Kurt Vonnegut - The Shapes of Stories

The Shapes of Stories
by Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut grained worldwide fame and adoration through the publication of his novels, including Slaughterhouse-Five, Cat's Cradle, Breakfast of Champions, and more.

But is was his rejected master's thesis in anthropology that he called his prettiest contribution to his culture.

The basic idea of his thesis was that a story's main character has ups and downs that can be graphed to reveal the story's shape.

The shape of a society's stories, he said, is the least as interesting as the shape of its pots or spearheads. Let's have a look.

Man in Hole
The main character gets into trouble then gets out of it again and ends up better off for the experience.
Arsenic and Old Lace
Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle

Boy Meets Girl
The main character comes across something wonderful, gets it, loses it, then gets it back forever.
Jane Eyre
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

From Bad to Worse
The main character stats off poorly then gets continually worse with no hope for improvement.
The Metamorphosis
The Twilight Zone

Which Way Is Up?
The story has a lifelike ambiguity that keeps us from knowing if new developments are good or bad.
The Sopranos

Creation Story
In many cultures' creation stories, humankind receives incremental gifts from a deity. First major staples like the earth and sky, then smaller things like sparrows and cell phones. Not a common shape for Western stories, however.

Old Testament
Humankind receives incremental gifts from a deity, but is suddenly ousted from good standing in a fall of enormous proportions.
Great Expectations

New Testament
Humankind receives incremental gifts from a deity,is suddenly ousted from good standing but then receives off-the-charts bliss.
Great Expectations with Dickens' alternate ending

It was a similarity between the shapes of Cinderella and the New Testament that thrilled Vonnegut for the first time in 1947 and then over the course of his life as he continued to write essays and give lectures on the shapes of stories.

Kurt Vonnegut - The Shapes of Stories

shared by mayaeilam on May 25, 2012 in Other


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Kurt Vonnegut's rejected master's thesis, presented visually with contemporary examples.
Category: Other


Maya Eilam
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