Tag Archives: kurt-vonnegut

Vonnegut: Narrative Arcs and Why We Love Drama

For millennia we have told and absorbed fantastic stories with simple yet strong narrative structures, and the structure of these stories is in contrast to the much less erratic “plots” of our own lives. This discrepancy between the dramas present in our stories and our real lives causes many of us to create unnecessary and non-existent dramas in our lives.

That’s Kurt Vonnegut‘s theory for why some people “have a need for drama”, as described by Derek Sivers who attended a talk where Vonnegut explained this theory through a series of wonderfully simple diagrams showing the narrative arcs of some of our favourite stories and comparing them to that of a “normal” life.

Vonnegut also discusses and describes these narrative arcs through diagrams in the collections Palm Sunday and A Man Without a Country. Austin Kleon excerpts the former book, where Vonnegut writes that this was the topic of his rejected Master’s thesis. My favourite arc has to be that of Cinderella:

Kurt Vonnegut's Narrative Arc Diagram of Cinderella

On reading this I was curious as to:

  • why the causation must go from the stories we read to our own lives: could it not be that we created stories filled with drama and narrative structures like those described in order to fill a void that the fake dramas we created in real life weren’t?
  • how this could relate to the concept of Apollonian and Dionysian. Not for long, as a quick search led me to Reddit user GhostsForBreakfast‘s thoughts on the idea (basically, what I would like to say, but much clearer).