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PlotWeaver
February 23, 2010 9:42 AM   Subscribe

Obsessed with xkcd's Movie Narrative Charts? (previously) So was Vadim Ogievetsky. For his final project in a Data Visualization course at Stanford, he developed a tool to generate his own, including the Star Wars Original Trilogy and Pulp Fiction. Now he offers the webapp online for you to take a stab at it.

Another Ogievetsky project of note is The Big Picture, a slick calendar and project management system.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis (70 comments total) 73 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is AWESOME!

The first person to do this for LOST, as per this question, wins the internet.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 9:47 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Truly among the best of the web. Thanks!
posted by theredpen at 9:49 AM on February 23, 2010


Wow. I want this is my screenwriting software.
posted by anigbrowl at 9:49 AM on February 23, 2010


I've always thought charts like that would be great ways to help develop plots for novels or movies, if you wanted to create anything complicated.
posted by delmoi at 9:52 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ha! This is great!
posted by brundlefly at 9:56 AM on February 23, 2010


I wonder if something like this might help George R.R. Martin finish A Dance with Dragons this decade.
posted by Iridic at 10:01 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I thought Pulp Fiction's timeline didn't make linear sense?
posted by gottabefunky at 10:04 AM on February 23, 2010


Great post!
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:05 AM on February 23, 2010


I've always thought charts like that would be great ways to help develop plots for novels or movies, if you wanted to create anything complicated.

You're not the first to think of it, either.. In the first chapter of Slaughterhouse Five, for instance, Kurt Vonnegut describes how he first outlined the story with crayons on the back of a roll of wallpaper, with a different colour for each character.
posted by daniel_charms at 10:08 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


my masterpiece
posted by 256 at 10:10 AM on February 23, 2010 [11 favorites]


I thought Pulp Fiction's timeline didn't make linear sense?

The movie is presented out of order, but it all lines up if you take it apart and put it back together.
posted by crickets at 10:15 AM on February 23, 2010


I call Princess Bride!
posted by muddgirl at 10:15 AM on February 23, 2010


Good luck muddgirl!
posted by Brainy at 10:19 AM on February 23, 2010


I call Castaway!
posted by IanMorr at 10:20 AM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


My Dinner With Andre. Imagine a freeway.
posted by Babblesort at 10:22 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Someone do Moon.
posted by haveanicesummer at 10:23 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'll eagerly await the Lebowski chart.
posted by theredpen at 10:23 AM on February 23, 2010


A shiny nickel and a hearty pat on the back for anyone crazy enough to do Synecdoche, New York.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 10:24 AM on February 23, 2010 [7 favorites]


Is anybody else having massive difficulties with this? Like adding a step deletes all the positions of the others? Quite a few usability issues here.
posted by Brainy at 10:25 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fight Club
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 10:26 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


If somebody could do Mulholland Drive, maybe I would be able to finally understand it.

Also, I saw a talk with Vonnegut once where mapped out several storylines (including Hamlet) where the y-axis was "happiness" and the x-axis was time.
posted by mach at 10:33 AM on February 23, 2010


I do this with a whiteboard and colored markers.
posted by The Whelk at 10:35 AM on February 23, 2010


Man, that's great.

There's a sort of symbolic ambiguity to having path cross each other that comes from the 2D layout, though—I realize that the absence of a brief true parallel between "passing" characters is enough to assume that it's just an incidental movement of character lines on the graph to make space, but it's something that could use refining somehow. Maybe by going dotted or faded-out at such transitions. Randall's use of "underpass" whitespace gaps works well, for example.

There's also a question of whether it makes sense to incorporate some kind of master- or time-track element into this; obviously time develops less than steadily for the purposes of most plots, but something flexible enough to be a sort of milestone tracker to supplement the current plot-moment indicators would be nice. The current grey-battle-puddle device does some of this, but it seems a bit klugey.

Really, it's a very neat tool. I hope it gets continued refinement.
posted by cortex at 10:39 AM on February 23, 2010


I'd like to see someone (less lazy than me) do either Memento or The Prestige
posted by octothorpe at 10:39 AM on February 23, 2010


I want someone to do one for the Problem Sleuth run of MS Paint Adventures.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 10:45 AM on February 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


I worked on the design team for a pair of video games based on a massive movie franchise trilogy. I had to sit down with all three scripts and all three movies and do this by hand with an Excel spreadsheet, so we could ensure continuity.

/me slaps forehead and wishes he had this tool back then
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:45 AM on February 23, 2010


Pretty cool, but will be cooler if someone can make something from it.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:48 AM on February 23, 2010


Fight Club.
posted by stavrogin at 10:53 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I tried doing Lost but my monitor turned into a klein bottle and disappeared.
posted by PlusDistance at 10:59 AM on February 23, 2010 [10 favorites]


How about Primer?
posted by gottabefunky at 11:04 AM on February 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


Here's a similar Memento diagram: Memento Timeline
posted by artlung at 11:05 AM on February 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


My rendition of Vladimir Propp's morphology of the folk tale.
posted by daniel_charms at 11:26 AM on February 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


How about Primer?

The joke was made in the XKCD as spaghetti curls, but a semi-coherent version can be found. I don't remember where I originally saw this, it was found this time by Google Image Search of "Primer Timeline".
posted by explosion at 11:46 AM on February 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


In the same vein as Primer, someone should do Timecrimes.
posted by brundlefly at 11:52 AM on February 23, 2010


This would work well with any number of William Gibson novels.
posted by mecran01 at 11:55 AM on February 23, 2010


delmoi: I've always thought charts like that would be great ways to help develop plots for novels or movies, if you wanted to create anything complicated.
I can't tell you how much I agree. I've long felt the same thing: a decent piece of software that lets you list out your characters, plots, locations, and then has an algorithm to detect problems automatically. It wouldn't even be in 2D, but really in 4D: the spatial relationships changing over time. You could set parameters such as possible speed of travel or communication that would be managed like event horizon cones, and be told that "Character A cannot be in location X and then location Y based on current travel speeds" or "Character C won't learn of event Z until 2 days have passed", etc. The interface would have to be pivotable (and this is a case where something like the Neo4j graph database would be fantastic, if it handled relationship lines that were time-sensitive) so you could filter/view by particular sets of characters, or locations, or events, or times, etc.

It'd be especially useful to do a last pass manual review where you look at the specific time/life line of each individual character at a time to say "Does this person's story make sense when looked at as their biography?" It would flesh out characters so each one, if you viewed their entire sequence in the life of the story/series, made coherent believable sense from a "human nature and behavior" angle. You'd catch early on that oddness such as "Character D had a huge battle with Character E, then nothing in the story line for 2 days, and now is hanging out with Character E like a buddy", which is a common problem in shows like "Heroes" et al where character motivation and behavior makes sense only when sloppy writers pick up a long-dormant character thread a year or two real-time later, when in show-time the character has only progressed a few days or weeks. As a viewer, I often find myself saying "Um, didn't that dude try to KILL you just a few days ago show time? Shouldn't you be a bit more 'I hate your guts'?"

It would be sweet as well because all of these shows that claim to have "show bibles"- such as BSG or Heroes or Lost- that then turn out to be fucking around with us could actually have the ability to plan out the whole series in advance in sketch form, and then be filling in details as they go that don't affect the plot arc but just add color and texture to the story (dialogue, shading, that sort of thing). This would make for cunning writing where some event that happens in season 1 is perfectly planned to make sense by season 4 or 5, and have the audience saying "Wow! Now THAT is some awesome foreshadowing!" The character arcs would be visible to the writers as real curves in space-time and elegant symmetries could be planned in advance that an intelligent audience would appreciate at the end of the show run, the way musicologists can dissect and appreciate the form and structure and symmetry of a Bach toccata or a Mozart symphony.

Of course, even the most sophisticated of such a software would break down in any rule-breaking genre, such as the time-looping nightmare that was Primer. :)

For example, even though it has gotten unwatchably bad, and I wasn't emotionally invested, I kept chuckling every time characters in this latest season of "Heroes" apparently criss-crossed the country without a thought. They're in California! They're in New York City! They're in Texas! Etc, etc- even for characters who didn't have power of supersonic flight, they sure seemed to get back and forth across the country at a moment's notice. Despite budget cuts, there's no excuse for such sloppiness.

Plotweaver seems like a first stab at that.
posted by hincandenza at 11:56 AM on February 23, 2010 [8 favorites]


Somebody do A Song of Ice and Fire and get back to me in 10 years when you're done. I'm sure that plot would be something to behold.
posted by mcstayinskool at 11:57 AM on February 23, 2010


I guess the problem I have is that the ones by xkcd are cool in an artistic sort of way that the software somewhat obliterates.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:58 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Wire would also be quite a project...so many lines not making it to the end of the paper...
posted by mcstayinskool at 11:59 AM on February 23, 2010


@mach He actually put most of those charts (and, uh, most of that talk...) in Man Without A Country. Worth reading just for the Kafka chart.
posted by NoraReed at 12:10 PM on February 23, 2010


Lost.
posted by stavrogin at 12:13 PM on February 23, 2010


Battlestar Galactica.
posted by vorfeed at 12:15 PM on February 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


I guess the problem I have is that the ones by xkcd are cool in an artistic sort of way that the software somewhat obliterates.

I think the software makes for a good working tool. If art if your goal, it might not get you there but it allows you to very quickly rough out your first draft, and you take it by hand from there.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:16 PM on February 23, 2010


The Prestige might look... thorny.
posted by Anything at 1:00 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've always thought charts like that would be great ways to help develop plots for novels or movies, if you wanted to create anything complicated.

I started doing this by hand for my first novel during the writing process and gave up.

Now that this tool exists, I am definitely going to use it for my second novel, which I am working on currently.

Incidentally, I just spent the last hour doing novel #1 (And that's just the major characters).
posted by 256 at 1:17 PM on February 23, 2010


OK, I got bored and didn't start going into the cameo characters (The Albino, Medicine Max) who are only in one location. Or like the King or anybody.
posted by muddgirl at 1:35 PM on February 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


muddgirl, I can't favorite your chart enough. That's my #1 movie ever.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 1:58 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


My one complaint about the flash software is that I wish I had a bit finer control over things like the placement of line names and the order and location of characters and events.
posted by muddgirl at 2:03 PM on February 23, 2010


Somebody should start a web site with version-controlled publicly editable PlotWeaver files. So you could upload yours as-is and somebody more bored than you could fill in the details. Eventually it would have a lot of movies represented in detail. Such a site would be pretty popular, I think.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 2:10 PM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


I kinda want to throw Infinite Jest into this, but I'd never be seen again.
posted by Schlimmbesserung at 2:33 PM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hey, TWPL:

Thanks for this link.
posted by darth_tedious at 2:41 PM on February 23, 2010


Huh? His plotweaver plot of the original Star Wars has obvious errors. For instance, Luke and Obi-wan's lines never come near each other. I am sorry, but the xkcd version is clearly superior.
posted by fings at 3:02 PM on February 23, 2010


It's only a model.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 3:22 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I give up. In plotweaver, how you you make a character's line cross through other characters lines?
posted by grumblebee at 4:25 PM on February 23, 2010


It would be really neat to merge this into Celtx, since it already has the ability to track characters between scenes for pre-production planning.

The Inform skein sort of encompasses some of this as well, but only for the single player games.
posted by autopilot at 4:31 PM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Battlestar Galactica

The "My Respect" line doesn't go down far enough at the end.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:47 PM on February 23, 2010


I'm usually all over information visualization, in an amateur I-have-an-English-degree sort of way, because it's cool for displaying stuff where the relationships might not otherwise be evident. But I don't quite get how helpful this would really be for narrative-- it's a fun trick, but what's the purpose? I don't mean to be contrary, but I can't be the only person who finds it actually pretty simple to track plots and who might also visualize them partly like this but also in blocks or scenes which connect. The underpinnings for a novel's plot should be easy to parse out-- LOTR actually has a really simple, albeit long, plot. And one recent novel that comes to mind-- Sarah Waters' Fingersmith-- has a gloriously convoluted plot that, because it hinges on questions of hidden identity and so on wouldn't register much on a graph like this at all. And if you are writing something that requires a chart for you to remember where the characters are at any given time in relationship to the plot and to each other I would humbly suggest that you are writing something too complicated to be enjoyed...
posted by jokeefe at 5:37 PM on February 23, 2010


a decent piece of software that lets you list out your characters, plots, locations, and then has an algorithm to detect problems automatically

Seriously? You can't keep track of that stuff in your head, or with a few notes? I'm just having one of those moments where I realize that not everybody processes stuff the way I do... carry on.
posted by jokeefe at 5:43 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


And if you are writing something that requires a chart for you to remember where the characters are at any given time in relationship to the plot and to each other I would humbly suggest that you are writing something too complicated to be enjoyed...

I disagree completely. I certainly agree that the reader shouldn't need a chart, but that's quite different from the writer needing one.
posted by 256 at 6:15 PM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


fings: Huh? His plotweaver plot of the original Star Wars has obvious errors. For instance, Luke and Obi-wan's lines never come near each other. I am sorry, but the xkcd version is clearly superior.

The xkcd one omits Luke ever setting foot on the Endor moon, neither one is perfect.
posted by paisley henosis at 10:50 PM on February 23, 2010


gottabefunky: "How about Primer?"

It's been awhile since I've seen it, but I think this is reasonably accurate.
posted by Rhaomi at 1:12 AM on February 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Shh.
posted by ikahime at 7:17 AM on February 24, 2010


btw, 256, are you planning to write more about your genetically modified soldier buried under the sand? Because that story stuck with me all day, and it did sound like a beginning that promised more to come...
posted by jokeefe at 10:51 AM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is cool, but I can't figure out how to merge two characters together. The tutorial says Select the “Merge” tool and merge Wall-E and Roach together in the first time slice. But how exactly? What do you do after you click on "Merge"?
posted by Tin Man at 11:52 AM on February 24, 2010


Yeah, it's sort of confusing.

Click on the Merge button.

Click and hold one joint that you want to merge.

Drag it over to the other joint that you want to join it to. When you un-click, they should be merged for the rest of the remaining timeline.
posted by muddgirl at 12:00 PM on February 24, 2010


Here's the best I could do with Wonder Boys and two hours of my life that I'll probably never get back.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:30 PM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


And, because I just couldn't help myself - here's Kill Bill.
posted by Navelgazer at 5:42 PM on February 24, 2010


Since it happens to be what I'm working on right now, I made a chart for "The Tempest" (omitting all the spirits except Ariel).
posted by grumblebee at 7:58 AM on February 25, 2010


By the way, this will be extremely useful to me as a director. In my company, we "double," meaning one actor will often play multiple roles. Doubling is always a headache to work out, because you usually don't want an actor to play two characters who meet.

Until now, I've been using Excel to make charts of which characters appear in which scenes. This gives me a much more intuitive picture of that data. I'm going to have to take a look at its save-as format. Hopefully, it's XML and not binary. I'd rather construct these charts with a text format than dragging points around, which gets tedious if characters are merging and splitting a lot.

PS. I may be dumb, but it took me forever to get that in order to merge two characters, you have to switch to the merge tool and then drag one character's point onto another character's point. I was choosing merge and then clicking both points -- or trying to marquee-select them.
posted by grumblebee at 8:03 AM on February 25, 2010


btw, 256, are you planning to write more about your genetically modified soldier buried under the sand?

Whoa, blast from the past. K5 Survivor's Club secret handshake.
posted by 256 at 11:27 AM on February 25, 2010


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