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Posted by on Jan 19, 2013 in Aesthetics, Diversions | 2 comments

Kurt Vonnegut on the shapes of stories

Over at Brain Pickings is a nice post about one of my favourite authors, Kurt Vonnegut. Specifically, it is about Vonnegut’s reflections on the shapes of stories – and what it is that we find emotionally satisfying about them. The post includes a video extract from a lecture that Vonnegut gave on this topic. Notoriously, Vonnegut’s anthropology dissertation on the shapes of simple stories was rejected, but he has a lot of insightful things to say in his lecture, for both readers and aspiring writers. His diagram for Cinderella is especially amusing, yet salient.

My first Ph.D dissertation (yes, I’ve done two of them, long story (as it were)) was on a much more specialised but related topic, and one of my fascinations was with the shapes and structures of Vonnegut’s own narratives.

In all, Vonnegut was a wonderful contributor to modern literature; however, I really don’t like his advice about semi-colons. I love semi-colons. If you can use semi-colons correctly, you’re a long way toward being my friend.

  • Charles Sullivan

    When I taught writing, I used to tell my students that a semi-colon does have both a comma and period (full stop) as part of its make-up, but that the semi-colon is really more closely related to the period (full stop) than it is the comma (although there are exceptions). Generally, it separates independent clauses, as a period does, But the two clause must be close in their focus and point.

  • RussellBlackford

    Sure, Charles. That’s good advice. I don’t know why so many people have an aversion to the semi-colon: like the colon, it can be very useful for conveying meaning clearly.