Programming Computers to Read Stories

Can a computer read stories, the way humans do? Of course computers can read from files much faster and accurately but second part of the question is more important. When we read a story we understand it we read the feelings of the protagonist, challenge here is to make computers do the same. If computers could read this way, they can write stories the same way. Imagine a robot telling bedtime story to a sleepless kid! University of Vermont researchers shows how this can be achieved. I will try to simplify here what they did. They measured rise and fall in the emotional trajectory of the story. How can this be done? Protagonist’s actions and words can be input to a sentiment analysis function which identifies the sentiment in a given line. Sentiments are assigned a happiness weight on a scale of 100 which help create a graph showing rise and fall in the emotional state of the protagonist. This graph is self-explanatory, well, unless you are not into Harry Potter.

The study could identify six arcs in all stories. This study was in fact inspired by Kurt Vonnegut also multiple people from literature talks about few basic genres in all stories. There can be huge computing applications here but for discussing it I will do a separate post.


  1. Kurt Vonnegut
  2. The Six Main Arcs in Storytelling, as Identified by an A.I., Adrian Lafrance, The
  3. The emotional arcs of stories are dominated by six basic shapes, Andrew Reagan et al.