Ciao, SEers. I’ve been talking about Vonnegut’s five basic plots. So far, I’ve discussed Man in Hole and Boy Meets Girl, which you can find by clicking the links. Today, I’m going to talk about the third plot type, Cinderella.
As I’ve described before, Vonnegut plotted all stories on a grid. The vertical axis was the GI-Axis, and it ran from good fortune to ill fortune. The horizontal axis was the BE-Axis, and it ran from the beginning to the end of the story.
The Cinderella story type is one that should be familiar to you, maybe not as a plot-type, but by the story itself. First, let’s consider the structure. Vonnegut taught us that readers like to follow heroes who start the story above the midpoint of the GI-Axis. But in this case, we break this trend. This particular hero starts below the midpoint. This is someone who has experienced real tragedies in life. But something happens, then her situation improves. So much, in fact, that she breaks past the midpoint into the area of good fortune. At least, for a bit. Then she plummets—not as far down as she has been. Nothing can be that bad. But she does cross the line back into negative fortune again. And that’s where things stay until she has one last reversal and not only ends on a high note, but ends with the potential for infinite happiness.
The classic example of this plot type is Cinderella. That’s how this plot type got its name, after all. In the beginning, Ella’s mother has died and her father has remarried. Her stepmother is awful to her, as are her stepsisters, and she’s relegated to a servant in her own home. She sleeps at the hearth for warmth because she doesn’t even have a blanket (hence the name Cinder-Ella, she sleeps among the cinders). The king announces a ball for his son, the prince, to meet his bride, and though she has to help her stepsisters get ready, she is forbidden to attend. Once her family leaves, her fairy godmother appears and helps her get ready. Of course, there’s a catch. The magic only lasts until midnight. She has a grand time at the ball and enchants everyone there. Her own family doesn’t recognize her, she cleans up so well. And she’s having such a wonderful evening, she doesn’t notice the time. When the clock strike twelve, she flees so quickly, she leaves behind a shoe. And that’s how the prince finds her later. Then they live happily ever after.
- Starts miserable
- Fairy godmother helps her be happy for a finite amount of time
- That happiness drops off immediately
- Is sad when it’s over, but not as sad as before because she has the memory of her magical night with the prince
- The prince finds her
- They live happily ever after
What about it, SEers? Do you have a favorite “Cinderella” story—one you’ve read or written? Let’s talk about it.