Kurt Vonnegut explains an approach to portraying the shape of stories along the G-I (good fortune/ill-fortune) and B-E (beginning – end) axis. During the clip he provides examples of generic, sinusoidal (cosine or sine, depending on the character’s starting point) stories that dip into (or out of) good and ill fortune.
Vonnegut provides a more complex story, using Cinderella as an example. Interestingly enough, it’s a combination of step-wise functions and exponential functions as opposed to the simple, sinusoidal examples he started with. I believe the dramatic changes, and the perceived “flatness” of the step-wise function is more in line with reality, or at least the stories that engage us and keep us guessing.
A story that pops out of my head is the movie Rudy. Now, admittedly, we know movies very often end on a more or less positive note, or on the ‘G’ side of Vonnegut’s axis model. That said, the story’s ‘E’ is almost predetermined. The story starts at the origin (0,0 for those who recall their geometry/trig days) and dips as the story highlights Rudy’s current situation and seemingly low position in society. Then, through as series of story developments, he is given signs of hope in the form of admission to Notre Dame, finding a job on campus, making the practice squad, etc. All of this leads up to a high point that is defined by the posting of the active football roster, each time resulting in Rudy plummeting from the ‘G’ to the ‘I’ on Vonnegut’s scale. The last part of the movie, aligns with Vonnegut’s Cinderella story, which is a rapid rise from the depths of ‘I’ (where Rudy gets added to the active roster, only to ride the bench till the last minute of the game) to ‘G’ where Rudy gets the final sack of the game and gets carried off the field.
The rule I chose from Pixar’s list for creating appealing stories was #1, “You admire a character for trying more than for their successes”
I created an infographic that speaks to the total climb being greater than zero. Rudy’s climb figure would be something HUGE because he tried repeatedly and worked against all odds and setbacks. His success was relatively small (one sack and 19 seconds of playing time in a 4 year college career), but it was his effort that we appreciate.