3D Shapes of Stories – Spicing up a Classic Idea from Vonnegut

By: Heero Yuy

Kurt Vonnegut’s Shapes of Stories (Harvard Business Review) deals with the Axis of Time and Fortune. This is the audience or the reader’s perceived feeling as the story unfolds. In the story itself the actual character deals with internal and external conflicts where he or she has to apply theoretical or applied solutions in resolving each conflict to move onto the next milestone.

Imagine the following as the 3-Dimensional Shapes of Stories.

No automatic alt text available.

The Labels of the X, Y, and Z Axis:

  • X-Axis: Time
  • Y-Axis: Theoretical for Y>0, Applied for Y<0
  • Z-Axis: Fortune Z>0, Misfortune Z<0 (Perceived)

Most telling of stories deals with the mental aspect on how characters overcome obstacles using a combination of the Y-Axis to yield the items on the Z-Axis while the X-Axis constantly moves from 0 (beginning) to 100 (end). Datamining various stories (MIT Technology Review), lines plotted in 3D, based on the above axis would yield contours of stories not simply plots to give story telling of humans true shapes.

I am sure there are infinite Axis that can be added onto the general X-Axis of time such as:

  • Character’s emotional response to Z-Axis
  • Accumulation, or not, of knowledge or wisdom
  • Change, or not, of each character
  • Etc

Generally speaking, the audience is most in tune with the How and Why the character managed to shift or remain stagnant on the Z-Axis. Why makes the story interesting to read and the How is explained by the Y-Axis.

This is the 3-Dimensional update to Kurt Vonnegut’s 2-Dimensional Shapes of Stories.


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