It’s a new year and we have a whole new round of NaNoWriMo sessions ready to help us write all the words! The first of which, Camp NaNoWriMo, starts in only a few weeks on April 1st.
For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, which is technically in November, but there are two slightly more casual ‘Camp NaNoWriMo’ sessions that run in April and July. Anyway, as you might be able to tell from the name, it’s a whole month dedicated to writing a novel – specifically fifty thousand words of one. That works out to about 1,667 words every day for thirty days, which is also a lot harder than it sounds.
Anyway, more than once I have found turning to writing prompts and story generators really helpful for triggering new ideas and getting myself unstuck when I’m writing a story. It can bring some much-needed randomness (and I mean that quite literally), to a story that feels predictable, or one that you’ve just grown tired with.
With that in mind, I did a little digging all over the internet to pull up what I think are some of the best plot generators for writers. Whether you jump into Camp NaNo with no story at all or you find yourself stuck in the middle of April, July or November, hopefully some of these story prompts will get you back in the groove.
There is a slight bias here for fantasy plot generators – there are a lot more of them around, especially with the rising popularity of Dungeons and Dragons (side note, if you’re a DM, a lot of these resources will work really great for you too!), but there are definitely some generators here that will work for you regardless of what you’re going to write.
You will also find lots of other cool generators on these websites – everything from villains to what food your protagonists might eat, so tread with caution – these can become something of a time sink if you’re not careful. Loads of a fun, though.
Anyway, on with the generators!
This one is quite unique in that it gives you only a tiny snippet – maybe you have your main character but you need a situation to put them in. Maybe you have a great plot idea but no idea where to set it – it generates each piece separately, which also means if there is something you like, you can keep that piece and continue to randomly generate the rest of the prompt until you find something you’re interested in writing. It also has a very local setting generator, a character generator, and one of the coolest gens I’ve seen in a while – a first line generator. If you fear a blank page, this could be invaluable.
A woman in her early thirties, who is very inspirational. A man in his early forties, who can be quite rebellious. The story begins on a train. A neighbour is involved in a love triangle. It’s a story about the effects of war. Your character attempts to keep a low profile
This is definitely one of the coolest generators on this list, in that it will generate a story concept for you with fleshed-out characters and settings. It doesn’t create a plot in so much as it lays the foundations of one, so I’m not sure how much it will help. Might make for a fun writing exercise though.
Seventh Sanctum is a classic for generators of all kinds, but I really like the simplicity of their story generator. Firstly, is that it lets you pick the type of story you want to write, but it also gives you numerous results to choose from. There is likely going to be something that catches your eye and you don’t have to click randomize 25 times to get something. The prompts it generates are just specific enough to get you writing. There are also a ridiculous number of other prompts on there – lost civilizations, magical objects and spells, and even pirate ship names. Some of these definitely lend themselves more to your tabletop rpgs, but if you’re writing a litRPG? Perfect.
The story is about an ambassador who is engaged to a king. It takes place on a storm-torn world artificially created by magic. The story begins with the failure at a test, climaxes with an addiction, and ends with smuggling.
While not quite as varied as some of the other generators on this list, it does give you a few options depending on how much detail you want. You can have something as simple as a premise and leave the rest of the details up to you, or you can generate a complete story with beginning, middle and end. I’m not sure how it works, but a lot of the premises generated with this one make a lot of sense and sound like the sorts of things you’d read on the back of a book. I think they’re pretty damn cool, and maybe you will too. Bonus points for having a solar system, species and planet generator for those sci-fi writers out there.
Having enjoyed a peaceful life up until now, everything the main character thought they knew suddenly turns out to be a lie when they are accused of being a part of a rebel movement which launches a devastating attack on the city; it threatens their current situation.
Definitely one of the newer ones on my radar, and I happen to really like how simple it is. Not only can you choose the genre you want to write, but you can also lock elements you want to keep so you can continue to generate until you find something that vibes with you.
A paranormal investigator, who has outrageous moral inflexibility.
A xenobiologist, who is a smart ass.
It’s a soft science fiction story about a fight for independence. It kicks off on Mars with the arrival of a powerful spacefaring clan.
(Note that: someone in the story has a lot of hard lessons to learn.)
And there’s a twist! The story is a retelling of a Greek myth.
This was the first one I ever found, and definitely has that sort of RPG-flair to it. Still, there are dozens of generators on there from holidays, to flags, potions, and spaceships. Everything your little sff heart could want (or need). As with any of these generators, please browse responsibly. It also has a few story-related generators for your creative needs.
If you’re a DM for D&D or Pathfinder or anything like that, I cannot recommend this site enough. It has some really awesome dungeon generators and inn generators that are honestly so cool to look at. It also has some adventure generators, but, given the nature of the website, they have a decidedly fantastical flavour. Still, if you’re in the mood to write light-hearted, trope-filled, pulpy fantasy (and I mean that in the most loving way possible, cross my heart), I’d check this one out. I would note, that rather than a true generator, it randomly generates a small set of prewritten story prompts. While this means the prompts themselves have a lot more internal continuity than some, it also means you’re pulling from a limited pool. Just something to think about.
A phantom river barge sails past a small town once per month, leaving malevolent, supernatural occurences in its wake.
Another super cool generator I found recently that can generate a full fantasy storyline for you. We’re talking theme, main character, villains – primary and secondary, plot hooks, climaxes and red herrings. It’s actually a really cool generator, and I’d definitely like to try writing a short story inspired by this website. It also has a lot of other cool stuff, including a planet generator that I was once very obsessed with.
The newest addition to my growing collection of plot generators. Definitely has that sort of comical randomness you see in some generators, but you can find some gems. I’m not as familiar with this one, but there is definitely some potential for writers in need of a creative pick-me-up.
This story involves a quiet con artist, a park, chains, knife, and an attempted murder.
Why Use A Plot Generator?
I admit it might seem kind of weird and counter-intuitive to use a plot generator. Maybe it makes the ideas less special, either because it was randomly stuffed together or because someone else might have written it already.
But, and I’ve mentioned this before – ideas are cheap. What matters is what you do with them. Two people with the same idea will still write vastly different stories. And while it might seem like a jumble of ideas, it’s up to your unique human brain to connect seemingly unrelated things in a way that is entertaining and adds meaning. I think there are a lot of benefits to utilizing a plot generator that shouldn’t be disregarded, whether you’re participating in a session of NaNoWriMo or not.
It can get you in the right frame of mind
Sometimes just thinking about a story in simple terms can really put you in the right frame of mind. I find this is especially true when I’m outlining. Rather than get caught up in the nitty-gritty, which I tend to do, I need to look at the story as a whole. Something about these plot generators, stripping down a story concept to only its bones, really helps me think about narrative in a very different way. It helps me take that step back.
It’s a good warm up exercise
Sometimes we take breaks from writing, and sometimes that means we come back rusty. Trust me, I know this, as I struggle to get back into a workable writing habit. But I’ll talk about that some other time. Rather than spend hours working towards a draft and have clunky dialogue and too many paragraphs that need cutting, maybe give your brain a warm-up session with something simple – something that gets the words flowing but doesn’t necessarily use up the creative juices.
Might also be good for experimenting with characters and genres you might be unfamiliar with or uncomfortable with writing for something as long as a novel.
It can help you brainstorm when you’re stuck
Sometimes you fall out of love with an idea. Sometimes you have a really great idea for a plot or a character, but the rest of the story eludes you. Sometimes you get stuck in a story and you need something to shake up the characters or situation. Much like the first point, sometimes all you need is a bit of direction or inspiration. And generators have that in spades.
If this is going to be your first year participating in NaNoWriMo, it can be really hard to figure out what you want to write. If you’re a new writer in any sense of the word, it can be really hard to figure out where to start. And to any newbies struggling, I would absolutely recommend you spend some time on a plot generator with a notebook handy to scribble any ideas that grab you. What you need to do is get to writing. Your ability to brainstorm and develop ideas will come with time and practice.
That being said, I don’t think you should rely solely on generators because they tend to be very tropey and repetitive. But they are a tool, and when used in the right way, I think they can be extremely helpful for any blocked writers, and that is especially true during NaNoWriMo, when it’s all about writing as fast as you can. Creativity and originality take a back seat to writing habits and output when you’re trying to write 50k in one month.
What Do You Think About Plot Generators?
Have you used them before? Do you think they’re a good tool for writers or do you think they are better left alone? Have any you think I should add to the list? Let’s chat about them in the comments below!