Friday, June 1, 2018

[Link] Every Story in the World Has One of These Six Basic Plots

by Miriam Quick

“My prettiest contribution to the culture” was how the novelist Kurt Vonnegut described his old master’s thesis in anthropology, “which was rejected because it was so simple and looked like too much fun”. The thesis sank without a trace, but Vonnegut continued throughout his life to promote the big idea behind it, which was: “stories have shapes which can be drawn on graph paper”.

In a 1995 lecture, Vonnegut chalked out various story arcs on a blackboard, plotting how the protagonist’s fortunes change over the course of the narrative on an axis stretching from ‘good’ to ‘ill’. The arcs include ‘man in hole’, in which the main character gets into trouble then gets out again (“people love that story, they never get sick of it!”) and ‘boy gets girl’, in which the protagonist finds something wonderful, loses it, then gets it back again at the end. “There is no reason why the simple shapes of stories can’t be fed into computers”, he remarked. “They are beautiful shapes.”

"Thanks to new text-mining techniques, this has now been done. Professor Matthew Jockers at the University of Nebraska, and later researchers at the University of Vermont’s Computational Story Lab, analysed data from thousands of novels to reveal six basic story types – you could call them archetypes – that form the building blocks for more complex stories. The Vermont researchers describe the six story shapes behind more than 1700 English novels as...

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