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Writing

6 Ways to Generate Great Book Ideas

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Feb 4, 2020 • 3 min read

Whether you’re aiming to write a New York Times bestseller or a short story released via self-publishing, all fruitful book writing starts with a great idea.

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6 Tips for Generating Good Book Ideas

When it comes time to start writing a book, don’t overthink things in terms of genre or literary elements. Keep things simple. Whether you’re staring down writer's block or find yourself overwhelmed by too many good ideas, here are some writing prompts to get you started on the first draft of your new book:

  1. Create a character based on someone you know. Filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen have said that they came up with the story idea for The Big Lebowski by creating a hardboiled detective thriller that featured their real-life friend as the detective. Many authors have mined the traits of a best friend, family member, or co-worker as part of a great book idea. So the next time you’re around people you know well, jot down a few observations about their behavior—either mentally, in a notebook, or on your phone—and see if it prompts any story ideas. A key supporting character, or even the main character, could be a composite of people you know.
  2. Adapt mythology into your own great story. If you aren’t the kind of person who can generate a book topic by mining the depths of your own life, you can always go in the opposite direction and adapt folklore, mythology, or stories from the public domain. J.R.R. Tolkien used story elements from Norse mythology to craft The Lord of the Rings. Shakespeare’s creative writing process often led him to cast real-life kings and queens in his plays, co-opting important elements from their lives but then adding his own embellishments to create better stories. Find a myth or folktale you want to adapt in your own style.
  3. Embrace the supernatural. Readers love ghosts and apparitions. In the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, and R.L. Stine, create a cast of main characters and make at least one of them a ghost.
  4. Get inspiration from comedy. Some new fiction writers make the mistaken assumption that the only books worth writing are those that are gravely serious. Fortunately for the reading public, that isn’t true at all. Authors from William Shakespeare to Mark Twain to John Kennedy Toole to Stephen Colbert have had great success writing books and plays where comedy came first. Try twisting one of your writing ideas into something more absurd.
  5. Send your character on a journey. From road trips (On the Road, Lolita) to epic quests (The Lord of the Rings, The Odyssey), audiences love a character on the move. If you have a great character or premise in mind, think of ways that you can send that character on a journey—or how that the premise can be extended over the course of multiple story locations.
  6. Try freewriting. Freewriting is a technique where write you without a prescribed structure, which means no outlines, cards, notes, or editorial oversight. In freewriting, the writer follows the impulses of their own mind, allowing thoughts and inspiration to appear to them without premeditation. Allow your stream of consciousness to inspire the words on the page. The first time you attempt to freewrite, you may end up with mostly unusable material. But with writing practice, you can use your freewriting practice to refine your technique and ultimately unleash your creativity.

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