The Six Main Arcs in Storytelling, as Identified by an A.I.

A machine mapped the most frequently used emotional trajectories in fiction, and compared them with the ones readers like best.

.. “There is no reason why the simple shapes of stories can’t be fed into computers. They are beautiful shapes.”

.. That explanation comes from a lecture he gave, and which you can still watch on YouTube, that involves Vonnegut mapping the narrative arc of popular storylines along a simple graph. The X-axis represents the chronology of the story, from beginning to end, while the Y-axis represents the experience of the protagonist, on a spectrum of ill fortune to good fortune. “This is an exercise in relativity, really,” Vonnegut explains. “The shape of the curve is what matters.”

“it certainly looks like trash”—until he notices another well known story that shares this shape. “Those steps at the beginning look like the creation myth of virtually every society on earth. And then I saw that the stroke of midnight looked exactly like the unique creation myth in the Old Testament.” Cinderella’s curfew was, if you look at it on Vonnegut’s chart, a mirror-image downfall to Adam and Eve’s ejection from the Garden of Eden. “And then I saw the rise to bliss at the end was identical with the expectation of redemption as expressed in primitive Christianity. The tales were identical.”

.. They collected computer-generated story arcs for nearly 2,000 works of fiction, classifying each into one of six core types of narratives (based on what happens to the protagonist):

1. Rags to Riches (rise)

2. Riches to Rags (fall)

3. Man in a Hole (fall then rise)

4. Icarus (rise then fall)

5. Cinderella (rise then fall then rise)

6. Oedipus (fall then rise then fall)

.. The researchers assigned individual happiness scores to more than 10,000 frequently-used words by crowdsourcing the effort on the website Mechanical Turk. This portion of the research is fascinating in and of itself: The 10 words that people ranked as happiest werelaughter, happiness, love, happy, laughed, laugh, laughing, excellent, laughs, and joy. The 10 words that people ranked as least happy were terrorist, suicide, rape, terrorism, murder, death, cancer, killed, kill, anddie. (You can see how all the words ranked by visiting this site.)

.. There are several theories that say every story known to man can be reduced to one of just a handful of archetypes—a quest, overcoming the monster, rebirth, to name a few—but there’s no consensus on what those stories are.

.. All in all, “Rags to Riches” stories represented about one-fifth of all the works analyzed.