The shapes of stories: A “resonator” model of plot structure Academic Article uri icon

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abstract

  • Abstract Plots have been described as having shapes based on the changes in tension that occur across a story. We present here a model of plot shape that is predicated on the alternating rises and falls in the protagonist’s emotional state. The basic tenet of the model is that, once the emotional valence of the beginning and ending of a story has been specified, then the internal phases of the story are constrained to connect these endpoints by oscillating between emotional rises and falls in a wavelike manner. This makes plot structure akin to a musical resonator – such as a flute – which can only conduct sound waves of certain discrete shapes depending on the structure of the tube’s endpoints. Using this metaphor, we describe four fundamental plot-shapes based on a 2 x 2 crossing of the emotional valence of a story’s beginning (happy beginning vs. sad beginning) and ending (happy ending vs. sad ending).

publication date

  • January 12, 2020