Zana Previti


PLOTTO took a turn for the harrowing last week. Protagonists committed crimes ranging from casual murder to poor artistic taste, political apathy to the unleashing of spiders. Or did they? Congratulations to winner Zana Previti, whose mysterious “Laws” brought us characters so convincing we thought we knew them, and so haunting that, by the end, we weren’t so sure.

Check out this week’s prompt here!


Sister Clotilde held the boy by his shoulders and marched him into the Headmistress’s office.

“Hey!” protested the secretary.

Sr. Clotilde turned, glared, and slammed the door.

“Sister?” Sr. Frances asked.

“Tell her,” Sr. Clotilde instructed the boy, “exactly what you said.”

The child—Max Patrick, nine, and clearly wearing the school uniform of an older, larger brother—sighed.

“I told Billy. I think, I maybe killed someone.”

Sr. Frances stared.

“Yeah,” said Sr. Clotilde. “Yeah.”


Sr. Clotilde was young; she taught third grade at Saint Margaret’s. It was, despite its name, an all-boys school. Sr. Clotilde had taken her vows at twenty-five, didn’t wear habit, and she had hard, grey, unblinking eyes. Despite the others’ seniority, and the rumors that another teacher had once broken a first-grader’s hand, the boys feared only Sr. Clotilde.


“Explain, please, Max,” said Sr. Frances. She capped her pen.

Max glanced at Sr. Clotilde.

“You may leave, Sister,” said Sr. Frances.



Sr. Clotilde spun and banged the door shut.

Sr. Frances raised her eyebrows. “Explain, Max.”

“Then I can go to recess?”

Sr. Frances considered. “Yes,” she said. “Why would you say that?”

“I don’t know.”

“Was someone hurt?”

“I didn’t—I just told Billy. No.”

“Told Billy what?”

“Mom and Dad were arguing. They thought I was asleep.”


“They said, when I was really little . . . I don’t remember hurting anyone. But they said, like, killed.”

“It’s okay, Max.” She handed him a tissue.

She recalled something. She’d been worried, at the time. When he was starting pre-school, Max sitting and coloring . . . his little hands sore with red, tiny marks.

She looked at him.

“I don’t know,” he said.

They spoke a little longer. Sr. Frances sent him back to recess. Then she dialed a phone number.

“Mr. Patrick,” she said. She explained her purpose. “John, I have to ask.”

“Yes,” he said. He was quiet. Sr. Frances waited.

He explained.

“His hands,” she said. “She bit him?”

“Yes,” he said.

Sr. Frances nodded. And after a moment, she hung up the phone. She closed her eyes.


After lunch, Sr. Frances found Sr. Clotilde grading quizzes. The boys, at their desks, worked on long-division problems.

Sr. Clotilde looked up. Sr. Frances came over to her, then bent and whispered in her ear.

The young woman exhaled and took the Sister’s hand. They looked at the children. Twenty fragile mysteries raised their heads and stared back.

Sr. Clotilde’s grey eyes clouded, then looked away. And one boy sitting far in the back suddenly wondered if any of it was true at all . . . if prime numbers were as unbreakable as they said, if zero times anything was always zero, if the way he had been taught was the only way, or if there were other ways, infinite ways, and if one day the laws of division might—suddenly—no longer apply . . . all these problems made unsolvable, all his careful work made nonsense.


Zana Previti was born and raised in New England. She earned her MFA in fiction from the University of California, Irvine, and her MFA in poetry from the University of Idaho. Her work has been published in The New England Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, RHINO Poetry, Ninth Letter, and elsewhere. She was recently named the recipient of Poetry International’s 2014 C.P. Cavafy Prize for Poetry, and works now as the Fall 2016 Emerging Writer-in-Residence at Penn State Altoona. 

Here’s the prompt that inspired Zana’s story: {A} believes himself guilty of a crime which he cannot remember having committed. 

PLOTTO: THE MASTER BOOK OF ALL PLOTSIn the 1920s, dime store novelist William Wallace Cook painstakingly diagrammed and cataloged his personal writing method—“Purpose, opposed by Obstacle, yields Conflict”—for the instruction and illumination of his fellow authors. His efforts resulted in 1,462 plot scenarios and Plotto: The Master Book of All Plots was born. A how-to manual for plot, Plotto offers endless amalgamations to inspire limitless narratives. Open the book to any page to find plots you may never have known existed, from morose cannibals to gun-wielding preachers to phantom automobiles. Equal parts reference guide and historical oddity, Plotto is sure to amaze and delight writers for another century.