Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Story Shapes, Re-Inspired by "Will Grayson, Will Grayson"

“this is why we call people exes, I guess - because the paths that cross in the middle end up separating at the end. it's too easy to see an X as a cross-out. it's not, because there's no way to cross out something like that. the X is a diagram of two paths” (277).

Not only does this analogy play out for relationships, as described by the Other Will Grayson in Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan, but it also follows the path of the whole story. Two boys named Will Grayson live their lives completely independently of each other, until a chance meeting (midpoint of the two lines in the X) that ends up changing the course of both of their lives.

In my advanced fiction writing class, my professor often had us write a "craft paper" to describe the "shape" of the story we read. There is no "right" or "wrong" answer, just simply a different way of looking at and understanding the story.

For one of those assignments, I described "Zero Conditional" by Caitlin Horrocks as an "X" because of intersection plot points and their changes over the course of the short story.

A substitute teacher arrives at a classroom and has no control over the class at all. As time progresses, she gains more and more control. Her goal is obviously to make her students obey and to help them learn and her success at that is the / part of the X. The other side of the X shows the decline of the classroom pets' health overtime ( \ ). The meeting point is the death of the rat, where the students all actively participate in the burial, showing that the teacher is successful at getting them to work together. At the end of the story, a student shows that he really learned a lesson from the teacher, which is the high point of right side of the X. The low point is the murky, uncared for fish tank in the classroom. Looking at the story as an X can help the reader to notice the complete reversal of those elements of the story.

X as a story shape is helpful for illustrate different types of relationships: the relationship between two characters (Will Grayson, Will Grayson) or the relationship between elements of plot ("Zero Conditional").

Kurt Vonnegut (Cat's Cradle, Slaughterhouse-Five) said that all stories could be described in one of eight different graphs.


  1. Interesting :) Haven't never done creative writing, I have never thought to look at stories with regards to their shapes before. Great post!

    Obsessive Compulsive Reader

    1. Hi OCR! I'm glad it got you thinking about story shapes a little! It can be a lot of fun. :)