Writing a novel can be daunting enough for anyone, let alone beginners who don't have much experience writing upwards of 10k words and structuring an entire story into the three-act structure, which is the most common story format. Besides the actual writing and structuring, the planning stage can be just as stressful, especially if you don't know where to start with character creation, plotting or planning.
However, there's a super effective way to write a novel without inventing brand-new characters, settings, or plotlines - literally using ideas that have already been created. You'd still need to jigsaw everything together to produce a coherent story that's worth reading, and by no means is it an easy way out, but using premade concepts could be a helpful starting point if you're new to fiction writing.
You may be thinking, "No, that's plagiarism!" but I'm not talking about copying someone else's novel, I'm referring to the endless list of public ideas that anyone can use as inspiration.
Let me explain.
1. Fairy Tales, Folklore, Legends, and Mythology
If you have an interest in fairy tales, folklore, legends, and mythology, you have a HUGE variety of characters, stories and settings to choose from, so much so that you'd never run out of ideas!
And the great thing is that you'd be able to make the story your own without worrying about sticking to the facts, unlike a historical fiction novel. Granted, it's always best to research before you write so you have a general idea of these ancient tales, but you're essentially free to twist them in a way that suits you.
For example, you could write a modern adaptation of Cinderella, perhaps set in a popular bar in town, or you could create a genderbent version of Robin Hood - maybe Robin could become Robyn, and his Merry Men could become her Merry Maids.
These are just a few examples that entered my head on the spot, but you'll probably have other ideas based on the stories you may have loved as a child, or still adore now.
Here's a list of areas and topics you could use for your novel:
Beauty and the Beast
Hansel and Gretel
Wizards and witches
Even if a lot of these topics are usually associated with fantasy, you could adapt them to your preferred genre. For example, you could create a murder mystery at Camelot, or use a western setting for a Robin Hood story.
2. Historical Fiction
Although many people found history boring at school, historical fiction, period dramas, and war films are incredibly popular, with every other series or movie being based around some kind of historical figure, event or setting. People who still find history boring or just generally uninteresting may wonder how authors, screenwriters and directors continue to create an abundance of period pieces, and the answer is: because history is endless.
If you're a history buff and have a keen interest in the past, you'll never run out of stories to write, characters to bring back to life and events to recreate. Even if you're only interested in one aspect of history - pirates for example - there are still multiple different tales to be told.
Related Post: 6 Fun Ways to Research Before Writing a Historical Novel
For example, consider the Pirates of the Caribbean films, they're probably the most well-known stories about pirates, but there's also the TV series Black Sails and The Lost Pirate Kingdom, the books Treasure Island and Daughter of the Pirate King and even an Assassin's Creed video game called Black Flag. These are just a few examples, and there will be countless others out there, but it just shows that an endless number of stories can be written from one part of history.
You may or may not be into pirates, so here is a list of other areas of history that you could use:
Apartheid & Racism
Mayans and Aztecs
Salem Witch Trials
World War One & Two
Obviously there are so many more areas on the historical timeline, but these are a selection of the most popular points in the past that crop up over and over again, so feel free to use these topics for your book if one jumps out at you!
If you like the idea of writing a historical novel but have no idea where to start, check out this blog post that teaches you exactly how to plan a historical novel in 3 easy steps.
3. Crime and Mystery
Many writers think that to write a decent crime or mystery novel, they need to create their own character, plot and setting, but that doesn't have to be the case all the time.
Unfortunately, the world isn't as rosy as we'd all like it to be, so there's plenty of real-life cases that could act as the foundation for your book, which is actually how many crime dramas are created, such as Criminal Minds, Des, and Inventing Anna.
However, like historical fiction, if you're going to base your novel on a real criminal, detective or case, you'll need to do as much research as possible to ensure that everything you write is accurate, otherwise your book will appear unauthentic. But the good news is, you won't need to invent anything as all the information you'll need will already exist.
As an example, you could write a first-person narrative from Jack the Ripper's POV and the detective trying to catch him; you could write a novel from the perspective of an inmate who lived in a cell next to a famous serial killer; or maybe a book set in Broadmoor Hospital.
Here are a few more areas and topics you could focus on:
Burglary & robbery
Cyber attacks & hacking (Anonymous)
Fraud (Anna Delvey)
Hate crimes (Sophie Lancaster)
Historical cases (e.g., Jack the Ripper)
Historical and modern slavery
Ongoing cases (e.g., Madeleine McCann)
Racial attacks (e.g., Stephen Lawrence, George Floyd)
Terrorist attacks (e.g., Twin Towers)
Some of these topics in the list above would need less invention and imagination that others, for instance if you wrote about a real criminal or a very specific case, but others could be used as inspiration for your own ideas. For example, if you chose to base your novel around domestic abuse, you could base the characters and story on personal experiences, or on someone you know, so you wouldn't need to make anything up.
Some people prefer facts over fiction, so if you're one of them, you may want to write a non-fiction book instead of a novel, which would also mean that you wouldn't need to invent anything either. However, like historical fiction, non-fiction is a broad area, so you might want to think about which type of non-fiction book to write.
For example, here's a short list of ideas:
Creative (e.g., art, crafts and hobbies)
Informative (e.g., How-to guides and manuals on various topics)
Textbooks for education
Within these different categories, there will be thousands of topics you could write about, depending on your interests, and you wouldn't need to invent anything either - just an abundance of research and references to ensure accuracy.
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For example, if you're passionate about cooking and have a few family recipes up your sleeve, you might like to compile them all into a book alongside some professional photos of your dishes; or you may decide to write a biography about someone you know or a famous person you admire; or you could write a self-help book about something you've personally struggled with and overcome.
These are just a few examples, but the options for non-fiction are endless, and you wouldn't need to invent anything at all. Most of the information is already out there, you just need to research from the most reliable sources to ensure that your book is as credible as possible.
5. Fictional Truth
If any of these options aren't for you, you could simply write a novel based on a real person, event or setting, meaning that you wouldn't be creating anything from scratch because the elements in your novel already exist. For example, maybe you experienced an intense relationship full of drama and embarrassing moments that could make a gripping romance; or perhaps your residential area has a high crime rate, acting as inspiration for a series of mystery novels. It could be possible that someone in your family fought in a war and has endless stories about being a soldier, which you could use for your novel, or maybe you can just vision one of your closest friends as the hero in a scenic fantasy world.
A lot of authors are known to use real people, events, situations or locations for their novels, so it wouldn't be uncommon if you did the same. For instance, Rick Riordan heavily used his son as inspiration for Percy Jackson; J. K. Rowling based Ron Weasley on her best friend; and Agatha Christie used her surroundings in her mystery novels.
No one's going to know who or what has inspired your novel, unless you tell people or it's glaringly obvious, so why not use things around you to write a novel without inventing everything from nothing?
Good luck and let me know in the comments how you get on! :)
Hey! I'm Chelsea and I'm a professional book editor at Stand Corrected Editing, my independent editorial business in the UK. If you would like to have your manuscript thoroughly edited by myself, please get in touch!
With my book editing and proofreading services, I hope to spread my knowledge and expertise on how to make your novel a success, and be a mentor to others who desperately want to pursue a fruitful career as an author!