Narrative theory studies the devices and conventions governingthe organisation of a story (fictional or factual) into a text. Mostof the media we consume is in the form of narratives, texts thattell a story. Even factual texts employ story methods. E.g. News‘Stories’. Even when dealing with fact the media recreate anarrative.We approach most media texts with certain expectations morefundamental than our genre expectations. For example weexpect;• The opening to give us information about who, what and where• There to be characters who interact with each other• To see a series of incidents, which are connected with each other• Problems and/or conflicts• The ending to resolve the action or cast new light on what has happenedThe following pages will detail narrative theorists:
Tzvetan Todorov(Bulgarian structuralist linguist publishing influential work on narrative fromthe 1960s onwards) Todorov suggested that some stories begin with an equilibrium or status quo where any potentially opposing forces are in balance. This is disrupted by some events, setting in chain a series of events. Problems solved so that order can be restored to the world of fiction. The “classic Hollywood” or “classic realist” narrative structure is based on Todorovs ideas, where an equilibrium is set up which is the disrupted, causing disequilibrium, which is resolved into a new equilibrium by the end of the story.
Vladimir Propp(A Russian critic who examined 100s of examples of folk tales to see if they shared anystructures. His book on this “Morphology of the Folk Tale” was published in 1928)Propp looked at 100s of folk tales and identified 8 character roles and 31 narrative functions. The 8 characterroles are:1. The Villain(s)2. The hero3. The donor – who provides an object with some magic property4. The helper who aids the hero5. The princess (The sought for person) – reward for the hero and the object of the villains schemes.6. Her father – who rewards the hero7. The dispatcher – who sends the hero on his way8. The false heroA rough outline of the narrative structure is as follows:• Preparation: A community/kingdom/family is in an ordered state of being, a member of the community/kingdom/family leaves home, a warning is given to the leaders of the community or a rule is imposed on the hero, the warning is discounted/the rule is broken, the villain attempts to discover something about the victim or the broken rule, the villain tries to deceive the victim to gain advantage, the victim unwittingly helps the villain• Complication: A state of disorder, the villain harms a member of the community/kingdom/family one of the members of the community/kingdom/family desires something, the hero is sent to get what is desired, the hero plans action against the villain.• Transference: The hero leaves home, the hero is tested or attacked, he meets the test and is given a magical gift or helper, the hero reacts to the donor, the hero arrives at the place he can fulfil his quest.• Struggle: There is a struggle between hero and the villain, the hero is branded, the villain is over4come, the state of disorder is settled.• Return: The hero returns, the hero is pursued, the hero escaped or is rescued, the hero arrives home and is not recognised, a false hero claims the rewards, a take is set for the hero, the task is accomplished.• Recognition: The hero is recognised, the false hero or villain is unmasked, the false hero is punished, the hero attains the reward (princess/kingdom)
Levi-StraussLevi-strauss is a theorist who looked at narrative structure in terms of binary oppositions.Binary oppositions are sets of opposite values which reveal the structure of media texts.Examples of binary opposites he studied are:• Good/Evil• Normal/Abnormal• Past/Present• Known/Unknown• Earth/Space• Humans/Aliens• Natural/Supernatural Bordwell and Thompson Bordwell and Thompson defined narrative as “a chain of events in a cause-effect relationship, occurring in time and space”. Although they didn’t create a full narrative theory they did, however, come up with interesting ideas. Such as; narrative typically begins with one situation, moving on to a series of changes occurring according to a pattern of cause and effect; finally ending with a new situation arising that brings the end of the narrative. They also suggested that narrative shapes materiel in terms of time and space, using technical techniques to manipulate our awareness of time and space; e.g. flashbacks, replays of action, slow motion, speeding up and jumping between places and times, all of which give the audience and characters within the film a sense of confusion about time within the film.