Have you ever been stumped as per a plot for your next novel or nonfiction work?
You know that nagging sensation—you’ve finished your last one, and feel as though you should be writing something, but you seem out of new concepts entirely.
We’ve all been there.
And sometimes, you truly just need a writing break. After you’ve taken that, however, it’s time to start playing around with new ideas.
So what if you’re still fresh out of thoughts? If no people or places or things or events arise to tweak your fancy?
Here are 7 ways to get those creative juices going:
- Take a vacation.
I know—not everybody can just up and get away to Tahiti. But even a long weekend will do. Somewhere that’s conducive to creativity, keeping Keats’ “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, —that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know,” playing around in your head.
Fifteen years ago we took a trip to the California wine country. Standing high on the balcony at Sterling Vineyards, overlooking the vast green seas of vines, and the stone cottage to one side of them, I began wondering who lived there. What their lives were like. The title of a novel came to me. It would be well over a decade before I started that book, but the essence of it was playing around in my mind.
And an excerpted short story came out in my collection this year.
You never know how or when the seeds of creativity will come to bear fruit.
Wherever in this world feeds your creativity, go there.
- Housebound? Read the classics, with an eye on modernizing the plot.
Aristotle said sometime back that there are no new plots. As a book editor, I can vouch for this! Creative twists and turns and plot points? Certainly. But that’s in the details you fill in, once you’re happily hopping down the plotting trail.
And I say the classics, because we want to take you out of your normal life (as you’re going to do for your character, in your story). We want to take you to ancient Ireland, or to the emotional lands of Romeo and Juliet, or anywhere in between. You know—somewhere you’ve never been.
How would the characters react in modern-day Manhattan? Or wherever you set your world.
How would your neighbor react if he were transported back to the coliseum in Rome and into a gladiator’s garb?
Yep, silly questions. But ask them—the muse likes to be whimsical J
- Watch a movie and turn off the sound.
This is one of my favorite exercises (although I do it most often on planes). Make up the dialogue as they go. Watch their expressions and see what they’re feeling.
This lets the creative side of your brain run free, while shutting off the analytical side. It doesn’t take long to get in the swing of knowing what the characters feel, or what’s going on. And making up the story as you go along is fun.
You may have the plot all wrong, but hey, if you do—there’s your new plot!
- Go to the airport and watch people.
This is similar to the above, but in snippets.
And, you have the added benefit of seeing people when not at their most stellar. People are often unhappy in airports. Ever noticed that? Of course some are joyous, jumping up and down with excitement. But so many are nervous or agitated or bone tired of traveling.
Ask questions, such as why is this family flying to El Paso? Who is the young woman going to meet in Denver? Why in God’s name does that lady have a parrot?
If nothing else, you’ll get lots of great expressions to use in your next book.
- Take one of your minor characters from your last book and ask him what he’s doing now.
I mean, you liked that character, no? You like all your characters (even the villain, you have feelings for), or we need to go back and revisit them!
But haven’t you wondered what happened to your secondary characters? I often do. And when I start running them down, I find whole lives lived I didn’t know a thing about.
Which takes me to new books to write J
Those secondary characters think the book is about them anyway, so talk to them and see what other stories they can lead you into.
- Write something around what you do in real life.
I know—that doesn’t sound very exciting, does it. But it’s a palate cleanser, and keeps you writing.
A good friend of mine and award-winning novelist, Chris Manno, whose books are just brilliantly written, found himself after launching his last novel with a fiction pause. So, what did he do? As an airline pilot in real life, he had lots of funny stories to tell. So, he set about writing them because, as he said, “I gotta be writing something!”
Yep, that’s what writers do—they write.
You’re adept at something in your real life. Mine it for stories.
- This last one is a ‘not to do.’ Do NOT ‘rip your plot from the headlines.’
Yeah, yeah, I know—truth really is stranger than fiction. Especially in these times! Just a typical news day has my head spinning.
And what so often new writers do, and as a book editor I see all the time, is to take those news stories and write a book around them, believing that they’re so topical, and so many people are following them with baited breath, that a built-in audience will be waiting for their novels.
But what’s front and center today will be long forgotten a month from now, much less two years from these headlines. By the time you get the book written and ready to go out, no one will remember what went on before.
And that audience is now nonexistent.
Now, that said, you can often mine the news for craziness, for people doing bonehead things, and for actions no one would believe if you made them up. And those bits and pieces you can certainly incorporate into your work. Although they’ll probably have to be tempered some to be believed!
Use those as a springboard to other ideas, and off you go!
What professional writers know is that this world is a cauldron of bubbling ideas for books. All you have to do is play around with your muse, take her places, talk to her, and let her lead you into the creative mix.
And, have some fun in the process!