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Kurt Vonnegut's diagram of how a story works
January 18, 2013 1:55 PM   Subscribe

Maya Eliam does a graphic representing Vonnegut's thesis of story-telling.
posted by angrycat (33 comments total) 69 users marked this as a favorite

 
That's awesome! I would so totally buy a big nice poster version of that.
posted by Doleful Creature at 1:59 PM on January 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Me too. This would really jazz up my office.
posted by jeoc at 2:01 PM on January 18, 2013


Not the first person to describe narrative as a shape.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:07 PM on January 18, 2013


Is this meant to be the complete set of possible variations? I don't know where to put Primer.
posted by eugenen at 2:07 PM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


The wonderful little Vonnegut piece that inspired Eliam can be found here as an extract, if you don't want to go read the whole book that she cites.
posted by Wretch729 at 2:11 PM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Anything that pairs Arsenic and Old Lace with Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle is okay by me.

Also there's no way I read Great Expectations with Dickens alternate ending as a freshman in high school, right? Because if you had asked me how it ended, I would have thought that the alternate ending was the one I knew.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:13 PM on January 18, 2013


Is this meant to be the complete set of possible variations? I don't know where to put Primer.

I think the Hamlet model would cover stories where you can't figure out what's going on, regardless of the happy/sad implications of discrete events.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:18 PM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


if you print it out, you get most of it on 81/2 by 11 but a little bit gets cut off and put on another page.
posted by angrycat at 2:18 PM on January 18, 2013


A video of Kurt describing these humorously with a blackboard.
posted by Trudeau at 2:23 PM on January 18, 2013 [14 favorites]


if you print it out, you get most of it on 81/2 by 11 but a little bit gets cut off and put on another page.

Is that New Testament or Old? huhhuh
posted by Mikon6 at 2:25 PM on January 18, 2013


This reminded me of Dresden Codak's awesome 42 Essential Third Act Twists.
posted by straight at 2:25 PM on January 18, 2013 [11 favorites]


A video of Kurt describing these humorously with a blackboard.

"B stands for Beginning... E stands for Electricity."

SQUEEEEE -- uh, did I make that unbecoming sound? Sorry, it slipped out.
posted by JHarris at 2:48 PM on January 18, 2013


"she achieves off-scale happiness" LOL

Kurt Vonnegut is a treasure.
posted by Doleful Creature at 2:50 PM on January 18, 2013


I got to see Vonnegut do this on stage at UMass Amherst about twenty years ago. His motion and timing at the board added a lot. Someone was filming it; I wonder what happened to that footage.
posted by Songdog at 3:00 PM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


... and I just saw Trudeau's video of Vonnegut in action. Thank you for that link!
posted by Songdog at 3:03 PM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Songdog, I saw him do this at a lecture at Northwestern when I was a student there, some twenty years ago as well. The entire lecture was one of the best I've ever attended, and this part was absolutely the highlight.

His comic timing at the board was impeccable. Especially during his very brief addition of Metamorphosis to the chart.
posted by tzikeh at 3:05 PM on January 18, 2013


You mean Vonnugget?
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:07 PM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


How is "The Twilight Zone" an example of a storyline?
posted by koeselitz at 3:10 PM on January 18, 2013


Also, uh, I'd never heard those theories of Vonnegut's about the "Old Testament" and the "New Testament." I guess maybe they're story forms, but they sure don't resemble the actual bible.
posted by koeselitz at 3:12 PM on January 18, 2013


Man in a Hole, eh?
How about Ace in the Hole?
posted by chavenet at 3:17 PM on January 18, 2013


Also there's no way I read Great Expectations with Dickens alternate ending as a freshman in high school, right? Because if you had asked me how it ended, I would have thought that the alternate ending was the one I knew.

I'm pretty sure the paperback edition we read in HS contained both endings. Also, as I recall, the David Lean movie adaptation uses the alternate ending.
posted by Atom Eyes at 3:24 PM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also there's no way I read Great Expectations with Dickens alternate ending as a freshman in high school, right? Because if you had asked me how it ended, I would have thought that the alternate ending was the one I knew.

The "alternate ending" is the canonical ending, and the only one people knew of for quite a long time. Dickens originally wrote it with a rather grim and unhappy ending and a friend persuaded him to rewrite the ending into something a little more cheerful. Modern editions often give us the grimmer version in an appendix.
posted by yoink at 4:23 PM on January 18, 2013


I'd love to read a "man on hill" story in which someone in a bad situation gets out of it, but it all goes wrong, and they return to an even worse situation.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 5:38 PM on January 18, 2013


I'd love to read a "man on hill" story in which someone in a bad situation gets out of it, but it all goes wrong, and they return to an even worse situation.

Flowers for Algernon.
posted by yoink at 5:50 PM on January 18, 2013 [7 favorites]


Flowers for Algernon works. As does Goodfellas or Macbeth or any number of tragedies of hubris.
posted by Navelgazer at 5:54 PM on January 18, 2013


Oh, that's nice! I saw him give a talk on the shape of stories once and it was great. He did some basic graphs and then hit us with, "And then there's Hamlet, which is totally flat." I don't recall him talking about the Cinderella/New Testament similarity, though.
posted by aka burlap at 9:45 PM on January 18, 2013


I'd love to read a "man on hill" story in which someone in a bad situation gets out of it, but it all goes wrong, and they return to an even worse situation.

Have you seen my posting history?
posted by maxwelton at 11:48 PM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I saw him do this at the University of Florida, also about 20 years ago (probably the same speaking tour--friends from Moravian in PA saw him that same year). I specifically remembering him drawing a straight line and calling it "Seinfeld". It would seem there are many "plot snake" theories out there.
posted by whatgorilla at 11:52 PM on January 18, 2013


I saw him do this at the University of Maine, but can’t believe it really has been 20 years. The thing I remember most from that evening was a long discussion about how writers become isolated, so he tried to find excuses to get out of his home office and mingle with real people, in the real world. A much shorter version of the story turns up in various places online, titled something like "Kurt Vonnegut buys an envelope."
posted by LeLiLo at 1:35 AM on January 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


It strikes me that Dylan's "Tangled Up in Blue" follows the boy gets girl/boy loses girl/boy gets girl forever structure, although I don't know about that verse that mentions slavery, I have no idea what that is.
posted by angrycat at 8:55 AM on January 19, 2013


Thank you. This is Kryptonite to writer's block.
posted by snsranch at 2:56 PM on January 19, 2013


Annnnd I saw him do this 20 years ago in Canada. It was my honeymoon. My love of Vonnegut outlasted the marriage.
posted by greermahoney at 1:09 AM on January 21, 2013


I'd love to read a "man on hill" story in which someone in a bad situation gets out of it, but it all goes wrong, and they return to an even worse situation.

The "gets out of it" part is iffy, but Very Bad Things is probably one of the more audacious mainstream examples.
posted by psoas at 7:26 AM on January 25, 2013


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