Why are some stories universal?
The characters and experiences in stories can form metaphors that extend outward like a network where almost everyone finds a point of connection. Once people connect, the story can take them along on a journey that follows the plot.
When you want to tell a story of any sort, the characters, conflict, and theme should all feed into the plot. In an interview with The Paris Review, Kurt Vonnegut said “I guarantee you that no modern story scheme, even plotlessness, will give a reader genuine satisfaction, unless one of those old-fashioned plots is smuggled in somewhere.”
The shape of a plot
As a student at the University of Chicago, Vonnegut’s master’s thesis argued 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.”
His thesis was rejected.
But designer Maya Eilam has turned it into a excellent visual that helps us see how the shapes of stories echo through time:
The shapes we love
These familiar shapes are ways that we’ve come to understand life. We feel engaged when we recognize them in a story. In the Paris Review interview, Vonnegut explained, “I don’t praise plots as accurate representations of life, but as ways to keep readers reading.”
To keep readers engaged, you need to take them somewhere. There’s more to a story than plot, but it could be said that you can’t have a story without one.