Plot ideas, story concepts, are everywhere. You only have to look at outlandish headlines, or cut a community newspaper into words to draw from a hat. Read 7 ways to find plot ideas, and 38 plot ideas generated using these methods.
To find plot ideas to develop further:
- Search genre-specific terms in Google News
- Trawl Reddit subreddits for inspiration
- Play with cut-ups
- Answer guided prompts
- Combine Wordle guesses into an idea
- Choose a myth and explore ways to rewrite it
- Start from a plot idea template
Let’s delve into ways to come up with plot ideas:
1. Search genre-specific terms in Google News
To find plot ideas inspired by news headlines and articles:
- Make a list of key words and phrases for the genre you want to write. For romance, words such as ‘dating’, ‘relationships’, ‘love’, ‘romance’, work as a starting point. Try longer phrases if feeling adventurous.
- Enter the term in Google News and look through headlines until one catches your attention for its story potential.
- Either use the headlines itself as a basis for a plot idea, or scan the article to jog further inspiration.
Read plot ideas for romance and mystery stories we came up using the above brainstorming method, below:
5 romance plot ideas from headlines
The below romance plot ideas were generated by searching the news for the words ‘dating’ and ‘love’:
Finding love in the metaverse
Headline: ‘The Metaverse now has roughly the same SA population as dating sites’ (from an article by Luke Daniel for Business Insider).
Romance plot idea: Two people meet in a metaverse dating sim and begin fall in love, only to find out that they’re completely different in real life. Outside of the simulation, both have to make big adjustments to rediscover what drew them to each other in the first place.
Character gives up on online dating only to find love
Headline: ‘Can online dating burnout be stopped?’ (BBC News).
Romance plot idea: A [insert high-powered job] struggles with online dating, ghosting and other bad behavior. When [character] finally gives up, puts down their phone and makes a list of ‘real world’ things they want to achieve, while fulfilling said list, love comes knocking.
Would-be lovers have very different views on climate change
Headline: ‘4 of the top dating trends for 2022 so far’ (Mashable).
[Mashable explores trends such as daters favoring similar values and positions on issues over more superficial attractions.]
Romance plot idea: Two people meet at a climate change protest and have strong chemistry. There’s a snag: One’s a climate change activist, the other a denialist.
Married couple finds way to keep the spark alive
Headline: ‘People Who Have Been Married 10+ Years Are Sharing How Their Lives Have Changed’ (Buzzfeed)
Romance plot idea: A couple is due to celebrate their 11th wedding anniversary, but cracks begin to show when they realize they’ve both fallen out of love. They discover a shared passion for [hobby/activity/other] that helps them find how to keep the relationship going when out of love.
Uncharismatic person is alluring for a day
Headline: ‘Love and Relationship Horoscope for July 4, 2022’ (Hindustan Times). [This plot idea is drawn from the hyperbolic forecasting of Virgo’s irresistible charisma.]
Romance plot idea: Uncharismatic [character] finds due to [cause] that they are irresistibly charismatic, but also learns the effects will last for one day only.
The day begins with weird, unwanted attention. Yet just as the effects are wearing off, a random encounter holds promise. Yet will the spark still be there tomorrow?
5 crime plot ideas from headlines
The same idea-finding process works for jogging inspiration in other genres. For example, searching the word ‘killer’ and ‘unsolved’ yielded these crime story ideas:
Crime happens closer to home for reporter
Headline: ‘‘Why did you murder my father?’ How Liz McGregor confronted a killer’ (The Guardian)
Crime/mystery plot idea: A seasoned journalist used to covering murders is left reeling when their own family member is killed and the killer refuses to talk despite overwhelming evidence indicating their guilt. They search for answers on the events that led to the killing.
Tenacious mother’s act prompts answers
Headline: ‘Helen McCourt murder: Mum hopes death of daughter’s killer, Ian Simms, will help her find the body’ (Sky News).
Crime/mystery plot idea: A mother determined to learn the truth about her missing child’s last days attends a suspect’s trial each day holding a portrait of their child. A passerby in the street recognizes the person in the portrait and approaches her with a troubling new lead that places her in a double bind.
Detective uncovers local activity in global trafficking ring
Headline: ‘Philadelphia PD cites ‘crushing’ volume of homicides as cold cases remain unsolved’
Crime/mystery plot idea: A shortage of police offers in a district of Philadelphia leaves a lone, overburdened detective in great danger when he stumbles across a small, local cell in a larger international trafficking ring that involves local authorities who hold significant power.
Grieving mothers take action after childrens’ killings
Headline: ‘Unsolved Murders and the mothers of Jackson, Mississippi’ (CBS News).
Crime/mystery plot idea: A group of mothers in Jackson, Mississippi who meet through a local support group for bereaved parents have enough of police inaction. They take investigation into their own hands, with initially dire but ultimately change-bringing results.
Unsolved cases solved by determined parent
Headline: ‘Five unsolved murders of children dating back to 2005 remain cold cases’ (IOL)
Crime/mystery plot idea: The murders of five local children under similar circumstances rock a small community. Local politicians meanwhile use the murders for point-scoring and the police are corrupt. It is up to the community to find justice. One parent becomes an unlikely hero and achieves what the authorities cannot.
What plot ideas can your own news-mining unearth?
2. Trawl reddit subreddits for inspiration
Some social media platforms are excellent sources for plot ideas.
Take Reddit, for example. Because of its more narrative format, it’s a community where member share longer, more detailed stories.
Reddit is divided into topical communities or ‘subreddits’ and these are interesting places to find story ideas.
Some subreddits you could explore for story ideas starters:
- /r/tifu/ – this community, TIFU (an acronym for ‘Today I ****** up), is where members share embarrassing or awkward stories. Useful fodder for story or scene ideas
- /r/todayilearned/ – Today I Learned is where members share random factoids or strange-but-true information they’ve learned, from details about historical figures to strange facts of biology or popular culture
- /r/unsolvedmysteries/ – This subreddit is all about unsolved mysteries, such as famous and lesser-known missing persons cases. Useful (but TW: violent and other unsettling content) for crime/mystery writers
- /r/AskReddit – Here, community members pose and answer random questions, such as ‘If aliens visited earth and you had to play a game with them to explain humanity, what would it be?’
10 plot ideas inspired by reddit
Read ten plot ideas inspired by reddit posts (subreddit and genre in brackets):
- A woman who works at a fitness club is fired after announcing her pregnancy. Her employers are unaware of maternity-related labor protections that have recently passed in her state. She sues and uses the proceeds to start her own, successful women-only fitness chain (/r/babybumps, legal/political).
- A linguist with indigenous heritage fights tirelessly to preserve their language that is endangered due the growing dominance of English in their homeland (/r/todayilearned, historical).
- [Character] is battling to come to terms with their parent’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis and the deterioration of their memory. They recall a favorite song and play it to them with profound, transformative results (/r/todayilearned, family drama/contemporary).
- A chef is an incredible cook yet only when blind drunk, leading to issues at their new post in a teetotal region. (/r/AskReddit, humor/cooking).
- Aliens visit a 10-year-old and he insists they play Monopoly, sparking an intergalactic war when their leader loses (/r/AskReddit, humor/middle grade).
- In a world were everyone has superpowers, an ordinary person is exalted for their ordinariness. (/r/AskReddit, fantasy).
- [Character] goes on a school outing and accidentally tramps through an expensive art installation, setting off a chain of calamities. (/r/tifu, humor/middle grade).
- The FBI posts coded notes that are the only clue in a 1999 cold case, not expecting a ten-year-old math genius to be the one to crack the code. What they find next means they’ll need her further help. (/r/unsolvedmysteries, mystery/crime).
- A noblewoman living in Hungary in the 1500s is accused of torturing and killing attendants, yet her status and power make it hard for the law to hold her to account (/r/unsolvedmysteries, mystery/historical).
- A high court chief justice’s daughter is arrested in a triple-homicide case, leaving him torn between professional and family loyalties. (/r/unsolvedmysteries, legal/thriller).
3. Play with cut-ups
So-called ‘cut-ups’ are an idea-finding method synonymous with the author William S. Burroughs, who used this technique extensively.
One way to use cut-ups to find plot ideas:
- Take a non-essential piece of printed writing, such as an old community newspaper.
- Cut out words or phrases – at least ten or more.
- Put the cut out words in a box or other container and draw X words/phrases at random.
- Use the words you drew in a logline-format summary of a story concept as a starting point.
Example plot ideas using the cut-up method
We took an article on criminals posing as city authorities, and another advertising a luxury retirement center. This gave 12 words. We then drew 5 blind:
- hair salon
Plot ideas using these randomly-chosen words:
- A hair salon is held hostage by crazed criminals who are re-enacting the plot of their favorite movie, about a subterranean gang who sneak above ground to steal wallets.
- Rival hair salons run by criminal syndicates operate underground empires. One dabbles in making C-grade movies, the other in making counterfeit wallets.
- The hairdressers at the worst hair salon in the world are barely-reformed criminals who pickpocket customers’ wallets.
- A movie about a hair salon goes horribly wrong when the director leaves their wallet with their personal details in a coffee shop by accident, falling prey to a criminal scam that risks their current movie and reputation.
- A movie crew rents out a hair salon for a shoot, unaware that the building is owned by criminals with light wallets who are looking for a payday.
What plot ideas can you come up with using five random words?
Feel free to change some words to near-synonyms or leave some out of the summary (you’ll see some of the above are a stretch).
4. Answer guided prompts
A less time-consuming option for finding plot ideas is to use a prompt-based process.
The Now Novel dashboard is a browser-based writing tool for brainstorming story ideas. Try the free ‘Central Idea’ section to start your story in structured steps.
Using the tool for ten minutes generated these ideas, using the same words as the above exercise:
- Criminals running a subterranean network in a rundown neighborhood are forced above ground by excavations.
- An unconventional hair salon for the bald provides a place for conversations between strangers, helping patrons who have hair loss for a variety of reasons come to terms with life changes and medical diagnoses.
- A movie shoot about a salon gets hairy when it becomes apparent there is a murderer among the cast and crew, the only clue being a dropped wallet.
- A band of criminals try to leave crime behind to open a hair salon. When wallets start going missing the other partners have to decide how to approach the situation.
- A hair salon owner is at the risk of having the business they’ve built from scratch close down, when they receive an unlikely proposal from a criminal gang.
Make a structured start to your story
Start with structured prompts and grow with a helpful community.Learn More
5. Combine Wordle guesses in an idea
Many writers enjoy playing Wordle, a word-game offered by The New York Times. The premise is simple: Guess a five-letter word in six tries or less.
Sometimes the words you guess take you down unexpected paths of word associations. Take these guesses from a recent attempt:
Like cut-ups, a random selection of words such as this provides a fun starting point for a story idea. For example, these plot ideas:
- In a small town, Mulch, the high school bully, wired the school rabbit hutch closed and that was only the start. It’s up to a band of savvy eighth grade misfits to bring him down.
- Three brothers, Butch, Mulch and Hutch are as different as you can get. But in a sleepy town like Taunterton, there’s no time for sibling squabbles ending in sulky pouts – you have to come together to get out.
- The editor-in-chief of Hutch Post Wired, a national tech magazine, taunts their way to the top, mistreating their team. But a hack and public scandal unearthed by a local journalist could bring down their empire.
6. Choose a myth and explore ways to rewrite it
Plot ideas abound in mythologies from around the world.
Ancient Greek, Egyptian, Norse and other mythologies are dense with fables and larger-than-life characters.
If you’re hunting for story ideas, read through collections of myths or their summaries. Some examples of plot ideas taken from myths:
- A powerful man is secretly a shapeshifter and uses his ability to commit a series of assaults until his ability is revealed to an initially sceptical detective. (‘Leda and the Swan’).
- Nightmare in-laws set a man twelve tasks, each more difficult than the last, before they’ll welcome him into the family (‘The Twelve Tasks of Hercules’).
- A young woman is abducted and her captor exacts cruel punishment for each mistake she makes during her captivity if she errs from an arbitrary set of rules (‘The Myth of Persephone’).
- A woman searches for her murdered husband’s body, only to find that he has become ruler over the dead (‘The Myth of Isis and Osiris’).
7. Start from a plot idea template
A final way to find a novel plot idea is to start from a broad, generalizing plot idea template and refine your premise until you have something original (or, at least, you).
Dan Harmon’s Story Circle, which he describes as a ‘plot idea embryo’, is an adaption of the Hero’s Journey story structure. The template has 8 simple stages:
Play with this broad template for a story idea based on the above:
[Character name], a [relatable quality, e.g. struggling, dreaming, determined] [profession/type], needs/wants [thing/state/answer]. Their search for [thing/state/answer] seems further away than ever when [first obstacle happens]. They find [thing/state/answer], but [major obstacle or conflict 2]. They return home, having learned/changed [description of change].
Here’s a plot idea example based on Harmon’s story circle:
- Ralph, a kind retired teacher, finds out he doesn’t have enough money to make it through his retirement [need]. A visit to his hippie sister cross-state [threshold] makes him decide to grow dope to sell, but it is illegal in his state [first obstacle]. He narrowly dodges arrest in his new venture, and things are looking dire (and someone should have warned him about sampling your own supply) [road of trials], but a new law legalizing marijuana is passed just in time for Ralph to ride the first wave of pot tourism and ensure a comfortable future [change].
What plot ideas can you come up with using the above template?
Start writing your story with the support of a helpful community along the way.