Vonnegut’s Six Ways to Tell a Story

Kurt Vonnegut is back? Well…sort of. Recent studies spearheaded by the University of Vermont have given his thesis for the University of Chicago a second wind. 

The thesis goes something like this. There are millions of stories in the English language, but they can all be understood as basic shapes through a visual model. Vonnegut lays out this theory in a characteristically zany and entertaining presentation, which is for your viewing pleasure. Seriously, you gotta watch it. 

These models all have a common thread. The shapes are determined by the narrative arc of the story, which is predicated on the trials and tribulations of the protagonist. The protagonist will inevitably experience victories and losses throughout a story, and these may present themselves as basic emotional states. Or, as Vonnegut puts it, “rises” and “falls.” According to the legendary writer, our most beloved stories can be boiled down to some combination of rises and falls. Fall-rise-fall. Rise-fall. Fall-rise. And of course, our favorite: Rise-fall-rise (A la Cinderella). 

Image courtesy of Reddit

It’s a fascinating idea, that apparently wasn’t compelling enough for the University of Chicago. They rejected it, prompting Vonnegut to say: “The apathy of the University of Chicago is repulsive to me. They can take a flying fuck at the mooooooooooooooon.” Thankfully, The University of Vermont took up his cause. Their new study seems to confirm much of what he put forth in his presentation. Namely, the idea that there are only six basic frameworks for a story to follow. It’s not a new theory. Academics, critics, and mathematicians have been entertaining the idea that the perfect story follows a strict formula, for decades. It’s safe to say, however, that there was no better interlocutor of this idea than Vonnegut. 

Featured image courtesy of Huffington Post