The Plot Wheel

I consider myself a poet, an editor, and (fingers crossed) soon-to-be homebrewer. Rarely do I think of myself as a writer, making it rather unsurprising that this is my first legitimate blog post, although I’ve now had my WordPress for months.

So I suspect that Kate Hammerich, my co-editor over at cahoodaloodaling, included a copy of Stephen King’s On Writing in the last batch of books she sent me more as a sneaky ploy to make me a Stephen King fan than as a means to give me tips on dialogue or make a case against adverbs. (Should I address that elephant? I am not a Stephen King fan. I don’t dislike his writing, in fact, I think he’s a fine writer, but his books have never done it for me. I’m just not that kind of girl. Out of the four or five Stephen King books I have now read, this is my favorite.)

Kate certainly didn’t send it to me for King’s section on plot development – which he’s more or less against. King’s attitude towards plotting actually surprised me; I, I suppose naively, assumed most major writers spend time on plot development, instead of organically letting the characters develop the story.

And then King introduced me to the Edgar Wallace Plot Wheel.

I had never seen one of these, but sure enough, type Plot Wheel into the grand old googlemeister and up pops several different Plot Wheels.



Apparently these were extremely popular in the 1920s for aspiring (and some successful) writers. Stuck in the middle of your story and don’t know where to take it? Spin the wheel, and perhaps your “Hero declares his love” or you “High-tail-it” out of there.

History lesson aside, several of the Plot Wheels I found have obviously been updated since the 1920s. I doubt, for example, that “Raped by hero” would have been included, even in the roaring twenties. How frightfully uncouth! Also, with options like those, it’s obvious that the Plot Wheel is not only being used in primary and secondary creative writing classes. Somebody has to be using these. Who?

If you’re out there, please, come defend the Plot Wheel. I am truly curious how this translates from the 1920s murder mystery to today’s fiction. 


8 thoughts on “The Plot Wheel

  1. This is actually facinating. I wish, someone had shown me one of these long ago, it would make dead-end plots that just drive you insane, so much easier to work with. 🙂

  2. William Ball in his book A SENSE OF DIRECTION says, “Limitation is the springboard of creativity.” I agree 100 percent. Plot wheels LIMIT options forcing the author to get creative. You don’t need to use a plot wheel (any more than you need to write at “that” desk with a Faber-Castell on yellow legal pads. Plot wheels are to writing what taping your mouth closed is to dieting. The human imagination in the 21st century has enough anorexia without giving it a roll of duct tape.
    Drew Sutherland
    Author- Al McNair Detective series,

  3. To ANY author who uses the Old School Romance Plot Wheel to write their story: I am NEVER reading that book, hell no, thank you very much.

    A Plot Wheel might make an amusing party game after a few bevvies, but I’m pretty sure it would result in a lousy book. However fantastical, truth-bending or surreal a well-written story might APPEAR to be, what makes it a proper story is that, at its heart, it follows a LOGICAL ORDER – it has a structure that’s grounded in cause and effect. A Plot Wheel, by its very nature, cannot replicate a cause and effect structure – it can only generate a series of random events that would connect only by pure luck if they did at all. It would be like pouring curry sauce over chocolate cake and then garnishing it with toenail clippings – no-one’s gonna want to eat THAT.

    • It seems like it worked out pretty well for the man who created Perry Mason. A series of successful crime fiction novels and an eventual television program came of it.

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