Tuesday, December 27, 2016


Okay, this one is kind of fun, though I don't know how much mileage everyone's going to get out of it.  I imagine it would be more helpful with screen plays, but who knows?

Plotto by William Wallace Cook

Also known as Plotto: The Master Book of All Plots, this is quite literally a book of over 3,000 elements which writers can use to build plots.

A little backstory: William Wallace Cook was a dime novelist in the early 1900's who preportedly wrote a novel a week.  He lived in Michigan, had articles in the Detroit Free Press and the Chicago Times and was making some serious money on his stories by the age of twenty-four.  I'm not sure when he starting putting all of his "plot" ideas for the book together, but this is what came of it.

The Plotto system has a bit of a learning curve.  The way it's layed out in the book I have, characters are represented by symbols like "A" and "B" and the book is practically all tables, with Choose Your Own Adventure-like directions on which plot points lead to which others.

Plotto also works in two parts; the Masterplot, which consists of three clauses, "A," "B," and "C," where "A" is the protagonist's positon, "B" is action and "C" is continues and ends the action.  All Masterplot clauses in Plotto are interchangeable.

Example: A2+B10+C5 = A married person (A2) suffering from an estrangement due to mistaken judgement (B10), emerges from a trying ordeal with sorely garnered wisdom (C5).

After the masterplot, comes the conflict.  Each Plotto conflict is broken into parts, referred to as "conflict elements."  This is where things get a bit more complicated.

There are three main conflict groups, two of which, contain subgroups:
  • Conflict in Love and Courtship
  • Conflict in Marriage
  • Conflict in Enterprise
Love and Enterprise contain subgroups.  Examples of these are  "Conflicts in Love's Beginnings" and "Conflicts in Mystery" but there are many more.

Ready to kick this up another level?  Okay.  So, within these groups and subgroups live the Conflict Elements, which are split up into sections.

Section 1: Basic information about the CE - its number, which conflict group and subgroup it belongs to, and which clause (either B or C) it belongs to.

Section 2: Lead-ups.  Lead ups are CE's that can be used to build up to the CE you're looking at.

Section 3: The conflict element/s.  These are the actual bits of plot, written in code.

Example: "B (female character), a criminal, assumes an alias and makes use of stolen funds in evading the law"

Section 4: Carry-ons.  Similar to lead-ups except they're where you could go after this plot point.

Section 5: Variations on the CE.

If you end up getting your hands on the book there's a much better explanation and user's manual in there.


What I liked the most:

  • Flexability: I suspect there isn't a major plot under the sun that Plotto can't tackle.
  •  Writer's Block Buster:  Don't know what to write about?  Flip to a random page and trace a plot from there.  Who knows where it might lead?
  • Learn Plotting:  Do you have to follow Plotto's story lines in your story?  No.  But they might give those of us who have problems with dramatic structures a bit of a leg up.


What I liked the least:

  • It Reads Like Stereo Instructions: Put character A in CE45 with character B, move to CE187, variation 2A
  • Learning Curve:  As I said earlier, it's a little steep, and with characters being represented by letters and numbers, it can be easy to forget who is who and what is happening.  It's sort of like programming for fiction.
  • Slightly Dated:  I have an updated version of this book, but the original is a little stale and also kind of racist.  The new edition has been updated a bit and you can switch gender roles around easily enough, but it does sort of show its age in places.

This whole thing is sort of like if Sudoku and MadLibs had a baby and that baby could become a novel.  I've played with this a bit and am pretty convinced you could plot out almost anything, definitely every big movie that's come out in theaters, and every best seller.

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