Kurt Vonnegut wrote his master’s thesis on the shape of stories. He showed how the fortunes of the main character in a story change over time and adhere to a few archetypal shapes. The most common story, the one we never tire of hearing, Vonnegut calls the “man in the hole” story. In the beginning the man’s life is mildly positive (it doesn’t have to be a man). Then the man’s fortunes take a tumble and he falls into a hole. Eventually the man climbs out of the hole and ends the story with improved fortunes and lessons learned.
Vonnegut: “Now let me give you a marketing tip. The people who can afford to buy books and magazines and go to the movies don’t like to hear about people who are poor or sick, so start your story up here [indicates top of the G-I axis]. You will see this story over and over again. People love it, and it is not copyrighted. The story is ‘Man in Hole,’ but the story needn’t be about a man or a hole. It’s: somebody gets into trouble, gets out of it again [draws line A]. It is not accidental that the line ends up higher than where it began. This is encouraging to readers.”
(From Maria Popova)
Few experiences in our own lives end on a positive note and with a sense of closure. We are starved for stories that end with a positive resolution. That’s why stories you write for your buyers will be received enthusiastically if you give them a character who successfully climbs out of the hole.
(From Maya Eilam)