WHY NARRATIVE MATTERSAll sorts of media texts use stories as theirmain way of communicating .We obviously think of film and TV dramabut non-fiction texts also do a great deal ofstory-telling. Newspapers and newsbroadcasting often structure items asstories and we even talk of journalistslooking for a good story. Magazine articlesoften frame their content as stories. Musicvideos, pop songs, video games, blogs andeven Twitter and Facebook use elementsof story-telling to relay information to theiraudiences.
WHY NARRATIVE MATTERSSo, why are narratives so important?Narratives are a universal human phenomenon, occurring in allcultures, across all periods of history. They are everywhere!We tell stories about a series of linked events as narrative offers away of organising and understanding these events. It allows us toimpose a pattern and order that real life often lacks. Narrative,therefore, helps us make sense of a flow of events and findmeaning in them.The construction of narrative involves ‘processes of selection andorganisation which structure and order the material narrated sothat it can be invested with significance and meaning’ (Alvaradoet al, 1987)
WHAT IS NARRATIVE?Narrative refers not so much to the events in astory but is more concerned with the way inwhich those events are revealed to us – theorder in which events are sequenced and thedevices used to relay that information to us."Story is the irreducible substance of a story (Ameets 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))When exploring narrative in Media Studies weare not primarily interested in WHAT happens asHOW those happenings are revealed to us.
INTRODUCTION TO NARRATIVEN a r r a t iv e e x p lo r e s t h e c o n v e n t io n s Includes information not shown but o f: inferred from the plot• G e nre• C ha ra c te r The key• Form events – what we are shown• T im e directly Narrative = how is the story told? (as events unfold)
NARRATIVE STRUCTURESLinear/ Chronological Structure:Beginning Middle End(Audience introduced to (Events –story builds) (Closure)characters and story)Open Structure:The audience are left to wonder what happens next and make sense of it ?themselves (e.g. “Inception”)Closed Structure:Definite ending – clear conclusion for the audience !Circular Structure: The narrative begins at the end events (often with theBeginning climax). The audience are taking on a journey arrivingAnd end back where they started. (e.g. Pulp fiction)
NARRATIVE STRUCTURESNon Chronological StructureThis is where the story is told in a mixed-up order – wherethe chronological time order is disrupted (e.g. Memento/500 days of Summer/ Run, Lola, Run/ She Loves Me, SheLoves me Not/ Eternal Sunshine)Multi-Strand Narrative:This is the structure beloved of soap opera – where wehave several stories being told within the same. It can alsobe used in films – Love Actually/ Babel. Usually there is somelink between all the strands used in one story and theoverall narrative cuts between the different story strands,interweaving the stories. Sometimes we jump betweenstories at moments of heightened tension (cliff-hangers), sothe producer keeps us engaged to find out what happens.Sometimes the strands are meaningfully juxtaposed to bringout similarities or contrast between the different strands.
NARRATIVE THEORISTSThere are many theorists who use theory to explain narrative structure:•Vladimir Propp•Roland Barthes•Tzvetan Todorov•Claude Levi-Strauss
PROPPPropp’s theory of narrative is driven by the characters using a set of narrative functions B ackground: 18 — V ladimir P ropp was a R ussian scholar who analysed R ussian folk 95 1970 tales (fairy tales) by their narrative structure. Often used in Hollywood or Disney Films (with a happy ever after) He identifies 8 ‘types’ of characters: •Hero (protagonist) has a mission of quest to complete (e.g.Luke Skywalker) •Villain (antagonist) tries to stop the hero (Darth Vader) •Princess love interest and/or object of the quest (Princess Leia) •Father person with knowledge (Leia) •Dispatcher sends the hero off (Obi Wan) •Donor gives the hero something to help him (Obi Wan) •Sidekick the helper (not as handsome as hero) –poss. comic relief (C3P0+) •False hero villain that pretends to be good in order to trick the hero
P r o p p s 3 1 n a r r a t iv e f u n c t io n sIn addition to the characters Propp he says that it is narratemes (i.e.narrative functions)-events that drive the narrative forward:2.Family member leaves home -Hero introduced3.Hero given a warning (e.g. not to do something)4.Hero ignores the warning5.Villain appears (e.g. trying to find jewels / children etc.)6.Villain gains information about the victim7.Villain attempts to trick the victim (guise / trickery)8.Victim/ Hero is fooled by the villain9.Villain causes harm or injury10.Misfortune or lack is made known to Hero11.Hero decides on counter-action12.Hero leaves home13.Hero is tested by the Donor14.Hero responds to the test15.Hero acquires a magical agent16.Location / hero change to the place of lack17.Hero and Villain in direct combat18.Hero is branded (wounded / scarred)19.Villain is defeated (killed)20.Lack is met -resolution21.Hero goes back home22.Hero is pursued23.Hero is rescued24.Unrecognised Hero arrives home / another country25.False hero claims Hero’s success26.Difficult task is set27.Hero resolves the task28.True Hero now recognised29.False hero exposed30.Hero given transformation (new appearance e.g. new clothes)31.Villain is punished32.Hero marries and ascends the throne
Things to note about Propp:•Note that it is not necessary to have every single one of the eightcharacter types in every single story!•Note, too, that sometimes a single character in a story can fulfil morethan one role or their role can shift in the course of the story – often thefather and dispatcher role can be located within the same character;Spiderman usually fulfils the role of hero but, when he loses his powers, hemay well slip into the princess role and need rescuing himself…•In terms of his character functions and narratemes, note that Propp’swork was based on research into fairy tales, tales he saw as archetypal ofall stories. However, this may mean that they are not a perfect fit to othertypes of tales.
BARTHESBarthes describes narrative as a series of codes to be unravelled by the audience.
BARTHES’ CODESAction Code: (proairetic code)Barthes saw action codes as a way of advancing the narrative – they drive itforwards. The Proairetic Code also builds tension as it sets the reader guessingwhat will happen next. For example, a gunslinger draws his gun and we wonderwhat the resolution will be. We wait to see if he kills his opponent or is woundedhimself. Often action codes allow characters the chance to resolve a problemthrough action, often violent action (gun fights/ car chases). Action codes areseen to appeal particularly to men and are more prominent in some genres thanothers.Enigma Code: (hermeneutic code)The Hermeneutic Code refers to any element of the story that is not fully explainedand hence becomes a mystery to the reader.Enigmas are puzzles, questions theaudience wants answered. Enigma codes are created by the producercontrolling the amount of information released to the audience and determiningat what stage certain bits of information will be given. The purpose of the author inthis is typically to keep the audience guessing, arresting the enigma, until the finalscenes when all is revealed and all loose ends are tied off and closure is achieved.
BARTHES’ CODESSemantic Code:This code refers to connotation within the story that gives additional meaning overthe basic denotative meaning of the word. It is by the use of these extendedmeanings that authors can paint rich pictures with relatively limited set of signifiers.Symbolic Code:This is very similar to the Semantic Code, but acts at a wider level, organizingmeanings into broader and deeper sets of meaning. This is typically done throughthe use of binary opposites, where new meaning arises out of opposing andconflicting ideas.Cultural Code: (referential code)Something that is read with understanding due to cultural awareness (e.g. youthculture use certain words that are understood by that culture; a British film maywell show schools, pubs and landmarks that British audiences recognise). Thecultural codes tend to point to our shared knowledge about the way the worldworks.These elements give the text plausibility with its audience.
TODOROVTodorov describes the structure of events within a narrative
TODOROVEquilibrium: (sets the scene)Everyday Life – established what life is like for the main characters beforeanything happensDisruption: (complication)Something happens to alter the equilibrium – there may be a series ofdisrupting events throughout the storyRecognition of Disruption: (climax)Key characters realise a disruption has occurredRepair of Disruption:Characters struggle to deal with the disruption and restore equilibriumNew Equilibrium/ Re-Equilibrium/ Second Equilibrium: (satisfactory end)Back to normal, peace restored (but never the same)- a new normality! Maybe better, similar of worse than the original equilibrium.
Robert McKee, an American screenwriter, offers a slightly different versionof the same idea:Inciting Incident:An event happens that sets the story goingProgressive Complications:For a key character, things just keep getting worseCrisis:Things get even worse – it looks like it’s all over for theheroClimax:Things are now so bad, drastic action is called forResolution:Whatever the problem was is sorted out and all is wellagain.
LEVI-STRAUSS Levi-Strauss describes narrative as created by constant conflict of binary opposites – he looks at opposites as a key way of structuring and driving narrativeLove – Hate Black – White Man – NatureLight – Darkness Peace – War Protagonist –AntagonistMovement – Stillness Civilized – Savage Young – OldControl – Panic Strong – Weak Man – WomanWealth – Poverty Mankind – AliensHumans –Technology “Star Wars” “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” “Avatar” “District 9”Ignorance - Wisdom “The Searchers” “Slumdog Millionaire” Can you match them?
MODES OF ADDRESSMode of address: the ways in which relations between addresser and addressee are constructed in a text- the way a text speaks to/ engages its audienceModes of address differ in their directness, their formality and their narrativepoint-of-view. Directness and Narrative POV are useful when discussingnarrative.
Mode of Address: DirectnessDirect address is when the text talks directlyto the audience and explicitlyacknowledges them.This can occur in a film when a characterlooks and speaks directly to camera andaddresses the viewer directly. This is called‘breaking the fourth wall’It can also occur when there is anasynchronous voiceover, as if the characteris talking to the viewer, taking them into theirconfidence, even if there is no physical eyecontact between character and audience.
Directly addressing the audience seeks to involve themin the story and capture their interest in a powerful way,creating a strong link between audience andcharacter/text.A voiceover functions in much the same way – it offersus privileged information that other characters in thestory may not have and makes us feel special andincluded. A voiceover can also offer an authoritativeguide to the action and provide clarity for the viewer,helping us make sense of what we see and hear.More commonly film and television will use an indirectmode of address – where the audience is not directlyacknowledged. This allows us to spy on what ishappening and to remain detached from the text. Itmakes us rely more on our own observations tounderstand and evaluate what we are seeing.Conventional film and television drama depends onthe illusion that the represented participants do notknow they are being looked at, and in which therepresented participants must pretend that they are notbeing watched (Kress & van Leeuwen 1996).
Mode of Address: Narrative Point-of-ViewNarrative point of view describes the narrators orstory-teller’s position in relation to the story beingtold. There are two main points of view that canbe used:first-person narration: narrated directly by acharacter as ‘I’ or ’we’. The story is told bysomeone inside the story. This gives us a lot ofinsight into the character and makes us feel closeto them BUT can be limiting – we are limited towhat they see and know and may well see othercharacters through their eyes. This can beparticularly misleading if we have an unreliablenarrator!
Mode of Address: Narrative Point-of-Viewthird-person narration – In third-person narrative, the narrator is merely anunspecified entity or uninvolved person who conveys the story, but theynot a character of any kind within the story being told. The story is, thus,told by someone outside the story itself, whose identity we may not evenbe aware of.The advantages are that you are not limited to just one character andcan switch between characters and places, giving your audience agrander perspective. It may also give the audience privileged spectatorposition – where they know more than the main character (excellent forgenerating tension in a movie – he’s behind you!)It allows the audienceto be a little more detached from the action an characters.Useful terms:omniscient narrator – a god-like narrator who can see all things and be inall placesselective point-of-view narration – where the narration is mainly thirdperson but occasionally slips into a first person point-of-view shots(subjective camerawork) to temporarily allow us to see the story from acharacter’s point of view and empathise with them.
NARRATIVE POSITIONINGThis is another way in which narrative is constructed –the camerawork and media language can positionus to see the narrative and its events and charactersin a particular way. They can guide us who to likeand who to loathe.POV shots can encourage us to identify with certaincharacters – we see things through their eyes. Wemay spend a lot of screen time with a certaincharacter, creating loyalty to them. High and lowangled shots create certain perspectives oncharacters for us.Costume, colour, sound and use of language canalso create a certain preferred way of seeing things.The director/ producer uses media language toencourage us to adopt their way of seeing things.
NARRATIVE DEVICES Narrative Devices: Techniques used by the producer to help tell the storyAs well as looking at how the narrative is structured, it is also worth looking attechniques the producer uses to tell the story and what they seek to add tothe story-telling. Here are some of the commonest devices used in medianarratives:•Flashbacks – provide necessary information from a character’s past to helpyou understand the present – used frequently in films•Foreshadowing/ flashforwards – glimpses of the future – often to intrigueand promote curiosity/ provide a reason to view on – the start of MinorityReport uses this rare device well•Voiceover – as discussed before- -provides insight and clarity•Captions – often creates clarity about where or when the action is takingplace - avoids confusion•Close-Ups on Significant Objects – Chekov’s Gun – tells us something will beimportant within the narrative, so we need to take note
Ellipsis – this means cutting bits out – most films are not shown in real time –they cut the action down to significant events and omit the boring orrepetitive bits. This keeps the drama taut.Time manipulation – either slowing action down or speeding it up – oftenslow-mo suggests something is worth looking at, so we need to take ourtime, appreciating the expensive stunt or drawing out our emotions at adeath scene or creating suspense, making us wait to see the outcome of afired bullet… Speeding things up (time lapse) can show the passage oftime or suggest an accelerated , intense sequence.Juxtaposition – the deliberate placing of events next to each other in asequence to create contrast and comparison, deepening the meaning –putting an act of heroism under fire next to an act of cowardice.Juxtaposition can also suggest events are taking place in parallel or showstorylines that will intersect. Using split screens is an extreme way of usingjuxtaposition. The audience has to compare the two juxtaposed scenesand draw their own meaning from them.
NARRATIVE AND GENREAs well as the wider narrative constraints we have looked at, you will alsoneed to consider narrative within the context of genre.Most genres have specific storylines and sequences that are linked toand expected in texts from that genre.For example, Westerns tend to show shootouts, cattle rustling, Indianraids, saloon brawls, searching for gold, wagon trains, stagecoachjourneys and lots of camping out under the stars.Soap operas, on the other hand, tend to have narratives dealing withlove triangles, family disputes, gritty social issues like homosexuality,abortion, crime.Any consideration of narrative needs to consider how typical or not thenarrative is of the genre it belongs to.
CLASSICAL NARRATIVE SYSTEMMost Hollywood films are about playing it safe –sticking to tried and tested formulae that are likely tocreate a film that has mass, widespread appeal,maximising audiences and hence profit.They tend to stick to many of the patterns we havediscussed already, as they are patterns that mostaudiences are very familiar with and find easy tounderstand and follow.This has led to a fairly formulaic approach tonarrative that is often referred to as the ClassicalNarrative System.Key features can be found on the sheet in your packand are outlined on the next slide. Think about howthese features help make viewing easy to follow,understand and enjoy.
The role of the hero is Linear/ chronological central The narrative has narrative definite closureMedia languagefocuses oncreatingverisimilitude, The process ofmainly through Classical enigma-resolutioncontinuity editing Narrative drives the narrative System forward/ all main enigmas answered Narrative is goal by end of story orientated Narratives revolve around Todorov pattern of equilibrium- cause and effect – gives disruption-re-equilibrium observed plausibility
COMPLICATED NARRATIVEToday’s narratives have become increasingly complex as producers knowthat audiences have a greater sense of media literacy when it comes tomaking meaning of the text and reading the signs. There are oftennumerous plot twists and surprises that keep the audience intrigued withcarefully spun storylines.Films such as “Memento” (Nolan,2000) which weaves the story in reversegives the audience a similar experience to the protagonist who has shortterm memory loss, as they try and fit the clues together through the use ofrestricted narrative.Unrestricted Narrative: When the audience knows more than thecharacters doRestricted Narrative: When the audience is limited to knowing only whatthe characters do – some information may be withheld from them.
Independent films are the films most likely to mess with the narrativestructure, as they seek to be different from Hollywood who tend to stickto tried and tested formulae. Indie films also cater for audiences wholike something different and are willing to have their normal way ofviewing challenged. They are willing to think more.Interactivity has become an increased factor in modern media andhas had an impact on narrative – think about the role of the audiencein programmes like X-Factor and Strictly Come Dancing and how theyhave a role in shaping the narrative. In the past, narrative was solelyshaped by the producers not the audience.Computer games, with their high degree of interactivity, also havereshaped our ideas about narrative – in many cases the audiencehave the deciding hand in the narrative, as their choices dictate itspattern. Indeed, the narrative can be re-run over and over, the playerlearning each time from earlier errors and shaping a differentoutcome. Narrative in computer games becomes a fluid set of optionswhich the user shapes more than the producer. You can also exit acomputer game at any point, meaning narrative can becomefragmented.
THE DEATH OF THE AUTHOR?Just when you think you’ve got there with narrative, here’s a littlesomething to upset the applecart!Most of the ideas we’ve looked at pre-suppose that narratives havemeaning that is largely carried by its deeper structures and which existsindependently of the audience. These ideas are rooted in structuralism –the idea that meaning is found within the text’s structures e.g. charcaters,narrative events. From this point of view, texts are the most important thingto study to understand what something means.Postmodernism does not agree with this – Barthes proclaimed the ‘deathof the author’ – he meant that the producers of texts and texts themselvesare essentially meaningless and texts only become meaningful in theprocess of consumption. From this perspective texts aren’t important at all,audiences are and meaning can only be discovered by exploring howaudiences interpret texts.
In other words, understanding andmaking sense of narrative is asubjective process and there can neverjust be one way of interpreting anarrative. We can make a story meanwhatever we want and ourinterpretation can never be wrong!This doesn’t necessarily negate all thesetheories about how the meaning ofnarrative is largely encoded in its deepstructural components but it may meanthat, as well as studying the elements ofnarrative found in the text, that you alsolook at how audiences interpret andmake sense of what they see.
Now you need to learn the terms and test yourself.Click on the link below to see how many of the key terms to describetypes of narrative you know:http://quizlet.com/12702056/narrative-terminology-flash-cards/Read the guidance sheet in the pack to help you find ways of testingyourself and then it’s your turn to make some cards to help you learnabout narrative theories …..
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