So it goes

Slaughterhause Five is a horrific and at the same time funny novel about the Second World War by Kurt Vonnegut.

The story is set in the Ardennes, Dresden and various other places. But it also features beings that look like upright toilet plungers who can travel through time, to nice and difficult moments.

An important stylistic device in the novel is the sentence ‘So it goes’. It appears after almost every negative event, often after a death.

The author Kurt Vonnegut also appears in a great short online video.

It’s about story structure.

On a blackboard, he draws a line graph. The y-axis has ill fortune at the bottom and good fortune at the top. The x-axis runs from beginning to end.

The first type of story structure he discusses starts a little above average on the y-axis. But soon, the protagonist gets into trouble. And then he gets out of it again.

People love that story.

But the most popular story structure starts at the very bottom of the y-axis – in deep misery.

With a little girl whose mother has died. Her father has remarried a mean woman.

So it goes.

From there the situation slowly improves, with the help of a fairy godmother.

When she finds happiness (she dances with the prince at the ball), she loses it one last time. To achieve it definitively at the end of the story.

Want to improve your own story? Check if there is enough movement on the y-axis, between negative and positive parts. And avoid a flatline.

Just like Vonnegut’s structures.