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Plotto
January 8, 2012 4:16 PM   Subscribe

William Wallace Cook, seeking to help mechanize the art of novel writing, came up with the 1462 possible plots for all stories. He then devised the Plotto system, whereby an author need only consult the book of plots to construct the next best seller.
posted by reenum (58 comments total) 92 users marked this as a favorite

 
Dat plot.
posted by Wolfdog at 4:18 PM on January 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


whereby an author hack need only consult the book of plots to construct the next best sellerpotboiler.

See also: any random author who's had someone come up to them with a killer idea for a best seller, and tried to talk the author into writing a book based on the idea, generously offering to split the royalties fifty-fifty.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:37 PM on January 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Plots are a dime a dozen, same as in town.
posted by Celsius1414 at 4:37 PM on January 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


came up with the 1462 possible plots for all stories.

that's such bullshit. There's no more 1328.
posted by philip-random at 4:40 PM on January 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


If Hollywood movies are any guide, this overstates the number of possible movie plots by 1454.
posted by Davenhill at 4:46 PM on January 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


Buck works as a shoe salesman, but longs for the carefree life as a lifeguard.

No, wait, that's the Blotto system.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 4:52 PM on January 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


iPhone app in 10...9...8...
posted by briank at 4:53 PM on January 8, 2012


The best one is of course, the last one...
posted by Renoroc at 4:58 PM on January 8, 2012 [9 favorites]


Cook is more widely known by his pen name: Dan Brown.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:01 PM on January 8, 2012 [13 favorites]


This reminds me of the thread about the software that could evaluate stand up comedians based on number of laughs per minute and determined that the funniest man in the world was the guy from the Pow Wow Comedy Jam.

Except that the name Plotto is about one hundred kinds of awesome.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 5:02 PM on January 8, 2012


Is that wiki shared or just poorly moderated? There seem to be some odd ones out there that have nothing to do with this project.
posted by Blue_Villain at 5:05 PM on January 8, 2012


I haven't been through all 1462 plots yet, but I bet he missed "Crooks fake paranormal events to scare people away from something valuable; meddling kids (plus dog) uncover the plot & deliver crooks to justice"
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:09 PM on January 8, 2012 [17 favorites]


Putting an exact number on the cardinality of the set of plots is ridiculous. Different people will differ on how similar two plots can be before they are considered "the same plot" (see also melodies).
posted by Jpfed at 5:15 PM on January 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I dunno. I think this could be really fun to play with. In the hands of a talented writer, it could be used to crank out some interesting (or at least funny) stuff. Spin the wheel of plot points, see what comes up next.
posted by middleclasstool at 5:20 PM on January 8, 2012


This could come in handy for the next NaNoWriMo.
posted by jquinby at 5:22 PM on January 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


1,462? That's ridiculous! Try 31.
posted by FLAG (BASTARD WATER.) (Acorus Adulterinus.) at 5:30 PM on January 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


This is sort of a real version of Harlan Ellison's "Schenectady" answer when asked where he gets his ideas:
My answer is always the same -- since there is no answer to this query. At least neither Plato nor Socrates nor Shakespeare could make the codification. When some jamook asks me this one (thereby revealing him/herself to be a person who has about as much imaginative muscle as a head of lettuce), I always smile prettily and answer, "Schenectady."

And when the jamook looks at me quizzically, and scratches head with hairy hand, I add: "Oh, sure. There's a swell Idea Service in Schenectady; and every week I send 'em twenty-five bucks; and every week they send me a fresh six-pack of ideas."

And wouldja believe it...there is always some demento who asks me for the address.
I think my stock answer from now on will be: "Plotto."

Except, when I am asked I always give a really long-winded answer until the person I'm talking to starts to regret ever asking me this question. Hopefully by doing this I can spare writers the person meets down the line from that question. Though I kind of enjoy answering that question, to be honest, which is why I end up rambling.
posted by Kattullus at 5:34 PM on January 8, 2012


These are not really plots as such, more fairly generic story seeds.
posted by Artw at 5:36 PM on January 8, 2012


Seems a bit much. French writer Georges Polti (1867 - 1946) identified 36 basic plot lines in his 1916 book "The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations" that was later translated into English.
posted by haiku warrior at 5:37 PM on January 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm sure Cornelius makes good use of this device - most likely he has a first-edition copy on the shelf for quick reference.

"A wealthy American songstress researches the historical music of Paris, but when her torrid affair with a lowly cheese-boy suffers from class differences, more than just love is at stake."
posted by FatherDagon at 5:38 PM on January 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


(thus satisfying the Achewood Completeness Theorem of Mefi Thread Wholeness)
posted by FatherDagon at 5:39 PM on January 8, 2012


I love this, absolutely love it. It's the crazy-obsessed version of Polti (Plot 1300: Buck cannot stop subdividing the 36 Dramatic Situations), or the pulp version of Aarne-Thompson's "The Four Trillion Kinds of Fairy-Tales" or whatever it was their system was called. If nothing else, it gives you this weird need to randomly pick 3 or 4 of the plot items, and try to weave them together into a coherent story. Or maybe 5 or 6. Or fifty. OR ALL OF THEM IN ONE GIGANTIC EPIC.
posted by mittens at 5:40 PM on January 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Seems a bit much. French writer Georges Polti (1867 - 1946) identified 36 basic plot lines in his 1916 book "The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations" that was later translated into English.

Vladimir Propp can get you down to 31, but perhaps only if you're writing Russian fairy tales.
posted by hoyland at 5:42 PM on January 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've been looking through the categories like "Buck gives or receives a marriage proposal under unusual circumstances", "Buck is in trouble about a marriage proposal because of an error or misunderstanding", and "Marriage proposal disasters in the making" to find one that actually happened to my mother, but haven't found it yet:

She received a letter from one of her friends who was away to war. In it, the young man said that he had been thinking of no one but her, and was wondering if she would marry him when he returned home.

Unfortunately, though the envelope was addressed to my mother, the letter itself was addressed to my aunt.

So, she brought it to my aunt, saying she accidentally got this letter from him for her.

My aunt, in turn, had received from him a marriage proposal addressed to my mother.
posted by Flunkie at 5:43 PM on January 8, 2012 [49 favorites]


Gordian Plot! Hahaha so punny I love it!
posted by Enki at 5:52 PM on January 8, 2012


There should be some kind of game where you take one of these, a random TV Trope, and a random news story and try to make a story out of it.
posted by Artw at 5:55 PM on January 8, 2012 [10 favorites]


Flunkie just gave me the giggle of the week.
posted by middleclasstool at 5:56 PM on January 8, 2012


Hitchock, according to biographies, was addicted to Plotto. But he was just a hack.
posted by gorgor_balabala at 5:58 PM on January 8, 2012


And a Hitchcock.
posted by gorgor_balabala at 5:59 PM on January 8, 2012


Heinlein postulated that there were three plots for SF: Boy Meets Girl, The Little Tailor, and The Man Who Learned Better.

I'm not quite sure where Shit Blows Up Real Good fits into his scheme, though.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 6:07 PM on January 8, 2012


Propp identified 31 dramatic functions in his corpus. Not plots.
posted by Wolof at 6:12 PM on January 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, like I say, these are really not plots, more fragments of plots.
posted by Artw at 6:14 PM on January 8, 2012


My favourite plot fragment would certainly be Shit Blows Up Real Good, FWIW, possibly as a resolution to Some Mysterious Stuff Is Going On and Investigators do Investigating.
posted by Artw at 6:15 PM on January 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dat plot.

Oh my god.
posted by The Devil Tesla at 6:54 PM on January 8, 2012


I think we discovered a few years ago that all plots are improved by "and then he fought a yeti."
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:00 PM on January 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


BTDT, and SWMBO got the Stith Thompson Motif-Index of Folk Literature vol. 2 as a feast-of-Mammon gift. (Also, previously.)
posted by sourcequench at 7:05 PM on January 8, 2012


See also South Park's AWESOM-O: Cartman, as the robot, pitches over one thousand nonsensical ideas (800 of which star Adam Sandler), whilst the movie producers are gullible enough to buy them as brilliant.
posted by argonauta at 7:07 PM on January 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I haven't been through all 1462 plots yet, but I bet he missed "Crooks fake paranormal events to scare people away from something valuable; meddling kids (plus dog) uncover the plot & deliver crooks to justice"

I'm convinced that Scooby and the gang could only solve mysteries in which this was the solution. I imagine they would pull into a town with a missing kid, or a rash of unsolved bank robberies, and they would be all "ho, hum, nothing to see here", and just keep driving until they found a haunted amusement park.
posted by billyfleetwood at 8:07 PM on January 8, 2012 [7 favorites]


They're specialists. You wouldn't call Columbo in to work a case that wasn't an intricate murder by a smug genius.
posted by Artw at 8:13 PM on January 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm not quite sure where Shit Blows Up Real Good fits into his scheme, though.

It's the Michael Bay addendum.
posted by never used baby shoes at 9:25 PM on January 8, 2012


mittens: OR ALL OF THEM IN ONE GIGANTIC EPIC.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:29 PM on January 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am ignorant. Why is "dat plot" funny?
posted by reenum at 9:35 PM on January 8, 2012


"Dat plot" is a variant of "Dat ass" used by bronies.
posted by mokin at 10:01 PM on January 8, 2012


I think we discovered a few years ago that all plots are improved by "and then he fought a yeti."

Worked for The Empire Strikes Back.
posted by codswallop at 10:32 PM on January 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


There are only two kinds of plots, though?

- Shit happens
- Shit doesn't happen
posted by ymgve at 12:28 AM on January 9, 2012


Buck will take the Ring to Mordor, though he does not know the way.
posted by tykky at 2:54 AM on January 9, 2012


There are only two kinds of plots, though?

- Shit happens
- Shit doesn't happen


The genre/literary divide.
posted by Artw at 3:19 AM on January 9, 2012 [12 favorites]


I'm not sure shit doesn't happen counts as a plot.
posted by londonmark at 4:11 AM on January 9, 2012


londonmark obviously wasn't in my Intro to Fiction Writing class.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 4:30 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, it's a plot against you, the reader.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:33 AM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is "skinny nerd's dire warnings are ignored until it's almost too late and he becomes the hero and gets the girl, while other characters have learning moments tangential to the impending tragedy" in there?
posted by gjc at 4:39 AM on January 9, 2012


I think we discovered a few years ago that all plots are improved by "and then he fought a yeti."

No no no, it's "AND THEN THE EWOKS FUCKING JAM OUT".
posted by like_neon at 5:44 AM on January 9, 2012


The plot's the easy part. As a wise Twitterer said, writing fiction is 1% inspiration and 99% not dicking around on the internet.
posted by Hogshead at 7:39 AM on January 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


Kattullus: "This is sort of a real version of Harlan Ellison's "Schenectady" answer when asked where he gets his ideas"

Schenectady's zip code is 12345. Must be some connection there.
posted by Four Flavors at 9:46 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Which version of Cook's was the one where the boy is handed the watch that his father had hidden up his butt?
posted by digsrus at 9:49 AM on January 9, 2012


Which version of Cook's was the one where the boy is handed the watch that his father had hidden up his butt?

It depends on whose perspective the story comes from.

From Bruce Willis' perspective, maybe 980

From Christopher Walken' perspective, it could be 1021a or 985, although 1021b might be my favorite.

From the watch's perspective, I'd definitely go with 1474i.
posted by gauche at 10:48 AM on January 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


I think it was Joseph Campbell who asserted there were only two plots: (1) stranger comes to town, and (2) my awesome adventure.
posted by JimDe at 4:56 AM on January 10, 2012


There is a ton of Star Wars extended universe fiction. Can somebody direct me to any novel / comic book where Ewoks fight Wampas? I assume it exists (I'm a bit out of touch with the Extended Universe), and I would like to see it happen. I can only assume it ends with one eating the other.
posted by jabberjaw at 9:27 AM on January 10, 2012


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