Do you know that there are random plot generators out there?
These are whole entire websites or webpages devoted to generating story plots for writers to work off of, something I find particularly fascinating. I have some serious questions about their usefulness, but they’re fascinating nonetheless.
I couldn’t tell you exactly how I stumbled upon these dubious tools. It happened over the weekend, and that’s way too far back in my personal history to remember clearly. So suffice it to say that I did, indeed, find them.
While there are apparently a whole host of random plot generator’s out there, I clicked on the one advertised by WritingExercises.co.uk, which promises to help writers “Break through writing blocks.”
“The aim of this writing prompt,” the site says, “is to help you develop a story line.”
Incidentally, there’s a difference between breaking through writing blocks and developing a story line, since writing blocks normally occur once you already have a strong-enough idea for an adventure.
That aside, the site continues. “When you click the buttons [below], they will generate two characters, a setting, a situation and a theme. Your job is to put the elements together and come up with an idea for a story.”
Naturally, seeing something like that made me want to click on said buttons, which say they’re for: Main character, Character 2, Setting, Situation, Theme and Character action. So here’s what it generated for me when I tried them all:
Main character – A man in his late forties, who can be quite compassionate.
Character 2 – A man in his early forties, who can be quite shy.
Setting – The story begins in a church crypt.
Situation – A routine blood test shows two family members are not related.
Theme – It’s a story about escape.
Character action – Your character has some tough lessons to learn.
Now, that list is delightfully entertaining to look at. And my imagination automatically tried to tie those six factors in together. All the same, I don’t see how useful the whole kit and caboodle is or, for that matter, how useful a random plot generator in general is.
If anything, it could be detrimental. Here’s why…
A good plot is anything but random. It’s inspired by a premise: a thought, a sight, a smell, a taste, a touch that was so impactful it begs a story. It means something to the writer, which is why he or she builds it up, page by page, into a full-length manuscript.
Something randomly slapped together by a computer program is going to be hard-pressed to stimulate that kind of commitment.
And before you go there, there’s a major difference between a writing prompt and a random plot generation. Writing prompts are simply premises that someone else started that may or may not inspire others to continue.
That human touch makes a major difference.
Moreover, a personally generated plot’s pieces fit together. There’s no men in their forties bumping into each other in a church crypt after a routine blood test showed that two family members aren’t related. That’s creative writing hodgepodge that would take way too much work to flesh out in an entertaining, cohesive manner.
If you’re the contrary type who likes questioning any kind of authority at every turn, you might be quick to point out how you could totally write a full story about forty-year-old men in that setting with that plot. In which case, let me clarify my statements above…
First off, nobody’s saying you couldn’t write it. I could write it too – if someone put a gun to my head and told me, “This random plot or your life.” But that doesn’t mean I’d enjoy it, and the same goes for you.
Oh, you might get that satisfactory rush of ego at the very end where you get to turn to me and say, “Ha! I told you.” But that’s months of work for such a fleeting moment of gratification.
(Moreover, I won’t care enough in the end to give you the penitent, embarrassed kind of kudos you’re looking for from me, dulling your gloat-fest even more.)
Then there’s the fact that most literary agents and publishing companies aren’t going to find a randomly generated plot all that worthwhile. Which means the chances are incredibly high that you’ll have spent all the time and effort it took to flesh out a premise you’re not actually invested in for absolutely nothing.
So, once again, it’s much better to stick with a plot of your own devising.
Besides, if you’re the creative writing type who’s going to go the distance, you’re probably going to have all the story ideas you need on your own.
If you’re reading this and completely disagree with me on the usefulness of random plot generators though, shoot me an email at JDiLouie@InnovativeEditing.com. I’d truly love to get a new perspective on the matter!