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!

  1. Atlas Obscuraatlas obscura logo. 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.
  2. Art Stationartstation logo. 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.
  3. 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!
  4. Myth & Moormyth and moor logo. 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!).
  5. Fantasy Plot Generatorreedsy logo. 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.
  6. Pinterestpinterest logo. 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.
  7. National Geographicnational geographic logo. 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!
  8. Mythulumythulu logo. 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.
  9. Encyclopedia Mythicaencyclopedia mythica logo. 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.
  10. 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!

 

Dropping “suddenly” at the beginning of a sentence is a shorthand way of creating tension due to an unexpected change in circumstances. But it is not meaningful tension, and it can disrupt the pacing of a scene without adding anything of value.

I do think there are appropriate times to use suddenly — usually when tension is already high. For example, someone is watching a tightrope performance when, suddenly, the wire snaps. In this example, the “suddenly” is a release from tension you’ve already established, the cat jumping out at you after you’ve slowly creeped down the stairs to the unlit basement.

When “suddenly” pops out on you in a low or no tension situation, though, it’s like Bilbo opening his door and finding Freddy Krueger there. Sure, it’s startling, but does it carry any real narrative value? Surprises in fiction are better when they are anticipated, at least on a subconscious level, which the crafty writer can do by carefully weaving in atmospheric distractions and clues before and during the surprise, and by depicting the POV character’s surprised reaction after.

So before that knife-wielding assassin steps out from behind the arras, make sure the POV char notices the arras, and the way the moonlight is making puddles of shadow on the floor, and how many things they have on their to-list for the next day, and then when there’s a whoosh of heavy fabric as the figure steps out in front of them, moonlight glinting off the tip of their blade, the reader’s heart will stop right along with the POV character’s, no suddenly needed.

If I could make one rule for writers universally true, it would be this: join a critique group.

Now, that might seem like a self-defeating recommendation for me to make, when I’m over here trying to sell you editing services. Why would I suggest that potential clients seek out an alternative source for critique on their manuscripts — one that doesn’t cost anything?

I assure you, I’m not trying to run myself out of business.

Critique groups have much to offer writers beyond direct feedback on their manuscripts. And the truth is, the feedback you do get in a group is probably not going to be all that useful to you. While you may be lucky enough to have one or two writers in your group who are capable critiquers, the piecemeal nature of the operation — a few pages reviewed here and there over the course of many months — is going to work against you. Nobody can keep a whole novel in their head under those circumstances. Nobody is going to be able to give you holistic feedback. Which is not to say you won’t get good advice… but it’s only going to be partial advice.

So, no, I’m not suggesting that you join a critique group because they’re going to help you fix your story.

You should join a critique group because you will learn how to fix your story yourself.

How Critiquing Helps You Develop Good Writer Instincts

“You have to read to be a writer.” That’s pretty universal advice that I’m not going to dispute, buti it’s most often interpreted to mean, “You should read good writers.” By reading the best, you’re giving yourself a good example to aim for.

But while it’s easy to appreciate well-written stories, it’s harder to understand why it all works. You can study the rules, sure. There are countless books and magazines and websites where you can learn techniques for writing, everything from “don’t use adverbs” to the intricacies of crafting story beats. So much good advice out there.

But nothing will hone your gut-level instincts of story crafting so much as having to dissect someone else’s less-than-exemplary pages and then verbalize how they might be able to improve them.

It’s that verbalization that’s the key element. If you’re a writer, and you’ve been studying the craft, you probably have a pretty good idea of what makes a good story, even if it’s just a gut level instinct about whether it’s good or not.

But when you have to stop and constructively explain exactly why something is good or not, then you’re going to elevate that gut instinct to a true mastery of craft. Being able to tell another writer that the pacing is off, or the sentence structure is awkward, or that the characters are underdeveloped — when you can identify what the actual problems are and not just that they made you bored or confused — then you are going to internalize all those lessons from books and magazines and blogs and be able to apply them more effectively to your own work. It’s a version of that old teacher’s secret: the best way to learn something is to have them explain it to someone else.

Being part of a critique group, online or in person, can be a huge time commitment, but there is no better learning experience for a developing writer. Approach the work of other writers analytically (without being judgmental) and you will unearth a wealth of knowledge and experience that you can bring to your own writing.

Plus, you will gain the benefit ofinteracting with other writers. Writing can be a lonely journey. It helps a few to find companions along the way.