Basic Plots: Vonnegut’s Cinderella

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.

In Summation:

  • 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.

Staci Troilo Bio

68 thoughts on “Basic Plots: Vonnegut’s Cinderella

  1. Pingback: Basic Plots: Vonnegut’s Good News Bad News | Story Empire

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  3. Pingback: Basic Plots: Vonnegut’s From Bad to Worse | Story Empire

  4. I’m gobsmacked. Vonnegut was never a favourite author, but I quite enjoyed the novels I read. Now? I’m shocked that he would plot stories on a /graph/. There may well be patterns in the stories we enjoy the most, we are all human after all, but this just feels cold blooded and formulaic. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not sure he ever said he wrote his stories this way. But his analysis of story structure after years of studying it convinced him there were a finite number of story plot types, and this was one of them. As a student of story structure, I find it fascinating. But I’m sorry this sapped some joy out of the process for you.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ah, fair enough. I can live with an analysis. Thanks for clarifying as I really was rather horrified. As a hybrid, I recognize the need to do some plotting, especially in series that have an over arching storyline, but I suffer when I do it. lol

        Liked by 1 person

      • Funny. I’m the opposite. I’d be horrified if I had to write a story without some kind of structure or plan going in. If I didn’t rein myself in before I started, I’d end up with a sprawling mess. Which just goes to show that there’s a method for everyone, but not everyone should follow the same method. Wishing you all the best.


  5. Pingback: Basic Plots: Vonnegut’s Cinderella | Story Empire | Welcome to Harmony Kent Online

  6. Vonnegut was brilliant, and he had a lot of great advice for writers and story crafters. I particularly appreciated his strong recommendation to write quickly and edit later, which was the opposite of how he wrote (and how I still write). He called the former Swoopers and the latter Bashers. Swoopers tend to be healthier and more prolific writers, whereas Bashers write slowly getting each sentence perfect before moving onto the next. I want very badly to be a Swooper, but I have hope because Vonnegut (and many other writers) suffered the same neurotic writing behavior.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I’m really enjoying this series, Staci. Cinderella was my favorite story as a girl, along Sleeping Beauty. Later, Beauty and the Beast was added to my list:) I’ve never paid attention before but I weave a bit of Cinderella in some of my stories. Great post!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. A lot of Disney characters start out with baggage. I love Cinderella, but I’m a big fan of Snow White, too. Fond of all the dwarves:) I might like them more than Cinderella’s mice. But I like this plot structure because you start out, right away, rooting for the protagonist.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I adore the dwarves! I have a special fondness for Dopey and Grumpy.

      Some people say it’s hard to root for a protagonist who’s down in the dumps right away. Others say it’s hard not to. I think it depends on how the protagonist reacts to his or her circumstances. Cinderella certainly has a good attitude given her situation, which makes her instantly likable. I’m not sure I’d be as good a sport as she was. I do think I’d like to try to write such a character, though.

      Thanks, Judi.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Another interesting and informative post, Staci. I think this might be the easiest type of story for me to write. It comes naturally to me. Maybe because my family was poor and I’m still waiting for my Cinderella moment. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m almost done with Ghostly Interference, and I can see shades of Cinderella in your main character. Maybe you’ve found your comfort zone in writing. Most people like one of the first two plots, but this seems to be your niche.

      And if being a successful author counts as having a Cinderella moment, I think you’re already there.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast are my two favorite fairy tales.
    I think in someways, my lead character in Myth and Magic goes through a Cinderella type plot. He’s below the grid when he starts out, finds marginal peace for a while, then something happens to plummet him even deeper than he was before, until finally—happiness.
    These are intriguing posts, Staci!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Reblogged this on The Write Stuff and commented:

    Have you ever written a Cinderella story? Join Staci Troilo for her post today on Story Empire, continuing her “Basic Plots” series. It’s most excellent, and I’m saving this entire series for future reference. Hope you’ll check it out, and will remember to pass it along so others can ponder these basic plots, themselves. Thanks, and thanks to Staci for showing me another way to look at plots. Excellent post! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  12. I never thought about this before, Staci, but I’m thinking now. In a way, Maggie’s story in Swamp Ghosts is a Cinderella story, I think? It’s not the only story, but for me, the romance is always the best part, and she definitely starts out in a bad, bad place (you know, hating men and all 😉 ) then meets Gunn and slowly things get better, then she’s put in dire jeopardy, then GUNN joins her there, then the tide changes, and they do end up happily ever after, unlike a certain villain who gets his just deserts. Does her story meet the criteria? I’m thinking yes, but I’m still learning about this stuff, thanks to your great series of posts. Definitely sharing this one! 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

      • I’m pleased to know Cinderella stories seem to come naturally to me. I’m pretty sure Sarah in WRR has one, too, and I even think I’ve written a CinderFELLA story for each of my Painter Brothers, as well. Maybe? There are a lot of other things going on, but I think their story arcs might just qualify, and I know Willow’s does. Woohoo. I’m especially happy to learn about this particular one, and am looking at all of them going ahead. 🙂 Thanks again!

        Liked by 2 people

  13. Wonderful post, Staci. I forgot about the origin of the name Cinderella and her blanketless nights by the cinders. It’s amazing to me that Vonnegut plotted all his stories on a grid. He brings logic to an often logic-defying process. Thank you for this. I’ve learned so much and have become more self-reflective about writing through your posts. 😊

    Liked by 3 people

    • I think I was in junior high before I realized the cinder part of Cinderella came from her sleeping in the cinders, and it was written in the story, which I read constantly as a child. I think I just tuned out all the bad parts when I was young. I was a foolish romantic then.

      Yes, Vonnegut’s plots are something to behold. I’m a sucker for story structure, so I really enjoyed spending some time digging into his processes. I’m glad you’re enjoying this series.

      Liked by 3 people

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