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The Master Book of All Plots

by William Wallace Cook

Hardcover, 438 pages, Tin House Books, List Price: $24.95 |


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The Master Book of All Plots
William Wallace Cook

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Prolific American author William Wallace Cook churned out dozens of dime store adventure novels up until his death in 1933. Along the way, he developed an intricate personal system for plotting his stories, a method he recorded in Plotto: The Master Book of All Plots. A codex of nearly every situation, conflict and resolution imaginable, Plotto schematizes the business of writing gripping narratives.

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Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: Plotto


THE PLOTTO METHOD. Plotto achieves creative art in fiction by a new Method of plot suggestion. Suggestion is based on Themes (or Masterplots) and Conflicts.

THEME. Every story has a Theme, or an underlying proposition that indicates its type. The Theme may be clear-cut and distinct, or shadowy and vague; it is always in evidence, and differentiates one type of story from all the other types. Around each Theme any number of distinctly different stories may be written.

A story may be constructed with, or without, a certain Theme in mind. Rarely perhaps does a writer begin a story with a set Theme in front of him. He may develop his plot from a situation, or Conflict; nevertheless, as the plot develops the Theme develops with it. The writer will feel the Theme and, consciously or unconsciously, combine his Conflicts to a certain pattern. This pattern, plain in the finished work, will conform to a Theme. When a story is built around a Theme, the Theme becomes a Masterplot.

The Plotto Method enables the Plottoist to begin his story with a Masterplot and marshal his situations or Conflicts in conformity to it; or, it enables him to begin with a situation or Conflict and consciously to watch the particular Theme as the plot unfolds.

MASTERPLOTS WITH INTERCHANGEABLE CLAUSES. Each Plotto Masterplot classifies in general terms and in a single terse sentence a certain type of story. Each Masterplot consists of three Clauses: An initial Clause defining the protagonist in general terms, a middle Clause initiating and carrying on the action, and a final Clause carrying on and terminating the action. Suggestions for exemplifying the action with concrete situations are offered by the Conflicts.

THE CONFLICTS. Desire, in some one of its many forms, is responsible for the awakening of Purpose. Something from without, impinging upon something within, excites a feeling or an emotion, and the soul flows into Purpose, and Purpose into action. Then, somewhere on the path of rising action, Purpose encounters Obstacle. At this point, and at this point only, do we establish what writers of creative fiction call a situation. Purpose alone never made a situation; Obstacle alone never made one; but strike the flint of Obstacle with the steel of Purpose and sparks of situation begin to fly.

Plotto, as a Method of plot suggestion for writers of creative fiction, is founded upon this law: Purpose, expressed or implied, opposing Obstacle, expressed or implied, yields Conflict.

PURPOSES AND OBSTACLES. How many Purposes are there in the world? Not many, although their variations are infinite. Perhaps, in the last analysis one General Purpose would comprehend all the Purposes: to achieve happiness. That is the end and aim of life on this planet. But happiness has a different meaning for most of us. There is the happiness of love and courtship, of married life, of achieving wealth or power by all the many methods, good or evil, that may be contrived by the thinking mind, Religion may be the road to happiness for some, and revenge the road to a doubtful happiness for others. The virtues or the faults of a human soul set the pattern of Purpose for that soul.

Plotto concerns itself with but one General Purpose in its application to three general goals of endeavor:

1. To Achieve Happiness in Love and Courtship.

2. To Achieve Happiness in Married Life.

3. To Achieve Happiness (Success) in Enterprise.

Yet, while this one General Purpose runs through all the Conflicts, a host of subordinate Purposes will appear in them, opposed by an infinite number of Obstacles.

There is one Supreme Purpose in every life: to live; and there is one Supreme Obstacle each life encounters: death. Complicating the scheme and giving zest to the plot of life are innumerable subordinate Purposes and Obstacles, dealing with all the enterprises of which life is capable.

Overshadowed by the Supreme Purpose of life, and the Supreme Obstacle of death, we wage our mimic wars of conquest and gain; but, at any minute, the Supreme Purpose may fail, and Death come striding into our finite calculations and calling a truce. There is also a Paramount Purpose in all the lesser activities of our existence, opposed by a Paramount Obstacle; and they marshal their secondary Purposes and Obstacles to keep us "on our toes" and fighting valiantly for all we have, or hope to have. Blessed be Purpose! And thrice-blessed be Obstacle!

The Conflicts in Plotto are brief statements of Purpose in active opposition with Obstacle — situations which are to be combined with other situations. For instance: "A, in love with B, is not favored by F-B, father of B." Here is the implied Purpose, "To Achieve Happiness in Love," meeting an Obstacle bluntly expressed.

Purpose and Obstacle give concrete exemplification of the Theme in every form of fictional narrative, whether short story, novelette, or novel.

From Plotto: The Master Book of All Plots by William Wallace Cook. Copyright 2012 by Tin House Books. Excerpted by permission of Tin House Books.