Vonnegut explained “People have been hearing fantastic stories since time began. The problem is, they think life is supposed to be like the stories.”
Vonnegut used a graph to illustrate the rising and falling story arc, specifically a grid with a Time axis from left to right, Happiness from bottom to top. Vonnegut was able to plot any story against the Time/Happiness index to show how people gain satisfaction from dramatic structures.
Cinderella has a rising and falling story arc that we know well. Vonnegut observed “people LOVE that story! This story arc has been written a thousand times in a thousand tales. And because of it, people think their lives are supposed to be like this.”
We see next example time and again in local and national news. An ordinary day in an ordinary town; a child falls down a well. The town gathers for the rescue effort. Setting aside old grudges in the effort to save the child, there are breakthroughs and setbacks. The story plays out accompanied by a ticking clock. The community unites to save the child.
It could be a dog, a vulnerable elderly person, sixty-four workers down a mine, or thirteen schoolboys in a cave. Life imitates art in the dramatic structure of disaster and rescue.
In Real life
In normal life, the majority of people experience few events so dramatic. These intense moments of drama are relief from the hum-drum boredom of existence.
“…because we grew up surrounded by big dramatic story arcs in books and movies, we think our lives are supposed to be filled with huge ups and downs! So people pretend there is drama where there is none,” Vonnegut claimed.
Trips to the mall become epic journeys of adversity. Each doctor’s appointment take on life-and-death importance. Sports men and women become our gladiators in the arena.
Our little ups and downs become epics of legendary proportions. Searching for meaning and some kind of immortality, we’re trying to make our lives into a fairy tale.