Kurt Vonnegut explains drama!

When I’m writing, I don’t do plotting – I don’t have a cork board up on the wall with index cards for characters and events, I don’t really understand the “acts” of modern films (although I’m hoping to learn by reading Save the Cat, on the recommendation of the mighty Sizemore). I have a sort-of shape in my head and I just get going and see where it gets me. More often than not it doesn’t get me anywhere particularly interesting, but sometimes it does, and those sometimeses all add up to something like a book, eventually. And then it’s about editing, editing, editing.

Nonetheless, I am a sucker for theories about the architecture of stories, and Derek Sivers has a diamond for me today: Kurt Vonnegut explains drama. And it’s classic Vonnegut: at first profound, then playful, then apparently a bit thin, but then really profound again, like he’s trying to draw you in to understand something really big without ever saying “pay attention, this is really big.” Sivers tells the story that Vonnegut was giving a talk in New York in which he drew story grids for the Cinderella story, for the common disaster story, and for real life. Here’s the one for common disaster:

Vonnegut then goes on to say that real life looks nothing like this; it’s basically flat. But people’s brains have been conditioned to think otherwise:

“But because we grew up surrounded by big dramatic story arcs in books and movies, we think our lives are supposed to be filled with huge ups and downs! So people pretend there is drama where there is none.”

Not sure that Vonnegut really helped with this. I often have the vague feeling that I’m an American war veteran who has come unstuck in time.

Kurt Vonnegut image from Wikimedia Commons.

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