Super Shapes

In the Shapes of Stories video, Kurt Vonnegut explains the theory that a “shape” of a story can be reduced to a graph. He draws a graph with good fortune and ill fortune serving as the vertical axis, and the story’s timeline as the horizontal axis. Every narrative starts at a certain point and curves toward “good fortune” or “ill fortune” throughout. His first illustration makes a U shape, symbolizing someone starting with relatively good fortune, getting into trouble, and getting out of trouble. This shape can be applied to the story in The First Ever Superman Cartoon.

Superman, or Clark Kent, and Lois Lane start out as journalists who have a great lead on a huge story. The city is in danger because of the villain, but Lois is confident that she can get to the bottom of the case. I think this phase of the story lies in the somewhat “good fortune” area of the graph. It dives down dramatically to “ill fortune” when she arrives at the villain’s house and is held captive. We can see the story gradually move back up when Superman arrives, struggles against the villain’s powerful weapon, and makes it out alive before the villain’s lair explodes. The story finally makes its way back to where we started in “good fortune”, if not higher, when justice is served to the villain and Lois receives high praise from her boss.

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