Narrative Theories

1. They Might be Giants - or the theory of Folktales by
Vladimir Propp (1895 -1970)

Stories have been...
2. The Balancing Act - or the theory of equilibrium by
Tzvetan Todorov

Todorov states that stories start with "equilibriu...
3. Breaking the codes - or five theories of action and
storytelling by Roland Barthes

Roland Barthes has narrowed the act...
4. Zeroes and Ones - or how Claude Levi-Strauss
suggests stories are series of binary opposites

Conflict, it is said, is ...
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Theorists

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Theorists

  1. 1. Narrative Theories 1. They Might be Giants - or the theory of Folktales by Vladimir Propp (1895 -1970) Stories have been told since we could speak or even paint, you don't have to have watched TV to know about narrative (storylines). Propp studied folktales to see what they had in common and so to analyse the way they were constructed. It is Propp that tells you that there are only eight character roles (a pity if you think you've got an original one) and he bases his theories on the age old stories of ordinary folk such as villains, heroes and princesses: The characters are: 1. the villain 2. the hero 3. the donor (who provides an object with magic properties) 4. the helper (partner) 5. the princess (obviously) 6. the father (rewards the hero) 7. the dispatcher (sends the hero on his way) 8. the false hero Obviously TV cop dramas and Hollywood Blockbusters don't necessarily have fairy princesses, heroes and villains or do they? Start looking. 1 Media Studies - Narrative Theorists
  2. 2. 2. The Balancing Act - or the theory of equilibrium by Tzvetan Todorov Todorov states that stories start with "equilibrium". The story starts with an assumption about the balance of action within the story and the progress of the story is its disruption. But it's not just about the way things are when they start but also about the common ground that underlines that equilibrium. That is the cultural assumptions we all agree on - for instance that a "normal" family has heterosexual parentage and 2.4 children. Possibly the "equilibrium" is informed by the "backstory" in other words the story about the main characters that is never told: their history - how they got to be where there are at the start. What and who made them the characters we are now viewing. 2 Media Studies - Narrative Theorists
  3. 3. 3. Breaking the codes - or five theories of action and storytelling by Roland Barthes Roland Barthes has narrowed the action down to five basic codes - even more depressing if you thought you had a great original storyline. The codes are pretty simple: 1. action or proairetic – the building of tensions 2. the enigma or hermeneutic (interpretation) – the hiding of facts to allow for the dropping of clues, or codes 3. the semantic (signified) – the connotations of what’s shown 4. the symbolic – the use of reocognised images, such as religious symbols 5. the cultural (referential) – the cultural consensus – such as murder is wrong. When Barthes uses the word "code" he means it. This is the study of the way in which stories are told with little hints as to what their content is, what the outcome is likely to be and what the characters are like. Stories, in this mode are more like puzzles, perhaps a puzzle with some missing pieces, and what keeps you interested is the bits that you fill in yourself. 3 Media Studies - Narrative Theorists
  4. 4. 4. Zeroes and Ones - or how Claude Levi-Strauss suggests stories are series of binary opposites Conflict, it is said, is the essence of drama. Without the odd argument (frank exchange of views) you can't have drama. Whilst some may query this Levi-Strauss suggests that stories are largely made up of binary oppositions: 1. Paradigm - a set of objects or concepts 2. Syntagm - an element which follows another in a particular sequence (the inevitability of the plot and all the elements in it) In essence you start with your pardigmatic elements and then those that you are going to follow through the story are chosen. These elements have opposites and the plot (syntagmatic part) details the effects of that opposition. So: girl boy good evil life death money poverty to choose or not 4 Media Studies - Narrative Theorists

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