Narrative is the media term for story
telling. Narrative is the way the different
elements in a story are organised to make a
meaningful story. Some of these elements
can be facts as in documentary, or
characters and actions as in a drama.
Narrative, or telling stories, is our way of making sense of
the world about us and trying to put some meaning into that
Because we live in a world that is organised by time - hours
of the day, days of the month, the years, so story telling starts
off as being linear.
We tell a story as a line of events. Then she did this, then he
did that, then they got married.
All cultures in all countries tell stories; theorists recognise
that story telling is an important art of being human.
When we look at narrative we see that
stories throughout the media share certain
characteristics. This often lnks them to
Different media tell stories in a variety of
The key areas concerned with narrative are:
• Narrative structure is the way the story or plot
unfolds. Is the story an open or closed structure.
A closed structure means the story ends
satisfactorily as in most films - this is known as
closure, with the girl getting the boy or the hero
saving the planet.
• An open ending means there is no final
conclusion to the story - a television has no final
ending, it just has minor endings ( a character
gets killed). The audience may be asked to
decide how an open story ends.
• A multi-strand narrative structure
means there are several narratives
running at the same time. This is very
common in television and radio soaps
and ongoing drama series, such as
Holby City, and The Bill.
• Breaking Bad typically has an open
ended narrative, why?
• However due to it also being multi-
stranded, various stories will close
throughout a typical episode.
Some texts have an interactive structure
where the audience is asked to be involved
in deciding the outcome of a programme.
Reality television series such as Big Brother
and X Factor rely on the audience’s vote to
continue the series.
Ubisoft announced an interactive TV show basedaround its lovable, quirky rabbit-like creaturescalled Rabbids Invasion at its E3 press conference.The show will come to Xbox One and will allowviewers to interact with the show's characters,dancing with the Rabbids and solving puzzles thatwill push the story forward.
Ubisoft's trailer for the game showed children usingmotion control gestures to launch eggs at Rabbidsand scream along to virtually crack the screen invarying mini-games.
Other narrative structures
Point of view (POV) - The narrative can take the POV
of the first person as in Bridget Jones Diary where
Bridget narrates the story, or the third person where a
narrator uses ‘voice over’ to tell the story.
In documentaries a particular point of view may be
put forward by an on-screen presenter e.g. Michael
Moore and Morgan Spurlock. An unseen presenter
can progress the narrative with commentary written
to explain the story behind the pictures.
• A popular narrative device is
the enigma. The plot
constructs a puzzle that the
audience is asked to solve
wile the characters act out the
story. An enigma may end
with a surprising twist as in
Fight Club (1999).
Narrative is informed by character, action and location.
Characters have functions such as heroes or villains, or someone who
assists the hero or villain as a helper or messenger.
The location of a film or television programme is an important
ingredient in how the story unfolds. A horror film about Dracula is
assumed it must have a castle.
Narrative is delivered to the audience by expectation, suspense,
tension and closure. The audience is led to expect certain things to
happen which leads to tension and excitement.
Expectations, suspense and tension are created by the use of Media
Language such as editing and shot selection, sound and music,
framing and mis-en-scene.
There are many theoretical ways of studying the narrative. One
of the most famous theorists to do with fictional narrative
Todorov’s theory has three main parts:
1.The text begins with a state of equilibrium - everything appears
to be normal
2.There is some kind of disruption or disequilibrium - this is
often a threat to the normal situation or it could just be a setback.
3.A new equilibrium is produced to end the narrative. In the best
narratives there is some kind of change for the better perhaps in
the main character’s behaviour or outlook on life.
Where does the equilibrium,
disequilibrium and the new equilibrium
come into play in the fairytale Cinderella?
Theory 2: Vladimir Propp
Another important theorist is Vladimir Propp (1895-1970), who
discussed that fairy tales shared basic narrative elements. He
proposed ways of grouping characters and their actions into
eight broad character types or ‘spheres of action’
He discussed the theory that all media texts revolved around
eight character types:
4.Her Father -
6. The Donor
7. False Hero
8. The Dispatcher
• How has Disney Pixar played with
Propps narrative theory in the Shrek 2
• Can you identify all the character types
in the trailer?
Watching an episode of New Girl and
consider the following questions:
1. How is the narrative organised?
2. What is the audience’s role in relation to the
3. How are the characters used in the narrative?
4. What techniques of identification and alienation are
used in the text?
5. What does the filmmaker do to engage our attention
and tell the story?
6. What are the major themes of the narrative and what
values and ideology are evident.
Extension - Activity
• Todorov’s theory can be seen to be
working in many films and televisions
shows. Choose a drama of your choice
and discuss how you can apply.
Todorov’s theory of:
• New Equilibrium