We all have moments where we can’t figure out what our characters need to do next. Sometimes, all we have is a character and a vague premise for the story. I’ve been invited to write a short story for a specific anthology, but all I have is the ghost of an idea.
Rather than obsess about my lack of creativity, I decided to have fun with it. Several young writers in my NaNoWriMo region have said they used a plot generator to jumpstart their ideas, so I thought I’d give that a try.
The internet has a plethora of plot generators – who knew there was such a demand for plots? I chose the top one because of the algorithms. Or perhaps it was at the top for something even more sinister – corporate bribery.
Either way, no problem. No matter how it got there, if it’s at the top of page one, it must be good, right? I believe everything I’m told by the internet, so I went with it.
The website opens with a template. You plug in a few words that pertain to what you think your story is, and presto! The internet generates your plot.
I thought I’d try that and see what it came up with. I invented two characters, John Smith and Morris Jones.
When asked what sort of dwelling they inhabited, I decided they lived in an inn.
The next spot in the template wanted a word that described what the dwelling meant to my characters.
“Well,” I thought, “it’s probably cold and rainy out there in Fantasy World, so an inn means ….”
After that, the plot generator asked me for a list of keywords.
Well, that was both unkind and unfair.
I’m horrible at thinking up keywords. If I could think up keywords, I wouldn’t be consulting a plot generator. I’d be looking up my horoscope instead.
But the template was staring at me, demanding answers. I had a teacher who always looked at me that way, making me nervous, expecting results ….
So, I fired off the first words that popped into my head, most of them aimed at the stupid plot generator:
- Frantic (my state of mind)
- Charming (me, if you actually know me)
- Passionate (me, when it comes to chocolate)
- Cold (how the search for keywords left me)
Then I was asked for three professions. By now, I was getting into the swing of things and having a good time. I decided to give John and Morris honest occupations:
- Blacksmith (definitely honest).
- Loan shark (definitely dishonest, but it popped into my head, so …).
- Pharmacist (fairly random, but we had to pick up a prescription later, so it was on my mind).
Who were their companions? I had no clue, so I opted for generic:
The generator asked what they might be searching for. I didn’t know my two characters were searching for anything. “Well,” I thought, “this is a fantasy, so ….”
Then the generator asked me to name a big battle. That stumped me. I figured that Waterloo was already taken, and the Battle of Hastings was too. So I went with a made-up name:
This is what the plot generator gave me:
In an inn there lived a deceitful, frantic loan shark named John Smith. Not a cursed charming, passionate inn, filled with charms and a worrying smell, nor yet a wicked, violent, cold inn with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a loan shark-inn, and that means shelter.
One day, after a troubling visit from the pharmacist Morris Jones, John leaves his inn and sets out in search of three false spells. A quest undertaken in the company of people, mages and fake men.
In the search for the mage-guarded spells, John Smith surprises even himself with his loyalty and skill as a blacksmith.
During his travels, John rescues a sword, an heirloom belonging to Morris. But when Morris refuses to try lying, their friendship is over.
However, Morris is wounded at the Battle of Shallowford and the two reconcile just before John engages in some serious lying.
John accepts one of the three false spells and returns home to his inn a very wealthy loan shark.
By golly, I think that’s the perfect plot for a story in five paragraphs, including a happy ending. The prose is … (insert superlatives here).
This plot generator has clearly been studying J.R.R. Tolkien, as it has managed to plagiarize the first paragraph of The Hobbit right down to the punctuation.
“In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole with ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry bare sandy hole with nothing to sit on or eat: it was a hobbit-hole and that means comfort.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, published 1937 by George Allen & Unwin.
Maybe I should write a Gothic romance next. I could probably use the same keywords.