Narrative Theory and Todorov
• To become familiar with the ideas of Todorov
• To begin to apply narrative theories to film
Once Upon a Time…
day so far…
WHAT (IF ANY) IS THE
THESE 3 KEY TERMS?
A narrative is the relation
between a series of events
Plot is the order in which the
characters find out about these
The story is the strict
chronological order in which the
Remember, making notes is a
crucial part of AS Level Film
So, that means…
• "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 (1983)
• There are three ways in which
narrative is structured.
• The is when a film begins at the end. This
might sound strange, but if you think
about it there are many films that start at
the end and use a series of flashbacks, or
construct the narrative around a single
flashback and then return to where the
• Not all films with flashbacks and voice-overs are
circular. For example ‘Forrest Gump’ has an
interesting narrative structure because although
events unfold more or less in chronological
order, rather than just seeing Forrest at the
beginning and end of the film, we keep returning
to him sitting on the bench telling his story. The
narrative is broken up into episodes or more
manageable narrative pieces.
• This is the most simple and commonly used narrative
structure; it refers to a story that is told in the order in
which events happen – from beginning to end. These are
sometimes referred to as ‘cause and effect’ narratives as
the consequences of one event have an effect on
something else and things move along in this linear
fashion. This doesn’t mean to say linear narratives are
boring – Sixth Sense and Pan’s Labyrinth follow linear
narratives but still create intrigue and mystery.
Remember – linear narratives are only simplistic in
reference to time and place, not in terms of plot!
Copy and Complete the table below
with examples of films you know.
Circular Narrative Episodic Narrative Linear Narrative
Example: Example: Example:
Explanation: Explanation: Explanation:
1. Restricted Narrative
• A narrative that only allows us to know
what the characters know.
2. Omniscient Narrative
• A narrative which allows us to know
more about the characters and their
situations than they know themselves
Todorov was a
who devised a way
of looking at
of the narrative.
You will need to put things that happen in the PLOT section – and which characters are involved in
the CHARACTER section.
Narrative and Genre
• A study of different genres in film and television
will suggest that the formula requires the
narrative to be closed in a different way for each
• “Both are means in which the world of human
experience can be reconstructed, rearranged
and reimagined.” - H.Newcomb (2004)
Using Todorov’s narrative theory as a base, create
a diagram which represents the general narrative
patterns of these genres. Use the films you know
to help you.
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