Narrative theory

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Narrative theory

  1. 1. Exam revision sheet – Media Studies A2 level Q1(b)Narrative theoryBranigan has said that, “narrative is a way of organising...data into a cause andeffect chain of events with a beginning, middle and end…”We tend to see most things in this way, for example, a day at school. When thinkingof our own lives, we tend not to see lots of mini fragments, but a big story with abeginning, middle and end. In a way, narratives help us make sense of the world.Kruger, Rayner and Wall have gone as far as to say, “narrative is an importantsource of reassurance in a hostile universe.” There is clearly some validity in this.We like to think that there will be a “happy ever after” for all of us. This is why somany people go to watch films. Even if our own lives are uncertain, we know thatthings will work out for the best in the world of a film—most of the time.Narrative is part of the pleasure that audiences gain from Hollywood entertainment inparticular. Things often make sense in the narrative of a film that do not make sensein ‘real’ life. There are usually clearly defined motives/reasons in films that ‘cause’other things to happen. In life, this is not always so and it can make things difficult tounderstand. Think back, if you can, to being a little child, you probably rememberasking ‘but why?’ all the time. You may have heard the answer ‘it just is’ and felt veryfrustrated. Films do not generally do this, they give us pleasure in part because theytell us ‘why’.Some narrative techniques:Enigma – a puzzle, a narrative technique designed to intrigue the viewer andencourage them to watch further.Retardation – Holding back key information from the audience so they are unsurewhat is happening and likely to watch further to find out.Ellipsis - a basic narrative technique used in classical continuity editing which seestime compressed in order for the narrative to progress more quickly (editing out theboring bits!)Twist – an unexpected turn of events designed to shock the audience. Theory/idea Definition ExampleThere are different theories and ideas about narrative that you will need to be aware Propp investigated Russian fairy storyof. The ideas  and theories below are just that,said there are theories. The first two in narratives and ideas and set characterparticular are  not ideas you can apply to every media text. It wouldSo, the types and events associated with them. be foolish to tryand many people believe these ideas story genre contains the same types of fairy have been discredited. Remember, your ideas Vladimir Propp’s characters/events. Propp identified:about the narrative of a particular text are equally important. The ideas below may theory • The herohelp you think about the way narratives are structured and what is typical and • The villainunconventional • The donor • The dispatcherPropp’s theory • The helper • The princessVladamir Propp investigated Russian fairy story narratives and said there are setcharacter types and events associated with them. So,argued, have their genre contains All these characters, he the fairy story own motives and are likely to cause events and take sides. Conflict is central to these stories. Propp’s theory has been applied to films, tv and even news. It can sometimes be difficult to apply but often applies well to crime dramas, thrillers, horror movies etc
  2. 2. Exam revision sheet – Media Studies A2 level Q1(b)the same types of characters/events. Propp identified:· The hero· The villain· The donor· The dispatcher· The helper· The princessAll these characters, he argued, have their own motives and are likely to causeevents and take sides. Conflict is central to these stories. Propp’s theory has beenapplied to films, television and even news. It can sometimes be difficult to apply butoften applies well to crime dramas, thrillers, horror movies etcTodorov’s theoryTodorov’s idea is perhaps more useful to you. He saw narratives as structuredaround a basic formula:Equilibrium - Disequilibrium - New equilibriumEquilibrium means balance, so the idea is that with most narratives there is calm atthe start, then a disruption that causes things to become upset or unbalanced. Then,at the end, things return to some sort of balanced, calm state. Of course, there canbe numerous disruptions within the plot and often there is some kind of climax beforethe final state of calm is achieved.Classical Hollywood narrativeThis is a typical Hollywood narrative structure, whereby the story is driven by theprotagonist (main character) and there is a strong sense of closure: all enigmas thatare raised are resolved at the end. You need to be aware of this traditional structureso you can comment when a film does not do this, e.g. it leaves some loose ends orleaves the audience in suspense. Examples are The Italian Job or Lock, Stock andTwo Smoking Barrels.Causality Theory/idea Definition ExampleThis is the term given to the relationship betweenRussian fairy story what makes a Propp investigated Russian fairy story Propp investigated two events. It isnarrative. For  example, the king dying andand said there are set character a narrative. narratives and said there aredying is not types narratives then his wife set characterThere has to be some kind of cause and effect. associated with So, the fairy and the   and eventsevents Therefore, the king dying types and associated with them. them. So, thequeen dying of grief is a narrative. If you find this hardsame types of story genre genre contains the same types of fairy story contains the to remember, just try to Vladimir Propp’s characters/events. Propp identified: characters/events. Propp identified:remember that narratives are made upherocause and effect and you won’t go far of theory • The hero • Thewrong. • The villain • The villain • The donor • The donor • The dispatcher • The dispatcher • The helper • The helper • The princess • The princess All these characters, he argued, have their own All these characters, he argued, have their motives and are likelylikely to cause eventstake own motives and are to cause events and sides. Conflict is central is centralstories. and take sides. Conflict to these to these Propp’s Propp’shas been applied to films,to stories. theory theory has been applied tv and even and evencan sometimes be difficult to films, tv news. It news. It can sometimes be apply butto apply but often applies well to difficult often applies well to crime dramas, thrillers, horrorthrillers, etc crime dramas, movies horror movies etc

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