The Shapes of Stories, a Kurt Vonnegut Infographic

My take on visually presenting Kurt Vonnegut’s theories about archetypal stories, designed after researching the subject.

Prints are available on my shop on Etsy.

It’s really exciting for me to see Vonnegut’s ideas and my creative work resonate with people. Thank you for your interest!

(click for larger version)

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144 comments

  1. Gotta admit, you hit the nail on the head! Great Job!

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  7. Joe

    this is awesome.

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  18. Wow! Been teaching this for years in writing workshops! Great to see your graphic…mine are a bit more random and free hand impro but hey! Love it!

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  20. Excellent diagram. I heard about it this morning on this week’s Slate Political Gabfest podcast, wrote down your name, and looked it up. Great design, and great thought process!

    • Maya Eilam

      That’s great, writing down my name is not the easiest thing to do! I’m glad you like it, thank you.

  21. Fantastic work Maya, thank you. You’re an extremely talented designer.

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  23. Did you come up with the examples? They’re just as good as the design!

    • Maya Eilam

      Yes I did, it was tough but fun. I was trying to come up with older examples and contemporary examples to show that the story shape stays the same regardless of old/new, classic/commercial. Thank you!

  24. Funny, smart, and entirely on point! Thanks for this!

  25. Hi Maya, Fantastic work. Kudos. Loved the infographic :) Thanks for creating.

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  28. Lee Harrod

    Fun, Maya. (Do I detect some literary theory?) (: )=

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  32. Joyce

    Like Chris, I heard about this on “Gabfest” and had to look it up (after wondering if I had your name right). Kurt Vonnegut is a favorite, and you’ve done something unique with his philosophy. This is inspiring and something to bring into the classroom.

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  35. Maya, truly delighted by your work! Congratulations on well-deserved recognition.

  36. Good ol’ Kurt. You graphed him well.

  37. Reblogged this on MichaelEdwardKelly.com and commented:
    Very cool. I’ve always really enjoyed the idea that one could map story arcs like this. It fulfills the part of my brain that demands structure.

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  45. Reblogged this on Cabra Senior Library Blog and commented:
    Was excited by this Infographic illustrating the American author Kurt Vonnegut’s theory on the Shapes of Stories.

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  48. Jennifer

    I love this! I’m a high school writing teach and I’d love to have a large poster of this for my room. It’s just perfect. Where and how can I get one?
    Thank you.

    • Maya Eilam

      Hi Jennifer, thank you so much! I’m now looking into prints and will have an update for you soon.

  49. Adrienne

    I would like one, too. How can we make that happen?

    • Maya Eilam

      Hi Adrienne, thank you, we can make that happen! I’m looking into printing and I’ll update you soon.

  50. Pingback: Platypus LocalKurt Vonnegut Shows Us How To Visualize Our Stories - Platypus Local

  51. Reblogged this on Mr. Bowen in Los Angeles and commented:
    What a great way to see storytelling.

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  53. Pingback: Vonnegut’s The Shapes of Stories: All Stories Ever Told Can Be Described in These 8 Simple Graphs | News aggrgator

  54. Why did you leave “Hamlet” off?

    • Maya Eilam

      Hamlet is on there under “Which Way Is Up?”

      • Sorry about that. I didn’t notice it at first because Vonnegut always put it at the end. It’s kind of the exception that proves the rule.

      • Maya Eilam

        eeyore, I know what you mean. But there’s actually a lot of variation in the way Vonnegut presented the theory in Palm Sunday compared to A Man Without A Country. Hamlet is at the end in the latter, and not even present in the former.

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  57. Why the hell was this rejeceted?

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  60. Very cool. Thanks for sharing this.

    Another interesting observation, say in the case of Selby’s Requiem for a Dream, is what role tragedy is really playing. At first you might put that story under the Bad to Worse label. But if you change perspective and label tragedy (in this case, addiction) as the hero of the story, you’ll see it more closely follows the Man in Hole narrative. Er, Tragedy in Hole.

    There is a period when it seems like tragedy may lose, that they just might get their lives together, beat addiction, and pull themselves out of the ghetto. But in the end, tragedy wins and the characters succumb to their respective addictions.

    Sometimes the hero following an arc isn’t a character, but instead, the forces around them.

    • Maya Eilam

      That is very perceptive! I agree, and I think there are a lot of ways to see a story and what is actually happening as the story progresses.

      There’s also the role of the audience/reader to consider. An arc could chart our feelings as we experience a story.

  61. Andrewog

    Thanks, I really enjoyed this. I saw Vonnegut lecture over 10years ago and remember him drawing graphs for Hamlet and the Metamorphosis. Nice to see it again. I never knew he considered it as a thesis.

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  63. Eric

    Hi Maya – how very wonderful! I’d like to be notified when the prints are available. Loved KV’s theories about life as a shapely story.

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  65. Hey! I’d like to be notified about prints.

  66. Reblogged this on Across the Universe and commented:
    This is simply awesome

  67. Reblogged this on Tok and commented:
    Amazing visualization of Kurt Vonnegut’s thesis on the shape of stories by designer Maya Eilam

  68. Reblogged this on fabriziofaraco and commented:
    Stories are everywhere. Just know their shape

  69. The Cinderella graph is incorrect – it should start way down, climbs has a peak, sinks again then ends in endless joy ^^

    • Maya Eilam

      Hi, I know what you mean, but I think it’s actually not so simple. When translating the line graphs into 2D shapes, there’s a fundamental change in the visuals that requires showing the shape of the steps, moreso than their relationship to the baseline. I think this shape is closest to what I gathered and synthesized from my research. It’s also good to keep in mind that Kurt Vonnegut himself drew the shapes with variations.

  70. Pingback: Every story you love can be retold with one of eight sentences | 22 Words

  71. beautiful design on an amazing topic.

    • Maya Eilam

      Thank you, Liam. I feel like I came across an awesome idea and gave sharing it my all. It’s really wonderful to have people see it and receive it so well.

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  74. Roger

    Wonderful

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  76. Gary Freymiller

    Great work Maya! Like everyone else I’m interested in getting a print. There’s a Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis. They for sure need to have a print for their collection, and I think they should be interested in selling them there as well. Let them know at info@vonnegutlibrary.org

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  78. Anthony

    I would love a print!

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  88. Great work! I would also like to be notified about prints.

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  99. Stoop

    Just wanted to say that, as a writer, I found this to be extremely helpful. Thanks for doing it.

  100. Reblogged this on Mrs Taylor's English Blog and commented:
    Great infographic.

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  108. yboris

    Reblogged this on YBoris and commented:
    The Shapes of Stories, a Kurt Vonnegut Infographic

  109. Hi maya,

    I am an English teacher..and am often looking for schematic to explain stories to kids.

    I just taught slaughterhouse five to juniors. I will likely buy the poster at a minimum. Is there a way to use the separate “slides” in a PowerPoint or prezi?

    I use Fretag’s Pyramid to teach plot to my Freshmen…

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