July 30, 2021

KITAAB

Connecting Asian writers with global readers

Computer reads between lines to find the six plot shapes in literature

1 min read

THOMAS Hardy’s Return of the Native is happy-sad-happy-neutral-happy. James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist is first happy, then extremely sad, then a bit happy, then neutral. And Moby Dick has a similar plot, emotion-wise, to a 1990s pulp crime novel: The Australian

An English professor has identified the six basic plots of our literary canon. But unlike other English professors who have claimed similar feats, he has done so through quantitative analysis of more than 40,000 novels.

Matthew Jockers, from Stanford University, uses computer programming to gain insights into literature. His program, Syuzhet, looks for the emotional content of texts, and records how it changes over time. What he found was that there appeared to be only a few natural plot archetypes.

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