I've always been interested in Kurt Vonnegut's mapping of stories as graphs. There's a lovely graphic explaining it here, or just watch the video below. I'll wait while you do that.
I love his presentation style!
I decided to play around with this to analyse the structure of my current novel plan. First I numbered each scene. Then for the main character I assigned a number between +3 and -3. +3 would mean a huge increase in their success or happiness; +1 a slight increase; -2 a fairly hefty decrease. Easy enough, and you just have to accept that it's not accurate, just a guideline. Then I did the same for the second character.
Next I created a graph in Word with a number of data entries equalling the number of scenes. Starting with a zero score I then just modified it by the numbers in the scenes. So if character Y starts at zero and the first scene is -1 to happiness/success, then the data entry for the graph is -1. If their next scene is also -1 happiness, the next entry now equals -2. Overall they're getting worse. Maybe in the next scene someone buys a copy of their novel and their happiness at the end is +3. The third point on the graph would be +1 (i.e. -2 + 3). Overall they're now a bit happier. Then just let Word generate the graph! This is what I found.
X axis = time; Y axis = happiness/success
I can see a few areas where I got the numbers wrong and, on looking at the whole, it isn't quite right. Still, it is really revealing to me. Sam's plot is classic 'Man in Hole' (even though Sam is really Samantha). Things go wrong, then they improve, and they're hopefully better off for the experience. What's interesting is the arc taken by the other main character, Mark. It has elements of Boy Meets Girl, which fits, though the 'lose girl and regain girl' bit at the end is very truncated compared to the normal pattern, because the story isn't just about that - it is a general battle to improve his life which starts to collapse towards the end. So the graphs reveal mostly what I expected, but with a bigger divergence in the middle - as one character finds their life improving because of their actions, the other finds their life getting worse. A dissonance that needs to be resolved in order to make the story satisfying, which is precisely what happens at the end of the novel.
Have you ever tried this process on either your own works or someone else's? Do you agree with Vonnegut?