Kurt Vonnegut and Pixar

Watching the Vonnegut “Shapes of Stories” reminded me of a similar story structure that I was introduced to by Mark Benno – the Pixar “Story Spline”. It (like Vonnegut’s) is simple enough to use with my elementary students, but allows for complex and engaging storytelling. The Pixar structure is basically Vonnegut’s “Man in a Hole” curve:

  1. Once upon a time…
  2. And every day…
  3. Until one day…
  4. And because of that…
  5. And because of that…
  6. And because of that…
  7. Until finally…
  8. And since that day…
  9. The moral of the story is…
Combining the two, # 1-2 are when Vonnegut’s curve begins at the top, 3-7 are the plummet and recovery of the curve, and 8-9 the curve is back on top.  Take “Toy Story”:
  1. Andy’s toys lived a happy existence, lead by Andy’s favorite toy Woody.
  2. Every day the toys played happily with Andy, and Woody was secure in his position as favorite.
  3. Until one day Andy got a new toy, Buzz Lightyear, and Woody feared that he may no longer be the favorite. (Cue the drop of the Vonnegut curve!)
  4. And because of that Woody was uncharacteristically mean to Buzz, and ended up pushing him out the window.
  5. And because of that Woody had to go after Buzz and return him to Andy’s room which began a series of adventures.
  6. And because of that, Woody and Buzz had to work together to stay safe and return to Andy, which began their friendship.
  7. Until finally they made it back safely, and became best friends. (The curve rises again!)
  8. And since that day they coexisted and played with Andy together.
  9. And the moral is… well there are a bunch, aren’t there?
My students and I have used this structure to map out all sorts of stories – and now I have Vonnegut’s curves to help map out others.
Here’s the clip:

5 thoughts on “Kurt Vonnegut and Pixar

  1. Thanks for introducing me to the Pixar Story Spline, Kris. It looks like a great way to scaffold story analysis. I think you’re right that Vonnegut’s graph is going to add a terrific visual component to the story spline. I’m planning on using CoSketch to analyze a story and thought that it might be a cool tool for your students to use — http://cosketch.com/ It’s like a group sketch pad online.

    See you back at the bunkhouse!

    I was inspired to do some more research and learned about the Pixar Story Masterclass — http://www.pixarpost.com/2012/04/pixar-storyanimation-masterclass-tour.html Did you learn about Benno’s Story Spline at a masterclass?

  2. Cris,

    Thanks for the tip on Cosketch – it looks great. I like your idea of having groups cooperate on a story analysis.

    Mark Benno works for Apple Education, and shared the Story Spline with us a few years ago at a workshop he did in my school district. I think he picked it up right from the folks at Pixar because of the whole Apple-Pixar relationship.

  3. Alan, I haven’t used it as a prompt for writing yet. I mostly teach science, and much of the writing we do is expository. I have used it for multimedia storyboarding and production with upper elementary and middle school students, and it has worked well as an organizer.

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