By Greg Josselyn
There’s an app for this, an app for that, an app for everything. Do you need washing done in a pinch? Chances are some digital tool will connect you to a real person ready with a tub and basin. Need tomatoes and gouda? They’re on the way.
But what about the harder things in life, like writing a short story, or finally getting that novel done? Some of us feel so stuck we’d rather hire a ghostwriter than sweat out the plot points, but truthfully, there is an app for that. Specifically, there are five that this guest post will reveal to you.
So you can think of this as a guide to bring you out of writer’s block and into a flow — where time and work seem to gel so magically that we forget about them altogether. This collection of online and offline tools is your ticket to that state.
1. The Atlantic’s Netflix Generator
Plotting starts with choosing a genre for your story. Genre is a great guideline because it gives you various points of reference, especially when it comes to structure and tone. If you’re writing a drama, for instance, your story will most likely culminate in a dark turn. On the other hand, if you’re writing a comedy, there might be some sort of good-natured misunderstanding that resolves in fun and forgiveness.
It’s more than just “typical” narratives, though. Yes, you can get plenty of cookie-cutter plot ideas just from studying genres like rom-com or horror. But authors who write about a book a year, like Stephen King, will give you tons of plot examples that are more complex and subvert traditional advice like the Three Act Structure, Hero’s Journey, or Chekhov’s Gun.
For the most advanced genre seekers, The Atlantic’s Netflix Generator takes known genres like Gonzos (ultra-niche genres), Hollywoods (film-making cliches), and even Netflix-specific cliches … and comes up with randomized-yet-familiar suggestions like “Showbiz Movies Based on a Book For Hopeless Romantics” or “Goofy Raunchy Period Pieces From the 1980s.” In other words, if you want to move beyond tragedy and soap operas within seconds, this generator’s got you covered. Getting more tailored with your genre — or at least choosing a lesser well-known one — will free you from plotting out a story so stereotypical that it ends up forgettable. If anything, the Netflix Generator is hyphenating genres, to make that process of originality effortless.
2. Reedsy Plot Generator
You may be thinking: just generating an idea like “Fight-the-System Visually Striking Slashers’ ‘ isn’t enough to get my plot going. If this is you, look no further than the detail-oriented Reedsy’s Plot Generator. This plot generator will be much more specific, giving you a creative premise, a fleshed-out protagonist, a secondary character, and even a handy “story sentence” that ties them all together.
Say you’ve always wanted to write a cut-throat drama, and select that genre in the tool. In this case, the plot generator might give me: a pretentious painter and a conscientious housewife as my characters. The tale will be: “a historical fiction story about the dangers of conformity.” It kicks off on a yacht “with the beginning of a relationship.” The generator even gives me a twist: that someone’s faulty memory will end up being the game-changer.
Who knows? The complete randomness of machine learning combined with your brainpower might be the oil you need to make something utterly unique. With the Reedsy Plot Generator, you don’t have to take all the suggestions — you can pick and choose, and even “lock” the elements you like while re-calibrating others.
3. Movie Buff: The Game
For those tired of AI catch-alls, a go with Golden Bell Studio’s offline Movie Buff will get you on the right track. This one-of-a-kind game will use your memory of cinematic masterpieces to spark ideas in the generator of your own mind!
In what could be called a domino effect of delight, players respond to cards that ask them to name a movie, actor, role, or quote in succession during each round. What’s great about this game is that it forces you to name movie titles and characters fast — in five or ten seconds — so you can’t afford to contemplate too much.
But how can naming movie titles and quotes help you plot your own story? Well, since cinematic structures are built to entertain the masses, plots in films are often very straightforward. Mainstream movies are built for short attention spans, so they go at the right pace for the modern mind — not too fast and not too slow. Novels can easily end up with meandering descriptions just to fill out the pages, often to the detriment of plot. But studying your favorite films will help to lay the groundwork of a plot that flows like the pros, so you don’t end up with a 200-page monologue from a character deciding on lipstick.
4. 16 Personalities.com
Speaking of characters, at some point, you’re going to need them. Even if your character is something unconventional like the family dog, a lone cricket in the woods, or death itself a la The Book Thief, all characters need to be fleshed out. Everyone has desires and motivations, after all, and it’s these aspects of your character that connect them to the plot.
Ask yourself: what does my character want? Their search, even for something intangible like mindfulness, is a powerful motivator that will drive your story forward. But you can’t just name a desire out of thin air. The factors creating that desire probably came from deep within their personality — which is why backstory is so important to understand. Even knowing small details like a star sign can help guide the decisions they’ll make. For this, you can use Myers-Briggs, or what’s called the 16 personalities, to build characters that will go realistically with a plot.
Each archetype feeds you ideas for things like romantic relationship dynamics, career paths, workplace habits, friendship behaviors, parenting styles, and much more. For example, a character under the Commander Personality would most likely be after a job or promotion in a story. Maybe they stop at nothing for it – and it ends, or begins with murder? Or perhaps it’s a comedy in which they fail miserably at the interviews but succeed by building a start-up that sells Snuggies as electric blankets.
5. FreeWrite Typewriter
You wouldn’t be faulted for admitting that the biggest hurdle to plotting is the internet, with its constant distractions. That being said, there are online tools like FlowState for diversion-free drafting and the Reedsy Book Editor for easy typesetting that can help you reach your final resolution.
If you want to go way offline though, FreeWrite is a typewriter with a tiny screen for your words only. Although it sends your work to places like Google Drive or Dropbox via wifi cloud, that’s it for internet connectivity — there’s no interface available for social media, email checks, or Etsy shopping.
But if you do leave your computer and phone at home, be sure to take handwritten notes and research with you. It’s bound to be a plot for the ages!
Greg Josselyn is a writer for Reedsy, a curated marketplace dedicated to empowering authors. When he’s not covering self-publishing, he writes short fiction and makes podcasts.