Hello everyone! Some of you might have watched Kurt Vonnegut’s lecture video on YouTube about Shape of Stories (if you haven’t, here it is. If you haven’t read his books, you should. They are amazing, and I don’t only mean Slaughterhouse-Five. They all have something to say. He is one of my favorite authors.) According to Kurt Vonnegut, there is this mathematical axis you can draw for any story. The vertical axis is good luck-ill fortune. The horizontal axis is beginning and entropy (BE.) I was in the shower (where I do my best thinking) and though how the flow of my stories goes in my first, second, and third book (in the process of writing), and noticed they have a similar structure. That at first there is this baseline (flatline, not a happy start, just that life is what it is), which sets the mood and the surrounding, then it begins to dip down, taking the story to the sad side of life, and only at the end it shoots back up to the surface, but not to the skies giving this happy ending where everyone ends up rich, just back to that life-level, which is amazing considering what happened a moment ago. You can imagine my reaction, I panicked. Do I only write one story over and over again? (Okay, there are around five shapes according to Vonnegut. Not that much to choose from. I’m not entirely helpless.)
Then my “clever” brain began to explain life and my writing away for the better, and came up with the idea that actually there are multiple stories that have shape inside my books as there are numerous characters. In the first book, the Rabbit God of Luck’s story starts from the bottom (ill fortune), going up when freed, and then taking a dip downwards as he meets Sigourney, but in the end, gets a somewhat happy ending. Huxley, the bad guy, starts from the top, staying on the top with good fortune, and then taking a deep dive down. So, when I realized this, I made this tiny, happy noise in the shower, waking up my husband, who was sure I had at least drowned and was fighting for my life. I had to explain to him that everything was fine, that I wasn’t dying. That the cats were alive too and not in the shower with me.
But still, the general structure of my stories are the same. Going from moderate good luck to ill fortune and then surfacing back up. There is no going around that. Maybe it is how my mind is structured to see the world, that the actions we take pursuing worthless things bring misery, but if we let go of the pursuit of the ostensible happiness, and be true to our own needs, there is contented life ahead. (Vonnegut says that is a man-in-a-hole story.) But I don’t want to write that same story over and over again. It’s too late with the first, second, and maybe with the third book as well, but I think the Cinderella story structure has an appeal or even Shakespeare’s Hamlet could work for my devious mind.
When I first saw the video, I marveled how Kurt Vonnegut spoke and paid little or no attention to the shapes. The second time (years later) I watched the video, I paid attention to the shapes but didn’t incorporate them to my own writing. But now, after that realization in the shower (I think I better stop showering, I don’t want any funny thoughts poking into my habits) I saw why Kurt Vonnegut spoke about the shape of stories, not only to make us understand how others write but to understand how we write. Do I do the same thing over and over again (maybe with different setting and actors, but still the same general pattern)? That is an excellent question to ask as a writer. You want to develop, change, bring new to the table, and use all the basic story structures which appeal to our brain. What I now think is I should pay closer attention to what I write and not only follow my inner guidelines, which end up to the same solution.
Thank you for reading! Have a happy day ❤
© K.A. Ashcomb