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Plotto on NPR!

In case you missed it, Paul Collins was on Weekend All Things Considered this weekend, talking about Plotto: The Master Book of All Plots. You can listen to the whole segment here.

Some of the plots are just plain wacky. In plot 227, “B is unable to marry A because her father, F-B, in using B for his subject in a scientific experiment, has instilled a poison into her blood.”

But, says Collins, as off-the-wall as Plotto can be, it was actually quite influential in its day — and not just to aspiring novelists. A young Alfred Hitchcock, just getting started as a silent film director in Britain, sent away for a copy.

“It’s had a particularly strong afterlife, I think, among screenwriters,” Collins says. “A lot of this whole idea of formulaic plotting, especially in its early versions, like Plotto, actually was associated with movies, as much as with novels.”

Collins says that while pulp novels like the ones Cook wrote may be mostly gone, Cook’s carefully cross-referenced plots can actually teach aspiring writers a great deal about which plot elements go together best.

“You really do get a strong sense of how plot works,” he says. “Erle Stanley Gardner, who wrote the Perry Mason books, said that he basically learned about plotting from Plotto.”

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