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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. Todorov’s approach to narrative There are five stages a narrative has to pass through: 1. The state of equilibrium (state of normality – good, bad or neutral). 2. An event disrupts the equilibrium (a character or an action). 3. The main protagonist recognises that the equilibrium has been disrupted. 4. Protagonist attempts to rectify this in order to restore equilibrium. 5. Equilibrium is restored but, because causal transformations have occurred, there are differences (good, bad, or neutral) from original equilibrium, which establish it as a new equilibrium.
  • 8. Propp’s 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 or functions 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. Propp’s approach to narrative • Villain − struggles with hero • Donor − prepares and/or provides hero with magical agent • Helper − assists, rescues, solves and/or transfigures the hero • Princess − a sought-for person (and/or her father) who exists as goal and often recognises and marries hero and/or punishes villain • Dispatcher − sends hero off • Hero − departs on a search (seeker-hero), reacts to donor and weds at end • False Hero − claims 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 Propp’s narrative functions •Preparation •Complication •Transference •Struggle •Return •Recognition
  • 11. Claude Levi-Strauss’s approach to narrative • After studying hundreds of myths and legends from around the world, Levi-Strauss observed that we make sense of the world, people and events by seeing and using binary opposites everywhere. • He observed that all narratives are organised around the conflict between 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