have plot and character sources you depend on for ideas? Leave a comment and share!Rapunzel_FINAL_150x-1

Molly Greene is an author, blogger, and novelist with a preference for reading, writing, and rural life. Her novels include Mark of the Loon and her new release, Rapunzel; nonfiction titles include Blog It! The author’s guide to building a successful online brand, and Buy Your Own Roses and other essays (coming February 2014). She blogs about her life and self-publishing topics at molly-greene.com.


25 responses to “12 Fabulous Plot Resources for Novelists

  1. I use a lot of movies, TV, books, and the various entertainment mediums of the world. Another activity that can create ideas is talking to people. A few of my friends and I get into wild conversations about whatever catches our interest like history, mythology, life, etc. I’ve come up with a bunch of ideas from these talks. Also, video games.

  2. I like Charles’ idea of simply talking to people. Old ones in assisted living and nursing home have some amazing true stories.

  3. The “gotta write a novel” bug is whispering in my ear, but I haven’t been able to come up with enough ideas for a great plot. I’m bookmarking this post, and thanks to both of you for this, Molly and Victoria.

  4. Great tips for waking up your imagination! Shared, everywhere. 🙂

  5. I listen to movie soundtracks–more than sixty that I have on shuffle–while I walk for a few miles each day. (Nietzsche said “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.”). I see images in my head–not originally in the movies–and I began to wonder, “Why is this middle-aged woman running in a dress?” I’ll listen to the same track a dozen times over until I see enough pictures to put together the plot, driven by the music.
    The only downside to this is later I’ll see a movie again and think, “Hey–where did all those pirates come from? That’s not what’s supposed to happen in this passage!”

  6. Charles, I agree. Darn! I should have included regular convos in my list. My neighbor across the road builds “fake” structures for the Navy Seals to blow up on their training missions. If THAT doesn’t inspire a story, I don’t know what would.

    And Trish, I walk everyday as well, and use that time to develop scenes in whatever story I’m plotting at the time.

  7. Thank you so much, Roxy!

  8. Great list of resources. Thanks.

  9. Great list but one piece of advice. As much as TV/movies may be great for generating ideas, police and crime shows are often poorly researched. Don’t use technical stuff about police procedure or even weapons without doing further checking on your own.

  10. I never thought about keeping newspaper clippings, but really, that’s a great idea.

    To be honest, this kind of collecting ideas whenever I come across them is what I have Pinterest for 🙂 Okay, there are a lot more ideas that come to me away from the internet than on the internet, but I do love the visualness of the boards to collect photos and other ideas. I have a notepad that i write the rest of my ideas down in otherwise.

    Thanks for the great guest post, Molly and Victoria!

    • Thanks for describing how you use Pinterest, Katie. I have an account but I really don’t use it for anything, and I should. I SHOULD. Organizing sparks for writing is a fantastic usage of that visual nature of the boards!

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  12. Aw, this was a really nice post. Spending some time and actual effort to generate
    a very good article… but what can I say… I hesitate a lot and don’t manage to get nearly anything done.

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