A Level Media: Preparing for the year ahead Understanding Narrative Key quotes: "Story is the irreducible substance of a story (A meets B, something happens, order returns), while narrative is the way the story is related (Once upon a time there was a princess...)" Key Concepts in Communication - Fiske et al “In Media studies, looking at narrative structure implies that we explore the way in which the information contained within a text is revealed to us.” Media Studies: The Essential Resource, Rayner, Wall & Kruger
1. Studying Narrative does not mean studying the story.......... .............As Lovefield demonstratesWhat is the story behind Lovefield?How is Lovefield narrated?What techniques are used to reveal the information to us? Give details/evidenceTechnical codes camera use shots, angles and movement lighting sound sfx editingSymbolic Codes/ mise en sceneLook at signs contained in the narrativethat have specific meaning. What are theconnotations of certain settings orcostumes? What does a single prop seemto symbolise?Audience positioning within anarrativeAnything else?eg language/verbal codes, genre features,etc
2. Main theories of narrative:The ways in which the information contained within a text is revealed to us may bethrough very familiar narrative structures as identified by different theorists.If you are looking at any form of media (film, television documentary, music video, any other moving imageand print media), you are likely to discuss issues such as:Conventional narrative: classic Hollywood narrative linear chronological structure continuity editing cause and effect narrative beginning>middle>end equilibrium>disequilibrium>restored equilibrium character role and function: protagonist/hero; antagonist/villain; heroine; etc. conflict and resolutionAnd you may need to make some reference to: A. Propp’s theory that there are only a certain numbers of characters, who appear in most narratives. Character Role within narrative Type Hero Villain Heroine Father Helper Donor Mentor (Remember: These character types do not have to be definitive of every narrative and you may find films that include barely any. We do often, though, see them over a wide range of narratives.)
B. Todorov’s 5 part structure:Stage 1Stage 2Stage 3Stage 4Stage 5 Remember: These stages may be presented in a linear order but the film maker can always choose to muddle up the chronological order of the narrative and have the end at the beginning.) C. Levi-Strauss’ Theory of Opposition’: The idea that all narratives need to be driven forward by conflict that is always caused by a series of conflicting forces. He called this theory the ‘and it is used to describe how each main force in a narrative has its equal and opposite. If we apply a Levi- Strauss theory analysis it means identifying these opposing forces. E.g.light/dark good/evil noise/silence youth/ageright/wrong poverty/wealth strength/weakness inside/outsideWhen applying this theory the understanding of the conflict between the opposing forces will drive thenarrative on until finally some sort of balance is restored or a resolution achieved. Remember this does not just apply to fiction narrative in films or on TV: TV documentaries, and music video are often structured around a conflict narrative or binary opposites. D. Audience readings and the ways in which the audience is positioned.Narrative structures very often position the audience to take a particular viewpoint. For example, they maybe positioned: to share the pov with the documentary presenter or action film protagonist, or to be given an omniscient viewpoint by which they can see the threats and dangers to be faced by the protagonist.In these instances the audience is likely to adopt a preferred reading of the text.However, audiences may make a negotiated or oppositional reading, perhaps because they recognise andoppose the gaze employed in the film.For example: a feminist response to a male gaze, or an oppositional response to the ideology represented in the film, eg an audience which objects to the cultural or ethnic stereotyping in a number of US financed action films.
3. Applying the theoryLook at the following texts. What narrative structures and techniques are beingemployed? A. An Aesop Fable The Fox and the Goat By an unlucky chance a Fox fell into a deep well from which he could not get out. A Goat passed by shortly afterwards, and asked the Fox what he was doing down there. "Oh, have you not heard?" said the Fox; "there is going to be a great drought, so I jumped down here in order to be sure to have water by me. Why dont you come down too?" The Goat thought well of this advice, and jumped down into the well. But the Fox immediately jumped on her back, and by putting his foot on her long horns managed to jump up to the edge of the well. "Good-bye, friend," said the Fox, "remember next time, "Never trust the advice of a man in difficulties."What narrative structures and techniques are used here?Tell the story differently to make it more interesting for an audience:What techniques and structures did you use?
B. Photograph by Don McCullinHow is the information revealed to us? What narrative structures and techniques are used here?
C. Photograph of a beachHow is the information revealed to us? What narrative structures and techniques are used here?
D. Page of a graphic novel by Jeff CrimHow is the information revealed to us? What narrative structures and techniques are used here?
4. More unconventional narrative techniques. The techniques and structures considered so far do relate mainly to conventional and generic fictionbased texts but you may also be looking at non-fiction or more unconventional pieces which could includeexperimental or unconventional film, issues based documentary, conceptual music video.4.1 Unconventional narrative structuresIf you are looking at “the way in which the information contained within a text is revealed to us.” you maydiscuss issues such as: elliptical: a structure in which certain key pieces of information or events are omitted. It is up to the audience to fill the gaps. enigmatic: a narrative that includes events that can be interpreted in more than one way. Sometimes the full meaning is made clear by the moment of resolution but at others it is up to the audience to explain actions and events for themselves. (See section on Barthes below) stream of consciousness: a technique that presents the thoughts and feelings of a character as they occur as a continuous, flowing series of images and ideas running through the mind. surreal: with the structure of a dream or nightmare, often using grotesque, fantastic or just surprising and unexpected images with no obvious logic or reason behind the images. They are often represented in a very realistic style but seem to put a twist on reality fragmented: a structure which gives fragments of a story, often out of linear sequence time disordered: a non linear structure which moves back and forward in time without necessarily signposting this to the audience.4.2 Restricted narrative or covert plotLovefield is an example of this, as we have seen. It has a very conventional story (pregnant woman facingcrisis is helped to deliver her baby by a helpful man) which is structured around a restricted narrativeviewpoint and the technical and symbolic codes of a horror film.Media texts often disguise narrative but it is possible to identify the covert plot and the effect the disguisehas had on the audience. To do this, use Propp, Todorov or Levi-Srauss as a starting point. Is there a covertstory within the text? How is this conventional narrative structure manipulated and structured?What other examples of restricted narrative or covert plot can you suggest?
4.3 Enigmatic or Implicit StoriesTV advertisements, awareness-raising print posters or the images used on posters to promote a band mayhave a story implicit in them. How did these characters come to be in this situation at the time of theimage? What will happen to them? Texts often use enigma codes to create a sense of mystery around theimage or content and to prompt the audience into speculation about the mystery.For example:How is the information revealed to us? What narrative structures and techniques are used in these texts?
5. The role of the active audienceIn a conventional fictional narrative the audience is likely to be positioned as passive and to take aparticular viewpoint, but the situation can be more complex with more unconventional narratives ornarrative in non-fiction media.The key question you need to ask is this: How does an audience engage with these texts?A quotation from Roland Barthes can help you answer this. In a crucial section from his work S/Z Hedescribes texts as: "a galaxy of signifiers, not a structure of signifieds; it has no beginning; it is reversible; we gain access to it by several entrances, none of which can be authoritatively declared to be the main one.” http://www.cla.purdue.edu/academic/engl/theory/narratology/modules/barthesplot.htmlSum this up in your own words:Look at the Dali and Magritte images on the next page. How might an audience find “entrance” into them?
Salvador DaliRene MagritteBarthes argues that, when confronted by a text, audiences find whatever ways they can into it. They dothis by decoding the technical, symbolic and language codes. This is especially the case with texts whichhave no obvious starting points (for example, the images above, a short experimental film, a single pageadvert with a fragmented layout, an experimental music video), but it is also true of more conventionaltexts like television documentary which often use a variety of different modes and techniques to keep theiraudience’s attention in the very competitive world of television.
In your analysis of how audiences may actively decode unconventional or non-plot basedtexts you should look for the following codes: Enigma codes: Events, images, characters, language and settings may be coded enigmatically so that they create a mystery that we don’t fully understand but we can ask questions about the narrative and begin to form our own answers. We may ask: What is going on? Why did he do that? What will it be like? We may offer our own answers: He’s the killer (when watching a film). We must stop this happening (when looking at an awareness raising campaign). But we keep watching and interpreting what we see. Enigma codes are one of the most important aspects of narrative study. In your writing you should be able to identify how they are constructed and how they may be interpreted by an audience. o In some cases the enigma may be intentionally created to mislead the audience, for example in a crime film when we are led to believe that one character is the murderer before the story then unfolds to show that it was someone else. o In other cases the enigma is far more negotiable and the audience is invited to interpret it as each individual chooses to. Structural codes: The order in which texts are constructed may allow the audience opportunity to negotiate their own meanings. This is especially true of montage sequences in moving image or in a print image montage for a promotional or awareness raising campaign. At times these images may be oppositional as Levi-Srauss pointed out, but At other times there may be more enigmatic. Yet even though there may be no obvious link between the images, as audience we create our own meaning for them. Symbolic Codes/ mise en scene Here we are looking at signs contained in the narrative that have specific meaning. What are the connotations of certain settings or costumes? What does a single prop seem to symbolise? It is very important when you write about these that you are not too emphatic and that you recognise that different audiences may negotiate different connotations and meanings. There may be more than one way of decoding the connotations of mise en scene and you should suggest them if you can.Using these ideas, consider the narrative structures of the following texts and write an 800 word analysisof one of them: Lou-Lou Lives Here (Grian,2005) available on YouTube and www. www.dailymotion.com Doodlebug (Nolan, 2009) and www. www.dailymotion.com Radiohead - Knives Out (Gondry) available on YouTube
In your writing.... you should be able to identify how your texts use unconventional narrative structures by making detailed and specific reference to the texts you are analysing. The narrative is not just the story, it is the way in which information is presented to and interpreted by an audience. Therefore it should be possible to write in detail and with thought about any example of media, including print, audio and moving image.Use the following questions as a guide to help you with your narrative analysis. Make sureyou have examples and evidence from the text to answer them: Is there a story? What is it? How is information revealed to us? What narrative structures and techniques are used? Is the narrative.... Conventional? In what ways? Or Unconventional? In what ways? What points of entrance are available to the audience? How might an audience decode the Text?