PLOTTO: How Writers Use Imagination for Creative Plotting
Mastering Plotto Training Series 7
Note: One of the master writers of our age was William Wallace Cook. Producing often a novel per week, he was also a student of dramatic plots. This lesson from his long unavailable “Mastering Plotto” book gives you inside tips on how to improve your story output by coming up with plots more simply. An online version of his PLOTTO is available from Gary Kacmarcik for the exercises below. Enjoy.
This is to be the last lesson; and in this, the final lesson, there are several important matters to be discussed.
First, there is one very helpful practice in connection with the Plotto Method, and it has to do with what may be called “individualizing Plotto.” You individualize Plotto, of course, when you interpret Conflict suggestions originally, but it is possible to go a step further.
Every writer collects material which he thinks may be of use in his work. The material may be in the form of newspaper clippings, or of notes jotted down in a commonplace book and having possibilities as story material. As the years pass, these gathered suggestions become so voluminous as to lead to confusion and so defeat the purpose for which they were collected. It is possible, through Plotto, to make all this store of suggestions instantly available.
File the material away alphabetically in a box file. Reduce the major situations to Conflict under the proper Clause of the Masterplot and in the group and sub-group to which it belongs; then, in your Plotto, make a notation on the margin opposite the Conflict which the added situation most closely approximates, and under the B Clause of the proper sub-group. By indexing in this manner, all your gathered situations may be referred to instantly.
There is another, and perhaps a vastly more important matter, which may be considered here under the caption, “Individualizing Plotto.” In all the preceding lessons we have dealt with Plotto as an aid in story writing; but it may be made helpful in other ways, helpful to you personally in a manner that has nothing to do with Masterplots, plots and characterization for written narrative.
Imagination, Rightfully Controlled, is the Greatest Force in the World.
“Imagination,” as Pascal tells us, “disposes of everything; it creates beauty, justice and happiness, which is everything in this world.” With Plotto it is possible to develop, and to achieve right control of, the imagination.
If you were never to write a story, with Plotto as your handbook, it is within your power to develop your originality and “create beauty, justice and happiness” in whatever sphere of life you choose to occupy. Whether a man shall sell mousetraps or life insurance, stories or dry goods, he will find in his imagination a power which, furthering his originality, will bring to him pleasure and profit such as he has never known before. As John Abercrombie writes: “The sound and proper exercise of the imagination may be made to contribute to the cultivation of all that is virtuous and estimable in the human character.”
The man of “vision” is the man of imagination rightfully controlled. The glittering opportunities this world has to offer are for such men alone. An imagination of ever-growing power, rightly controlled in the direction of a certain goal, made the ancient Alexander “Great,” made Socrates, Aristotle, Bergson and James the philosophers they became, made Washington “the father of his country,” Abraham Lincoln the dominant figure of his period, and Theodore Roosevelt the national apostle of the strenuous life. It is this type of imagination that gave us our Thomas Edison, our Henry Ford, and our famous Lindbergh; and it gave us, of course, our William Dean Howells, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Wilbur Steele, Fanny Hurst and Mary Roberts Rhinehart.
Imagination rightly controlled gives us notable character; wrongly controlled, it gives us notorious characters. As the author of Plotto believes, the Plotto Method is ideal and at its best when, through the original interpretation of Conflict suggestions, it helps the imagination to grow systematically and in the right direction. Coach the imagination constantly with the Conflict suggestions, not alone when engaged in your story work, but also in your leisure moments; as your imagination grows and becomes trained to keep the path to its proper goal, your capabilities will grow with it. A ready imagination, directed toward higher ends, brings the highest realizations, a glorious measure of happiness and success—possible with originality and impossible without it.
In story writing we are dealing with aspects of Life; story writing apart, in any field of endeavor Conflict suggestions may be interpreted in terms personal to yourself, and will be found wonderfully helpful in meeting your problems.
Since the Conflict suggestions hold the mirror up to life, it is necessary that they should reflect the admirable no less than the contemptible, for these traits are a part of human nature and will find their way into stories. The Conflicts must be all-embracing, and run the gamut of human existence. The nobler Conflicts studied with a personal application will ennoble the character.
There will be found a comforting, an instructive and a healing quality in such a study. Many of the Conflicts in all groups, but especially in the subgroups Idealism, Helpfulness and Deliverance, are potent for good if the imagination is allowed to play about them originally.
In the suggestion of Conflict 900 we see how imagination, not rightly controlled, may plunge a person into misfortune. The self-sacrifice of Conflict 906, the lofty lesson of Conflict 907, both offer suggestions around which the fancy may play with the most happy results. It is little short of amazing what wrong imagination will do to us, and what right imagination will do for us.
If cast down and dispirited by the evil of the world, study Conflict 939; if the evils consequent upon the possession of great wealth has saddened and bewildered you, give your fancy rein with Conflict 940; if you are in pecuniary distress, meditate upon Conflicts 941 and 942; if a friend proves disloyal, range the high fields of idealism with Conflicts 943b and 944; if discontented, muse upon the suggestions of Conflicts 950 and 954; if suffering injustice, spend a few minutes with Conflict 919a; if you have committed a wrong and are troubled by conscience, walk with the protagonist of Conflict 918a; if you are in sorrow, consider Conflict 918b; if your pride is excessive, a study of Conflict 920 should humble it; and if your ideals are low, consider that fact in the right of Conflict 922b, supplemented with Conflict 922a.
Wrong moods are the consequence of imagination improperly developed; and for every wrong mood there is a corrective suggestion in right control of “the greatest force in the world.” Not only is the imagination palliative or evil, it is positive in its influence upon success. The suggestions of the nobler Conflicts have tremendous power for you, for me, for every one who will let the imagination work with them. We are original in our errors of omission and commission, so let us be original in the methods of their correction. Purpose, here, will surely overcome Obstacle if the imagination is rightly controlled. And there will be no purpose unless there is an emotion, and earnest desire, as the source of it.
To the author of Plotto a mere reading of the book has proved the difficulty of bringing home to the mind the vast possibilities embraced in the Conflicts. To combat a misunderstanding of the Method, and to inculcate practically the Method’s ideals, this course of lessons has been devised.
For more than forty years the author of Plotto has been writing and selling fiction stories; and out of this long experience he earnestly believes that here in Plotto is Truth, and a Method of Originality as firmly founded as human nature itself. The author of Plotto has given five years to the preparation of this work. He knows it is imperfect, and that it would still be imperfect if he had spent a whole lifetime in its preparation. But he has proved that it is practical.
The author began his work by devising the Masterplot Chart; and, because of his long experience in story writing, he found the Masterplots sufficient for his purposes of plot suggestion. But when these Masterplots were submitted to other writers, there was the objection that they were not concrete enough in their suggestions. To make the Masterplot supply his need, the Conflicts to exemplify them were devised—calling for the most intense application over a period of years. The author of Plotto has made use of the Conflict suggestions in his own work, and is using them now, always with the utmost success. In fact, he has been told by the publisher who has used most of his output of fiction for forty years, that, contrary to the rule, his “work grows better as his years increase.” And that is because Plotto, a Method that has done and is doing its best with its author’s plodding talent. Having himself demonstrated the practicability of the Method, the author passes it on to others with confidence that, if used in an original way, the ideal way, it will easily demonstrate its value.
A very great and successful author told the author of Plotto that “he could never use it in his work.” He perhaps had the idea which a publisher in London, England, when he remarked: “Plotto will be condemned publicly—and probably used privately.” But the American author and the London publisher spoke hastily; they had not penetrated to the real nature of this work by scanning its possibilities in originality. Even the accomplished author, the author who has “arrived,” will find in the Plotto Conflicts the fire needed.