There are just six different types of emotional arcs in every story


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Every story has an arc, which is its defining shape.

Kurt Vonnegut once described one of the shapes as "boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl." In other words, the arc goes up, down, then up again.

To create an emotional journey, every story must have a form. Researchers at the Computational Story Lab at the University of Vermont in Burlington analyzed the arcs of 1,700 different public domain stories and found out that they all break down into six different basic shapes.

As reported by the MIT Technology Review, the study analyzed the emotional sentiment of different words. By measuring the emotional of those words from moment to moment, they created shapes for each story.


Here are the six different types of stories they found with examples, per the Review:

  1. A steady, ongoing rise in emotional valence as in a rags-to-riches story such as Alice's Adventures Underground by Lewis Carroll.
  2. A steady ongoing fall in emotional valence as in a tragedy such as Romeo and Juliet.
  3. A fall then a rise, such as the man-in-a-hole story, discussed by Vonnegut.
  4. A rise then a fall, such as the Greek myth of Icarus.
  5. A rise then a fall, such as the Greek myth of Icarus. Rise-fall-rise, such as Cinderella.
  6. Fall-rise-fall, such as Oedipus.

The most popular stories, according to the researchers, are Icarus (rise then fall) and Oedipus (fall, then rise, then fall again). But it turns out that readers and writers also like books that are made of complex sequences of these different story arcs. So if you're worried that complex multigenerational novel you're working on may not be simple enough, there's no need to worry.

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