Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Six Plot Theory

Image credit deviant art

A Post By Jonathan 

So... lately I've been doing a lot more reading about writing than actual writing. But hey, that's gotta count for something, right? 

During my "research", I came across a study that I just had to share. I don't know about you, but I've struggled with plotting my book(s) from time to time. Well it turns out that I was sweating over nothing. Apparently there are only a handful of plots to choose from. According to a bunch of data mining nerds at the University of Vermont, there are just six plots in every film, book and TV show ever made! They basically put 1,700 stories into their little machine and, using something called "sentiment analysis", determined the most common emotional arcs of each story.

Here's a link to the actual study (and here's an article about the study for you layman out there). I pulled the arcs and the examples from the article for your viewing pleasure. I found them to be pretty easy to comprehend. What say you? 

The Six Arcs Are (drum role please....)

  • Fall-rise-fall: 'Oedipus Rex', 'The Wonder Book of Bible Stories', 'A Hero of Our Time' and 'The Serpent River'. 
  • Rise-fall: 'Stories from Hans Andersen', 'The Rome Express', 'How to Read Human Nature' and 'The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali'. 
  • Fall-rise: 'The Magic of Oz', 'Teddy Bears', 'The Autobiography of St. Ignatius' and 'Typhoon'. 
  • Steady fall: 'Romeo and Juliet', 'The House of the Vampire', 'Savrola' and 'The Dance'. 
  • Steady rise: 'Alice's Adventures Underground', 'Dream', 'The Ballad of Reading Gaol' and 'The Human Comedy'. 
  • Rise-fall-rise: 'Cinderella', 'A Christmas Carol', 'Sophist' and 'The Consolation of Philosophy'. 
According to the study, the most popular stories have been found to follow the 'fall-rise-fall' and 'rise-fall' arcs. Like probably a lot of folks out there, I haven't read many of the books in the examples, so I'd love to hear if you can come up with any more recent examples. 
Thanks for stopping by! And happy plotting 

For more advice on plotting, please see Brenda's Monday article: "Plotter.Pantser? Pole Dancer?"


Mary Fan said...

Great post, Jonathan! I love story theory-type stuff :-)

Jonathan Schramm said...

Thanks, Mary! Me too. So interesting. Could study this stuff all day-- maybe I really do need MFA?

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