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Finding Inspiration To Write A Novel, by Sandi Wallace

Finding inspiration can be daunting to the point of debilitating. This applies to creators of novels, short stories or both. It frequently afflicts aspiring writers but can strike established ones too.

It also fascinates readers, who frequently say things like:
“Where do your stories come from?”
“It must be hard to think up new ideas.”
“I’ve got a story that you need to write.”

So, let’s think about that. Do we need to take ideas from well-meaning friends, family and readers, or do we have access to plenty of our own? Are these story ideas empowering? Do they make us believe we have something worth writing and ultimately worth publishing?

Clearly, there is much riding on inspiration. It’s the crux of creation and dictates result. Should finding inspiration be scary? Or should dreaming up and writing a story only be exciting?

I believe that whenever we create there should be a pinch of fear behind it. If there is no fear we aren’t striving for the best we’re capable of and we’re not putting enough of ourselves into the project. On the flipside, too much anxiety blunts creativity. So, seeking inspiration should be thrilling: exciting, pleasurable and accompanied by a little nervous tremor.

How/where do we find inspiration?

As I am a contemporary crime writer, my suggestions might resonate more strongly with genre writers than literary ones, but these work for me:


Things seen or overheard can act as a springboard to imagination, especially when combined with “what if?” or “and then…” Writers are often introverts and natural observers, frequently happiest sitting back, blending in, watching and asking questions. Therefore, we are sponges and muses are all around us.

Personal experience

Our personal accumulation of life skills and experiences add fodder for developing characters and stories. Stand out examples may become central storylines. These might include deaths of loved ones, career changes, house moves, renovations, love of all types, relationship up and downs, health problems, travel, wins and losses, assaults or accidents.

True crime and other actual events, reported via newspapers, magazines, television, specialist journals, police media and/or discussed by the public

These can trigger a series of brain jumps to the point where the actual story written bears little or no resemblance to the initial event. For fiction writers, that’s probably a lot safer than taking true crime and aiming to fictionalise it, which could lead to a lawsuit or stalker situation.

Headlines, titles of stories, pictures

A fun exercise is to gather newspapers, books with evocative covers, or perhaps a series of photos or other pictures, and scroll through them until something grabs you. Every innocuous thing has the potential for greatness. Even obituaries and classifieds can be goldmines.

Imagine a photo of a bloke in overalls with the headline “Pig Farm Crisis”. What does it say to you? If that man and his farm were your protagonist and setting, what would his crisis be? For crime writers, what offence and scenario might fit and is he as innocent as he first appears? For rural romance writers, who is his heroine, what is their personal conflict, as well as the farm crisis?

What themes do you want to explore in your story?

What do you want to say about the world, solve or resolve? What do you want to write that will clutch readers by the throat and keep them hooked?

Try listing five to ten things that make you angry, five to ten things that make you sad and five to ten things that make you happy. What stands out?

You have an established protagonist

What is their worst fear? Do it to them!

Writer’s journal

Fill a notebook or electronic journal with all your random thoughts, ideas, photographs, postcards, whatever could trigger a great story, character or setting. Use it to practise first lines, dialogue and other narrative devices too.

Ideas for my next book (or short story) come to me while I’m writing or editing the current one, maybe because at that time there is no pressure on me to think of a new storyline and I’m in a highly creative place. I recommend jotting down those ideas under something like “Book five plot/theme”, to avoid interference with the current project or forgetting the new concepts.

An amalgam of ideas

Try combining things from all (or some) of the above categories.

If you’ve just discovered your new plot idea, congratulations. Now the real fun begins!


Sandi Wallace’s author website:

Sandi Wallace on Facebook

     Robyn Bavati - Pirouette book coverHelene Young, Northern HeatThe Delta

Writing Novels in Australia


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