Tag Archives: story

The Shape of Our Stories: By Vonnegut

Well this is just charming. Apparently Kurt Vonnegut, brilliant writer and social commentator extraordinaire, had a theory that all stories could be graphed on a basic happy/sad scale, and that the shapes these stories created said something about our culture.


Kurt Vonnegut - The Shapes of Stories

That’s the very pleasant chart version, with more info at this link.

(And do watch the video. Vonnegut seems like a very lovable professor, maybe a bit dusty, but the audience is having a ball and is just eating it all up. It almost sounds like someone had a heavy hand on a laugh track.)

Someone with a deeper knowledge of Vonnegut than me should really go chart Vonnegut’s stories in this way and see what “shape” they make. I feel like “Slaughterhouse-5” may have some twists and turns to it, though “Breakfast of Champions” might be kinda flat.

What do you think? Does this “graphic” interpretation make sense?

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Filed under Reading, writing

Author Robin Hobb Offers Brilliant Writing Quotes

Robin Hobb, fantasy (and science fiction) writer extraordinaire, did an AMA on Reddit recently. This was one gem from the conversation:

Question: from user Livin_Right

How much time to you spend daydreaming about your stories before you put pen to paper? Do you have most plot ideas worked out in your head first, or do you start writing and let it take you where it may?

RobinHobbAMA Author

Daydreaming? That’s almost my full time occupation! But from the time I get an idea to the time when there is enough of it to say, “This will be a book and it’s time to start writing” is usually at least a year, and often much longer. Many times I’ll get a tiny gem of an idea, and I love it, but it’s not really enough to be a whole short story, let alone a book. So I set it aside and wait. And other bits of it come to me, dialogue or names or settings, and I add that to it. And Wait. And what usually happens is that I’ll be perusing the story seeds, and I’ll suddenly see that two or even three or four are all parts of the same story. When you put them together, they start striking sparks off each other, and growing. It’s wonderful. Then it’s time to write the book.

I love this comment so much. It’s just so perfect. With my first book, I had the idea a good three years before it formed itself into a nice book-sized concept, and it took 6 months to complete (even with the 50,000 words clocked during NaNoWriMo!). Just so fantastic!

Question: from user -August-

Hello and welcome back. I’ve read you will write a story without trying to form it along a certain path and just let if flow, if you will. While I enjoy this idea when reading it, seeing the characters go through good and hard times, I’m sure it could have its ups and downs on the writing side. Do you ever regret writing like this? Is there anything you would change?

RobinHobbAMA Author

I think of Story as this big river. If I can get out into the main current and then hang on for dear life, it will sweep me along and I just follow the story wherever it goes. It works wondrously well for me. Except when it doesn’t. And when that happens, when I suddenly find myself stranded in the muddy shallows with the story going nowhere, then I have to ‘lighten the raft’ so to speak, usually by discarding the last 50 or 100 pages that I’ve typed. So. Yes, there are definite hazards to trusting your Muse, but my experience has been that the rewards are greater than the risks.

This is fantastic, too. I’ve never cut out 50-100 pages of a story before (and OUCH does that sound painful!) but Robin Hobb is an excellent fantasy writer and I’m completely with her comment regarding trusting the muse. I could not have told you how my book would have ended when I began. I had a feeling, but not a certainty. It took working with the characters and the environment to formulate it into a cohesive whole.

I’m glad I discovered this AMA; it’s excited me as a writer and as a reader. I read a crush of Hobb’s Rain Wild series in middle school, but lost track of the series. I think I know what I need to pick up as my next book!

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Filed under Publishing, writing

Black Cat Salon

As soon as she stepped through the door of the Black Cat Beauty Salon, Madge knew something was wrong with her 3 o’clock appointment. It wasn’t just the young woman’s dour looks or moping demeanor, though those were good enough hints. No, Madge had been in this business long enough to know a heartbroken lover when she saw one.

“Hello there,” she said cheerily. The girl started, as if surprised that she’d been noticed. “In search of a bit of pampering?”

She nodded, her loose bangs flopping off and quickly over her downcast eyes. “Yes please,” she said.

“Do you have an appointment?” Madge asked, in her chipper-saleswoman voice.

“N-no,” the girl stammered.

“Well, you’re in luck, I’ve got openings,” Madge said, coming around the counter to take the girl by the arm. In another era she would have commented on how nice and meaty the girl’s arm was, but those days were behind her now. Leading the customer toward the worn but plush seat, Madge said, “what can I do for you today, dearie? Haircut? Eyebrow threading, maybe?”

The girl winced. Not the right tactic. “Oh, I know. Manicure. Just the ticket,” she said firmly. “Go browse the colors while I get set up.”

Her client looked briefly bewildered, but then got up and scanned the wall of polishes. Madge watched her from the back room as she picked up first one, then another pale pink or shimmering gold. She let the girl linger, and busied herself with pretending her supplies weren’t already ready.

“Find one ya like?” Madge finally asked, beckoning the girl over.

“Oh, I dunno,” she said, shy. “I like both of these, and it’s just so hard to choose.” She showed Madge the two shining bottles, one a deep lusty red and the other a pale grey. Interesting, Madge thought. The colors they pick are always so telling.

“Ah, that it is dearie, that it is sometimes. ‘ow ‘bout we use that one?” she asked, pointing out the red bottle. “I find it has a bit of a magical effect on a girl.”

“Does it?” the girl asked, brightening only momentarily, before saying gloomily, “I could use some magic.” She sighed in that melodramatic way only the young seem to manage.

“Sure does. It’s called Bewitched, ain’t it?” Madge said, winking conspiratorially.

“Oh, ha,” the girl said, the “ha” closer to a cry than a laugh. “That’s too bad.”

Madge took the girl’s hands and led her back to the chair. “What’s your name, dearie?”

“Sam. Samantha,” she said, leaning back into the firm little chair.

“Well, good, Miss Sam, just you let me take care of you now and you’ll see things are better for it in no time,” Madge said as she took out her clippers and began snip snipping at Samantha’s long tattered nails.

Sam stared off into space until Madge said, “So, dearie, are you going to tell me what’s troublin’ you or not?” She put down the clippers and held Samantha’s thumb firmly, sanding off the rough edges with a lavender nail file.

“Oh, it’s not a big deal or anything,” Sam said. And sighed again.

Madge stopped filing and looked Sam in the eye. “I’ve been around long enough, missy, that I know that kind of moping ain’t fer nothing. No sir. It’s about a boy, isn’t it?”

She went back to filing, barely glancing down at Sam’s fingers as she worked, and Sam gaped at her. “Is it that obvious?” she asked.

“’Course it is, dear. Might as well out with it. It’s part of my job, listening is, you know.” Madge rounded off another corner on Samantha’s pinkie, and turned her attention to buffing the nails.

The girl mournfully told her story while Madge worked on beautifying and painting her nails. It was a story she’d heard frequently enough over the years: there was a charming lad at the girls’ workplace, totally out of her league, and she was pining away while he didn’t even notice her. Madge just listened, and pursed her lips as she focused, applying two even coats of Bewitched red.

When Samantha had run out of lamentations, Madge looked up and said, “Well, dearie, I’m sure it won’t be that way for long. Why, I bet you’ll have a run-in with him real soon now, and you’ll find he’s been just as heartsick all this time. Now put your hands here to let this little light work its magic.”

Samantha obediently slipped her hands under the ultraviolet light, and said “Really? You think so?” Maybe it was just the little bit of pampering, but she felt happier than she had when she’d come in.

“Darlin’, I know so,” Madge said.

Six minutes later, the timer went off, and Samantha paid for her manicure (leaving a more substantial tip than she might have at another salon) and went off with a smiling gracing her face and a lightness to her manner.

Madrigal sighed as she watched the girl go. Witchcraft sure wasn’t what it used to be.



I really like this concept for a character, preferably a main character rather than a background character, but I’m a bit stumped. What problems could a witchy beautician resolve, do you think? What trouble could she get into?

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Filed under Short Stories, writing

Infinite and Beyond

I’ve been looking forward to a video game for about two years now. It’s finally (nearly!) here, and all signs are pointing to “probably gonna be awesome.”

Bioshock Infinite is the newest title in the Bioshock line. Though it’s not part of the original Bioshock timeline, it similarly explores a dystopic society held in remove from the rest of the world, explored by the player, someone from the “regular” world. The experiences are as new to the character as the player.

For non-gamers, a quick summary: Bioshock (the original) was one of the best games I have ever played. It had an interesting concept, cool weapons and powers, and, most of all, a completely immersive storyline. It was everything I wanted in not just a video game, but also a story. It was revolutionary.

In the original Bioshock, the player wandered around the ruins of an underwater city called Rapture. It was a look at what might happen if pure capitalism were allowed to run its course—long story short, it ain’t pretty.

I played that first game so much that I still associate the title screen for the production company (2K) with clutching my controller in the dark, fearful and exhilarated.

Bioshock 2 was an okay game, analyzing some socialistic dystopic ideas in the same underwater city, but it couldn’t touch the sheer power of that first story.

Fans are hoping this newest game will be a return to that original breath-snatching incredulity.

And the cinematic trailer released this month is confirming a lot of those ideas.

Hopefully even non-gamers can feel the intrigue of that trailer. That trailer doesn’t even have any game footage in it (typically a requirement to get any traction with fans) and I’m really looking forward to it. I read a lot of dystopias and I’m interested in a lot of these ideas, but the Bioshock was something different. Video games have an advantage over other media in that the reader/user can literally interact with the environment, allowing a strong story to unfold at the reader’s pace. A good game can do that with optional voiceovers (in Bioshock, you can find audio journals of lost citizens, and choose to play them or discard them), but Bioshock also went above and beyond with their perfectly on-point background music, in-game advertising jingles, and stylized art.

Yes, it was a first-person shooter, so there was a lot of gory fighting, but that wasn’t what made the game outstanding—after all, Bioshock 2 had the exact same fighting, slightly improved, and it wasn’t nearly as fun to play.

No, it’s all about the story.

I love video games, but they’re a secondary medium for me. I hope to get that same overwhelmingly scared-in-the-dark-what-might-happen-next feeling with every book I read, too. And hopefully, along the way, with every book or story I write.



Filed under video games