My favorite science reporter has unearthed this great clip from Kurt Vonnegut about the shape of stories.
As someone obsessed with stick figures, Venn diagrams, maps and the hidden shapes of the universe, I love this. Also, Vonnegut is funny and wonderful. With far less style, I ran through something similar with students at a workshop about mapping stories for Seattle 826 a few summers ago.
Story shape, the rise and fall of fortune, has a lot to say about why stories are important to us as a species. We love being surprised, right, and we love innovation? Then why do we crave the same underlying patterns over and over again in our stories? One interesting theory (that I’m not sure is the only thing going on) is that we use the safe space of a story to rehearse for things we can’t possibly rehearse in life — death, love, suffering.
I believe in the value mapping stories, but what I would really love to see is a map of the experience of stories. What happens to the reader? Do we climb the peak and hit bottom along with our favorite heroes? Basically, I want to know the user experience of the novel. Between science, the emergence of e-readers and a really gifted novelist, some interesting aspects of our eternal obsession with stories are sure to be unveiled.