A plot is simultaneously the most necessary and the least interesting part of a book. As a reader I’m far more easily hooked by character/voice/description, and if those are solid then the linear events that happen while those are being shown off isn’t a large concern. But as a writer, you completely need that line of events in order to have a short story or novel instead of a reeeally long and ungood prose-poem. What if you could just… delegate the plotting to someone else and free your mind to focus a little more on the parts you’re really in to? You can: your plotting intern’s name is William Wallace Cook.
Plotto, created by Cook in 1928, is a workbook for figuring out plots for novels and short stories. You begin by choosing three broad clauses from the lists at the front; the A clause describes your protagonist, the B clause provides the source of the conflict, and the C clause provides the resolution. There are thousands of sub-clauses you can look through and string together if you like the method, but I’d say the book’s first chapter is least worth experimenting with for any writer.
The clauses are all worded broadly enough that you can fit any existing novel into this system. If I were using Plotto while brainstorming my first novel, I would have gone with clauses A8, B22, and C10: “A person influenced by an obligation, following a wrong course through mistaken judgment, meets with an experience whereby their error is corrected.” That’s an accurate summary, but it does miss some important details. Why doesn’t it tell you the main character should be a gullible rich kid? Where are the warring factions of dirtbag leftists and self-absorbed indie films? Cook doesn’t provide those because he knew whoever’s reading it would have different approaches to stories than he would.
Plotto‘s basic plots are vague because it trusts that you’ll fill in those gaps in a way that’s wholly unique to you. My example plot up there leaves plenty of room to choose the particular kind of character you want to write, the story’s tone, the precise nature and details of their situation — you would write a completely different book from mine using that same basic plot because you’re a different writer. Plotto urges its readers to spackle their unique style and approach onto its plot-frames rather than trying to force you in to hard and trite formulas like Save the Cat. This is a book to help you figure out what to write, trusting that you either have the how under control or are canny enough to figure that out in short order. As someone who’d been in a bit of a rut trying to figure out what to write next, I’ve found it really helpful for generating ideas to build on.
Whether you’ve just got a character you’re enamored with but have no idea what they should be doing, sitting down for daily writing sessions and need somewhere to start, or just want your outlines to feel slightly more like filling out a Shadowrun character sheet, give Plotto a try.