State of Wonder

State Of Wonder To Amplify Tin House's 'Plotto' Flash Fiction Contest

By Aaron Scott (OPB)
Oct. 7, 2016 11:33 p.m.


Writer Ursula K. Le Guin told OPB's State of Wonder that all stories are variations on about 12 plots. Some put that number lower, and some higher, but perhaps no one has catalogued the world's narratives as extensively as William Wallace Cook.

Cook wrote a book in 1928 called “Plotto: The Master Book of All Plots" that detailed exactly 1,462 plots to help struggling writers.

"Like 'Plotto,' he was sort of a plot generator himself," said Tin House editor Masie Cochran of Cook. "Once in the 1920's, he wrote 54 novels in one year. He was so prolific, he became known as 'the man who deforested Canada' due to the sheer number of pages he produced."

The Portland/Brooklyn publisher Tin House reissued the cult classic a few years ago with a national contest. It was so successful that they’re doing it again this month to celebrate the paperback release, and State of Wonder is excited to jump on the plot wagon.


For five weeks, beginning Oct. 19, Tin House will post a new plot each Wednesday, and writers will have until the following Monday to write a 500-word story based on it.

Then on Dec. 10, each week's winner will read their stories on State of Wonder, and we’ll announce the grand-prize winner, who will get an extended weekend at the Tin House Writer’s Residency, all travel and expenses paid.

For more info and to follow each week's prompt, go to

Plot Prompts and Winners

Nov. 16 Prompt, stories due Nov. 21: {Female protagonist}, for many years mysteriously absent from her home, seeks a happy renewal of old ties by returning suddenly and unheralded to her native place.

Nov. 9 Prompt: {Male protagonist} believes himself guilty of a crime which he cannot remember having committed.

Nov. 1 Prompt: {Male protagonist}, a novelist, meets personally in real life a fictitious character from one of his stories. 
"Thanksgiving" by Carolyn Oliver.
"Sarah Park appreciated the new dentist's sensitivity. Unlike Dr. Stewart, who, while Sarah's mouth was full of metal instruments or toothpaste, loved to ask her the kinds of questions whose answers her publicist sent out with advance copies of her books ("Where did you get the idea for this one?" "How long did it take to write?" "What are you working on now?"), Dr. Williams betrayed not the slightest interest in Sarah's novels..."

Oct. 25 Prompt: {Female protagonist} has taken up her quarters in a vacant house.
Winner: "Rush" by Annesha Sengupta
"The walls sit warm around her like a hot blister of skin. There's a splinter in her finger and she holds tight to the pain. Sonali has always believed that women live out the opposite of their names. What burst of cruelty caused her to blurt out, on that blood-soaked hospital bed, the name Ananda for her daughter? Ananda. Happy..."

Oct. 19 Prompt: {A}, proceeding about his business and caught in a crowd, is confronted suddenly by a strange person, {BX}, who thrusts a mysterious object, {X}, into his hand and, without a word vanishes.
Winner: "Hey, Neighbor"
The posts on Hey Neighbor fell into three buckets: Prayer Group, Lost Dog, and Suspicious Individual(s). Miller hated Hey Neighbor..."