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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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Aeon is a registered charity committed to the spread of knowledge. Our mission is to create a sanctuary online for serious thinking.
But we can’t do it without you.

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