Yeah, I know, I usually post fun resources on Friday, but the post I planned to write today depended on my getting a specific photo from last night's dress rehearsal of Peter & the Starcatcher, and for reasons known only to the theatre gods I was not paying attention and missed it. Oh well, Cras melior est.
Today's resource is a doozy: Plotto: the master book of all plots, written by one William Wallace Cook in 1928. Cook was an über-prolific dime novelist at the turn of the last century, and he compiled this monster of a book to aid other writers in generating plots.
It's not an easy book to get into. Cook wrote in that stilted, professorial style so common in 'how-to' books of that time, and sometimes that makes the actual message hard to absorb. Sometimes his plot ideas seem frozen in a simpler time; after all, he was writing for the pulp fiction market of 100 years ago. Add to that the complexity of his system of plot generation, and you may decide the book is not worth the effort to master.
Here's the thing, though: once you even halfway understand what his system is trying to do, it's not that hard to work your way through it. (He does include a series of lessons at the end of the book that both instruct you in how to use the book and how to turn the bare-bones ideas into full plots.)
And even if you don't ever understand his method, you can still turn to any page at random to provoke some heavy creative thinking.
For example, from p. 251:
(54) BECOMING INVOLVED IN A PUZZLING COMPLICATION THAT HAS TO DO WITH AN OBJECT POSSESSING MYSTERIOUS POWERS
(a) (789) (980_*) (985) (1342) (1369) < — [these refer to previous entries that could provide lead-ins to this plot element]
A [the hero] comes innocently into possession of an object of mystery, X, highly prized by the person, or the people, who lost it or had it stolen...
Ignoring Cook's arcane system, you could simply choose to work on this to develop your own ideas:
- Bob picks up what he thinks is a coin from the sidewalk, but it's actually a talisman protecting NYC from Zuul.
- Bob buys a necklace from a pawn shop for his girlfriend; it's actually a Romanov artifact deposited by the Russian mob at the pawn shop for later retrieval.
- Bob sees a woman drop an envelope and picks it up to return it to her, but she vanishes in the crowd. It contains... I don't know, make up your own MacGuffin.
Even simpler: pick three random numbers (1–15, 1–62, 1–15) and select a Protagonist Clause ("A"), Initiating Clause ("B"), and Terminating Clause ("C") from the Masterplots with Interchangeable Clauses. Yes, it's literally one from Column A, etc.
So 3-52-8 gives us:
- A Lawless Person,
- Encountering a would-be transgressor and seeking to prevent a transgression,
- Achieves a spiritual victory.
Hm. Sounds like Despicable Me to me.