Narrative theory

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  • 1. Narrative Theory
    • Learning Objective:
  • To understand what is meant by narrative and look at some examples of narrative theory.

2. Plot vs Narrative

  • The plot of a film is everything that happens to the characters in chronological order.
  • The narrative of a film is the coherence or organisation given to a sequence of events.
  • It is up to the audience to decode the narrative and work out what the plot is.

3. For example, in Titanic

  • The plot begins when several characters board an ocean liner
  • The narrative shows one of the characters as an old woman who then relays her story of the ocean liner.

4. Storytime vs Screen Time

  • The story time is the length of the entire story whereas the screen time is the length of the film.
  • Usually the story time is longer than the screen time.
  • Sometimes the story and screen times are the same (eg 24 (arguably!))
  • Can you think of a possible way that the screen time could be longer than the story time?

5. Time Manipulation

  • Summary (e.g time compression)
  • Ellipsis (cutting out intervening time)
  • Flashbacks
  • Dream Sequences
  • Repetition
  • Different characters POV
  • Flash Forwards

6. Location Manipulation

  • Establishing shots
    • New York skyline
  • Creative Geography
    • Separate shots of different locations audience assumes they must be related.
  • Location conventions
    • Often associated with genre and form spaceships.

7. Todorovsa pproach ton arrative

  • There arefivestages a narrative has to passt hrough:
  • The state ofequilibrium(state of normality good, bad or neutral) .
  • A neventdisrupts theequil i brium (a character or an action) .
  • The mainprotagonistrecognises that the equilibrium has been disrupted.
  • Protagonist attempts to rectify this in order torestore equilibrium .
  • Equilibrium is restored but, because causal transformations have occurred, there are differences (good, bad, or neutral) from original equilibrium, which establish it as anew equilibrium .

8. Propps approach to narrative

  • Vladimir Propp studied hundreds of Russian folk and fairytales before deciding that all narratives have a common structure.
  • He observed that narratives are shaped and directed by certain types of characters and specific kinds of actions
  • He believed that there are 31 possible stages orfunctions in any narrative
  • These may not all appear in a single story, but nevertheless always appear in the same sequence.
  • A function is a plot motif or event in the story.
  • A tale may skip functions but it cannot shuffle their unvarying order.

9. Propps approach to narrative

  • Villain struggles with hero
  • Donorprepares and/or provides hero with magical agent
  • Helperassists, rescues, solves and/or transfigures the hero
  • Princessa sought-for person (and/or her father) who exists as goal and often recognises and marries hero and/or punishes villain
  • Dispatchersends hero off
  • Herodeparts on a search (seeker-hero), reacts to donor and weds at end
  • False Heroclaims to be the hero, often seeking and reacting like a real hero

Propp believed that there are seven roles which any character may assume in the story: 10. Examples of Propps narrative functions

  • Preparation
  • Complication
  • Transference
  • Struggle
  • Return
  • Recognition

11. Claude Levi-Strausss approach to narrative

  • After studying hundreds of myths and legends from around the world, Levi-Strauss observedthat we make sense of the world, people and events by seeing and usingbinary oppositeseverywhere.
  • He observed that all narratives are organised around theconflictbetween such binary opposites.

12. Examples of binary opposites

  • Good vs evil
  • Black vs white
  • Boy vs girl
  • Peace vs war
  • Civilised vs savage
  • Democracy vs dictatorship
  • Conqueror vs conquered
  • First world vs third world
  • Domestic vs foreign/alien
  • Articulate vs inarticulate
  • Young vs old
  • Man vs nature
  • Protagonist vs antagonist
  • Action vs inaction
  • Motivator vs observer
  • Empowered vs victim
  • Man vs woman
  • Good-looking vs ugly
  • Strong vs weak
  • Decisive vs indecisive
  • East vs west
  • Humanity vs technology
  • Ignorance vs wisdom

13. Roland Barthes Codes

  • Action codes symbolic/iconographic images that communicate events from the narrative, e.g. characters brushing hands to retrieve spilled papers suggest that they are falling in love
  • Enigma codes questions raised by a narrative that the audience yearn to answer