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3 Easy Ways to Generate Plot Ideas for Your Thriller

One of the most common questions authors receive is where the idea for a novel came from. The answer is as varied as the authors themselves. Inspiration can strike at any time, in any place, and under any circumstance. In this post, we’ll focus on three easy ways to get story ideas for your next novel.

News Headlines

The news can be fertile ground for novelists, an idea room unto itself. One of the most powerful weapons in an author’s arsenal is the question What if? The possibilities are endless and the results can be explosive when combined with imagination and creativity.

Scan news headlines on your phone or watch on Television. Which stories jump out at you? Then ask yourself, what if? Run with the ideas, turn them upside down and inside out, fill in the blanks where the news left off in your own unique way.

One of my favorite ideas for a thriller originated from the Isabella Gardner Museum heist that occurred in Boston 31 years ago. Thieves made off with thirteen works of art, estimated to be worth $500 million. To this day, the art has never been recovered nor the perpetrators caught. The FBI is still actively investigating the theft.

Who pulled off one of the biggest art heists in history, and how were the thieves able to elude authorities for 30 plus years? Where is the stolen art? How simple or sophisticated was the plan? Was it an inside job? When a news story sparks your interest, create a list of ten to twenty questions, and then put your imagination to work on coming up with answers. Brainstorm with a friend. Before long, your plot will begin to develop, along with other critical story elements.


Dreams are often confusing or downright ridiculous which make them the perfect avenue for plot ideas. Think about how a dream should have ended if you woke up before it did. How did you feel? Where did the dream take place? Who occupied the dream, strangers or people who inhabit your real-world existence? The goal is to find the spark or one nugget that could turn into a plot point. I’m in no way suggesting that every dream is a potential novel. Part of the process is being selective about which ideas have the most potential.

One morning years ago, my husband turned to me and said he had a dream that I should write a novel called Swan. He gave me a two-sentence plot synopsis from the dream that fell squarely in the thriller genre, and off I went. That’s how the novel Swan Deception was born.

Social Gatherings

Have you ever attended a social gathering and picked up on multiple conversations taking place around you? Perhaps at a wedding, cocktail party or even dinner at a restaurant? Human beings are wired for storytelling so don’t let your next gathering go to waste. Did you observe odd body language between a couple? Perhaps they got into an argument. What was the argument about? Did you overhear something shocking? Did a certain guest scan the room first, and quietly slipped out when they thought no one was watching? Where did they go? Who did they meet? Pay attention to verbal as well as non-verbal communication.

There are endless story ideas out there but for the thriller writer, turning those ideas upside down and infusing them with the key elements that make thrillers one of the most popular fiction genres goes a long way toward crafting an unputdownable story.

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