Big news this week in the world of story. Data analysts at the Computational Story Lab at the University of Vermont in Burlington have unearthed the six basic emotional arcs of storytelling:
Their method is straightforward. The idea behind sentiment analysis is that words have a positive or negative emotional impact. So words can be a measure of the emotional valence of the text and how it changes from moment to moment. So measuring the shape of the story arc is simply a question of assessing the emotional polarity of a story at each instant and how it changes.
The science behind this study is interesting, but I’m not sure how exactly useful it is for Authors. How does one translate the emotional polarity of the words they write? This appears to be something that can only be performed after the fact.
In other words, this is research aimed at studying the meaning of a story. Authors need research aimed at helping them predict what elements of story they need to communicate that meaning.
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.
Both the ongoing rise in emotional valence and the steady ongoing fall in emotional valence sound like stories with a bump-bump-bump plot progression. In Dramatica this bump in emotion happens when the Throughline traverses horizontally or vertically from Act to Act.
While we don’t have an analysis of Alices Adventures Underground, we do have one for Romeo and Juliet. Sure enough, the plot progression for Romeo’s Throughline—albeit, the most emotionally charged Throughline—is a bump-bump-bump plot progression.
Where Dramatica diverges from research like this, and proves to be an invaluable tool for Authors, is in the practical application of this rise in emotional valence. If you wanted to write Romeo and Juliet, you would know that Romeo would have to work through his emotional baggage by moving from Impulsive Responses to Memories to Innermost Desires to Contemplations.
Fall then a rise and rise then a fall sounds like a slide-bump-slide story. Again we don’t have research on Icarus, but a film like Amadeus fits that nicely. A slide occurs when the Throughline traverses diagonally and Salieri does that in the first half of that story and again during the second half.
Rise-fall-rise and fall-rise-fall sound like the traditional three-act bump-slide-bump plot progression.
It is always fascinating to me how all this research is done into the science of narrative, yet no one mentions the Dramatica theory of story. Seems like everyone could save themselves a ton of time if they took a closer look at the theory.