Periodic Table of Storytelling Charts Themes in TV Writing

Design Features

Storytelling is the backbone of a great piece of entertainment. A strong story is especially important in the world of TV, where plots unfold slowly over long stretches of time. The narrative elements and character developments keep us loyal to our favorite shows year after year. These elements are known around the internet as TV Tropes, with an enormous wiki page dedicated to definitions and examples. A TV series or film typically combines these tropes as they see fit, incorporating themes such as a “Woobie,” “Action Girl” and “Recycled IN SPACE” (that one is Wall-E). The wiki explains tropes as “devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members’ minds and expectations.”

There are many common threads in TV tropes, so many that it would seem almost impossible to chart. But graphic designer James R. Harris has done just that with his Periodic Table of Storytelling. This stylized, cleverly-designed table tracks all the elements that present themselves repeatedly in TV storytelling. Clicking on each element leads to its individual wiki definition. At the bottom of the chart, Harris combines elements into “storytelling molecules” with pop culture examples, like Star Wars, Mass Effect, Dilbert and Ghostbusters. Check out the chart here to study the science of storytelling.

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