There’s an old joke among writers about where we get our ideas: an idea of the month club, of course! Sadly, such a thing does not exist, at least not in our world. Even if there were, the best ideas are not something we can be given. They are something we make, by filling our brains with as many words, images, and concepts as we can, and letting it all clatter around in there until something new and exciting emerges.
Fortunately, the Internet is full of ingredients for new ideas. Finding the best resources is not always easy, though. I’ve assembled some of my favorite stops online for filling my brain with idea-ingredients. It’s hardly a dent in what’s out there (I didn’t even consider podcasts), but it’s a start. Bookmark what you love, and then be sure to come back and share your own favorite resources in the comments!
Atlas Obscura. This venerable site started out as an actual atlas — an index of interesting and obscure landmarks and roadside attractions from around the world, with tools to help you plan your next trip. It has since grown to encompass all manner of “hidden places, incredible history, scientific marvels, and gastronomical wonders” — all of which is great fodder for the inspiration mill. Amidst the quirky sights like a cement mixer transformed to resemble a space capsule and unbelievable natural wonders ( boiling rivers, anyone?), you’ll find fascinating stories like the Esie Figurines — 1,000 recently uncovered stone statues that just might be the population of a whole town turned to stone! The stories practically write themselves.
- Art Station. This portfolio showcase is where professional and aspiring artists show off their creative work. You’ll find every style of traditional and digital illustration, comic, cover and game art represented. If you want visual inspiration, hop on over to the fantasy art gallery to discover magical landscape, character and creature designs. For really mind-bending creations, be sure to visit the concept art channel.
Wikipedi. The grand-daddy of all open-source information sites might have some issues when it comes to “reliable information,” but when you’re looking for fantasy fiction inspiration, is accuracy really critical? Start by repeatedly clicking “Random Link” until something pops up that grabs your interest. Then take a deep dive through in-article links until you discover some interesting nugget that sparks a creative idea. I just went from the Seven Warriors movie to the Warlord Era to the Central Plains War, which involved more than one million soldiers — there’s got to be some interesting plot ideas in there!
Myth & Moor. Terri Windling is an artist, writer, and editor whose work has been shaping the fantasy genre for decades. On her blog, she takes deep dives into the works of writers, poets, and scholars discussing the nature of storycraft, fantasy literature, myths, and legends, and how art and nature are intertwined. If you’re looking for big ideas to add depth to your story, start here. As a bonus, you’ll find evocative images from famous and not-so-famous fantasy artists accompanying every post, along with Windling’s own photography of the English countryside. If Windling’s blog doesn’t resonate with you, find another deep-thinking blog to tap into, such as The Marginalia (formerly Brain Pickings), Austin Kleon (more about the art of creativity itself), or Longreads (it’s right in the name!).
- Fantasy Plot Generator. I have in no way done an exhaustive search of all the random plot generators out there, but the one offered by Reedsy has some great features, like being able to lock individual elements that you like and spin the wheel again until you get a combination that sparks your interest. The results offer lots of options for adding texture to your story, so you can make it uniquely your own. Check out this first-time prompt:
MAIN CHARACTER : Character An outlaw, who is past prime.
SECONDARY CHARACTER: An apprentice, who can be forgetful.
PLOT: It’s a comic fantasy story about toppling the establishment. It kicks off in a graveyard with a prophecy. (Note that: not all is as it first appears in this story. )
And there’s a twist! All the characters are animals.
Reedsy’s Fantasy Book Title Generator is also pretty decent, if an evocative title is all you need to get your creative gears grinding.
Pinterest. For pure visual inspiration, you can’t beat the magical overload Pinterest will provide. Whether you search wide (magical landscapes, fantasy characters) or narrow (evil swords, elvish treehouse), you are sure to find lots of ideas for worldbuilding and story generation. Even better, you can create albums of inspiring images that can help you build a comprehensive aesthetic for your story world.
National Geographic. Dive into luscious photo essays that explore history, culture, and the natural world. It requires a login to read most articles, but for topics like Argentina’s Land of Fire and the mystery of 500-year-old spines on sticks, it’s worth it!
Mythulu. This card-based inspiration system can be downloaded as an app on your phone or played in VR via Steam. Surprisingly robust, the cards let you randomly combine archetypal qualities such as “Torn,” “Water” or “Temple” into something that you can use to spawn story, character and worldbuilding ideas.
Encyclopedia Mythica. This massive index will introduce you to gods, myths and legends from around the world. Whether you’re telling actually telling stories about divine beings or you just want some non-Greco-Roman ideas for your world’s religion, these real-world examples will intrigue you.
Aarne-Thomson-Uther Tale Type Index. The Thompson index is an academic tool used to categorize folk tales. But there’s no reason you can’t use it in reverse. The tale type will give a bare bones description of a type, e.g. “A youth is sent to the land of the ogres by his stepmother who is, herself, an ogress. Youth finds out where lives of ogres are kept (usually in bees) and destroys them. Returns home and destroys stepmother.” There are also some links to the variants of the story that have been collected online. But don’t read those! Take the basic idea and see what your imagination can do! Types 300-749, Tales of Magic, might be of particular interest.
Now that you’ve got your inspiration, it’s time for the hard work to begin. Every idea, no matter how original, takes thought and effort to spin into a captivating story. I can’t wait to see what you come up with!