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Kurt Vonnegut: the shape of stories

5 minutes

Are certain familiar narrative arcs inherently appealing?

Although his master’s thesis on the topic was rejected by the University of Chicago’s anthropology department, it’s hard to discount the acuity of the US writer Kurt Vonnegut’s theory of ‘story shapes’. This archival video features Vonnegut using a chalkboard and his famous deadpan wit to map out three highly familiar narrative arcs that seem to have lost none of their popularity despite countless iterations. He addressed story shapes at greater length in his essay collection A Man Without a Country (2005). The US graphic designer Maya Eilam later adapted his archetypes into a series of handy infographics, which can be viewed at her website.

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Essay/
Stories & Literature
Ghosts on the shore

In Japan, ghost stories are not to be scoffed at, but provide deep insights into the fuzzy boundary between life and death

Christopher Harding

Essay/
Stories & Literature
Sweet artifice

Dandies in the age of decadence favoured synthetics over nature, nowhere more so than in perfumery’s fabulous counterfeits

Catherine Maxwell