Day 11: Kurt Vonnegut and the Shape of Story: A Cure for the Manic Monday (particularly if you suffer from problems of plot)

What is plot?  How do we figure it out?  I’ve attempted to talk plot before in a number of different posts.  I’ve had a innumerable conversations with writers who say things like, “I suck at plot,” or “I don’t understand plot,” and I’ve been taught by plot-junkies (that’s you, Gregory Martin) about the importance of the Aristotilean plot structure.  I’ve even tried playing with school-like worksheets in order to school myself into following plot.  In other words, I have been trying to write about, post about, talk about, and figure out plot for years.  And mostly, my comprehension has fallen short.

And so, I am very grateful to Sidel, one of this year’s challengers, for sharing with me a Kurt Vonnegut infomercial on the shape of stories.  This, of course, lead me on a trail of Vonnegut-inspired happenings and this 4:36 minute lecture given by Vonnegut himself.  It is sooo worth watching.  Very funny and such a refreshing look at this tired topic:

What I love about Vonnegut’s take on story is the way he doesn’t force each work fit into a single arching shape.  He offers other views: The Man in a Hole, the Boy Meets Girl, the Kafka Story, the Cinderella Story.  It makes one feel like there are innumerable structures, each shared and recognized by writers and readers alike.  Not sure about you, but I find the idea quite freeing.

So, this Monday, why not think about your story in this manner?  As Sidsel asked, “Wouldn’t it be fun to take a well-known tale (or one of our own stories or life experiences) and re-tool it to fit a different shape, just to see what happens?”

Today’s Exercise:  Let’s try this out.  I think the exercise would be a useful undertaking for your own work or, as Sidsel suggests, the work of another popular work.  If you use it for your own story, this might also be a good way to think of scenes you’ll still need to scratch out.

Kurt Vonnegut's Story Axis

Kurt Vonnegut’s Story Axis

Also, if you are interested in sharing your plot shape, I’d love to see and share them on the blog. If I get enough images, I might compile them into a post or maybe even add them into the official Challenger’s page.  (Sorry poets.  Perhaps a fun practice for a prose poem?).  Interested?  Shoot me an email ( with your image attached.

I’ve heard it said that every now and again, its good to step back from the page and think in a more visual form.  Today, folks, why not give this idea a go?

Interested in more of Vonnegut’s insight on writing?  Check out:

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