The Emotional Arcs of Stories

Kurt Vonnegut, about a thousand years after Aristotle, famously mapped out the many shapes of stories, but now Andrew Reagan at the Computational Story Lab at the University of Vermont in Burlington has mapped out the emotional arcs of stories. He used sentiment analysis and over 1,700 stories to produce the most common emotional arcs of stories. He found six core arcs.

The six basic emotional arcs are these:

A steady, ongoing rise in emotional valence, as in a rags-to-riches story such as Alice’s Adventures Underground by Lewis Carroll. A steady ongoing fall in emotional valence, as in a tragedy such as Romeo and Juliet. A fall then a rise, such as the man-in-a-hole story, discussed by Vonnegut. A rise then a fall, such as the Greek myth of Icarus. Rise-fall-rise, such as Cinderella. Fall-rise-fall, such as Oedipus.

...It turns out the most popular are stories that follow the Icarus and Oedipus arcs and stories that follow more complex arcs that use the basic building blocks in sequence. In particular, the team says the most popular are stories involving two sequential man-in-hole arcs and a Cinderella arc followed by a tragedy.

~ Technology Review