What Dial-a-Plot is

Dial-a-plot is a paper-based game-like activity that has been designed to support story composition. It is frequently used in combination with other storienteering resources and common design tools, such as affinity diagrams and context maps. Dial-a-plot consists of a graphical ‘dial’ on which are inscribed eighteen numbered ‘plot episodes’. These are arranged according to the “three-act structure” dealing with the beginning or ‘setup’ of the story, the middle or ‘confrontation’, and the end or ‘resolution’ of the story.

The download consists of a selector dial, three dice and a set of cards.

How Dial-a-Plot works

Dial-a-plot helps designers compose a well-structured story by providing the structural framework for a clear ‘plotline’. The eighteen plot episodes have been adapted for design situations from Vladimir Propp’s thirty-one ‘character functions’ (below). Both story authors and readers alike find that the plot episodes are familiar to them from classic legends, fairytales and myths to modern narratives, such as novels and films, etc.

Download Dial-a-Plot worksheets


How Dial-a-Plot has been used in design

§ Preparation; have research about the subject of the story on hand3.

§ Throw three dice. Match the numbers on the dice to numbers in each zone of the dial.

Plot Cards

Optional once the three plot episodes have been assigned.
§ Find the corresponding Plot Cards. The cards make it easier to work with other card sets and resources.

Story spinning

Stories emerge from imaginings, discussion, and iteration.

§ Drawing on sources of information about the intended context and purpose of the story compose the beginning of the story using characters, situations and events that satisfy the plot episode on the Setup card.

§ Move the story toward events and situations that satisfy the plot episode on the Confrontation card, and finally to those that satisfy the plot episode on the Resolution card.

The backstory on Dial-a-Plot


Vladimir Propp (1895-1970) was a Soviet scholar and folklorist. He is closely associated with the Russian formalist movement which was active in the early part of the 20th century. Propp was first to realise that all Russin folktales have an underlying common structure consisting of no more than thirty-one distinct ‘character functions’. In Dial-a-plot, Propp’s character functions have been adapted for use in design and embodied in a game-like activity intended to stimulate creative thinking and group discussion.

In order to adapt Propp’s work for use in design storytelling, much of the terminology used by Propp to describe actors and situations has been changed. Archetypical characters such as ‘hero’ and ‘villian’ have been replaced by the generic term ‘agent’. Functions containing terms such as ‘interdiction’, ‘trickery’, and ‘magical agent’ have been rephrased.

Propp’s functions follow a strict sequence (syntax), each arising from the previous and leading to the next. Using the process of pairing (recognised by Propp) and trial-and-error studies, the thrity-one plot functions have been reduced to eighteen. The “three-act structure” divides the functions into those which help shape a story’s beginning (setup), middle (confrontation), and end (resolution).

How Vladimir Propp identified the 31 plot functions

A fictional depiction of how Vladimir Propp completed his work on “The Morphology of the Folktale”(1928), told in such a way that it also illustrates his thirty-one character functions. The story is loosely based on historical facts and what is known about Propp’s life, which is very little.




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