Category Archives: Literature

Kurt Vonnegut Diagrams the Shape of All Stories in a Master’s Thesis Rejected by U. Chicago

Original article

Diagrams of Stories

“What has been my prettiest contribution to the culture?” asked Kurt Vonnegut in his autobiography Palm Sunday. His answer? His master’s thesis in anthropology for the University of Chicago, “which was rejected because it was so simple and looked like too much fun.” The elegant simplicity and playfulness of Vonnegut’s idea is exactly its enduring appeal. The idea is so simple, in fact, that Vonnegut sums the whole thing up in one elegant sentence: “The fundamental idea is that stories have shapes which can be drawn on graph paper, and that the shape of a given society’s stories is at least as interesting as the shape of its pots or spearheads.” In 2011, we featured the video below of Vonnegut explaining his theory, “The Shapes of Stories.” We can add to the dry wit of his lesson the picto-infographic by graphic designer Maya Eilam above, which strikingly illustrates, with examples, the various story shapes Vonnegut described in his thesis. (Read a condensed version here.)