Also known as “the man who deforested Canada,” William Wallace Cook (see his IMDb page here) supposedly wore out 25 typewriters churning out hundreds of nickel and dime novels over his forty year career. He wrote under a bunch of pseudonyms, even using one to write his own memoir, The Fiction Factory.
In 1910 he pumped out fifty-four novels, just over one a week, and could pound out a completed manuscript in 24 hours if he had to. He worked out a system where each novel fit into the same 40,000 word format of sixteen chapters of five single-space pages each.
The writing system was based on a simple statement: “Purpose, opposed by Obstacle, yields Conflict” and he set down his system of storytelling in a book called Plotto. His plot generating system includes hundreds of scenarios using the “purposes” and “obstacles” he devised over forty years of grinding out pulp fiction for the masses. In the instruction manual at the end of the book Cook says, “he earnestly believes that here in Plotto is TRUTH, and a Method of Originality as firmly founded as human nature itself.”
The Boston Globe in September 1928 announced “MACHINE GRINDS OUT PLOTS WITHOUT ANY FALSE START.” I’m not sure if they were referring to Cook or his book. There are over 438 pages of plot ideas relating to Cook’s theories and it makes for a fascinating read. At the end of the book Cook quotes a “London publisher” who says, “Plotto will be condemned publicly – and probably used privately.”
Let me know in the comments if you’ve read Plotto or used any other kind of plot generator in your work. Have a great writing week everyone!