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Film A Critical Introduction – 3rd
Edition, Maria Pramaggiore and Tom Wallis,
Laurence King Publishing 2011
Narrative Stru...
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Narrative structure


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Narrative structure

  1. 1. Film A Critical Introduction – 3rd Edition, Maria Pramaggiore and Tom Wallis, Laurence King Publishing 2011 Narrative Structure The Standard pattern that shapes narrative films is the three-act structure. Act One introduces characters, goals, and conflict(s) and ends with a first turning point, which causes a shift to Act Two. A turning point, which may be signalled through dialogue, setting, or other visual or sound techniques, represents a moment when an important change has occurred that affects a character or situation. Generally, at this point the main character (the protagonist) modifies the methods by which she plans to attain her goals, or changes those goals altogether. In Act Two, the protagonist meets obstacles, possibly arising from the actions of another central figure who opposes her, called the antagonist. The conflicts increase in number and complexity, leading to a major turning point, referred to as the climax. Act Three presents the denouement, a series of events that resolves the conflicts that have arisen—not always happily. When the concluding moments of the film tie up all the loose strands, leaving no unanswered questions, the film is said to provide closure. Film scholar Kristin Thompson has recently argued that both classical and contemporary Hollywood films actually exhibit a four-part structure. The parts, which are of roughly equal length, are demarcated by turning points linked to character goals. The main difference between the three-act model and Thompson's four-part structure is that she locates a critical turning point at the midway point—the "dead center" of the film. In the four-part structure, the introduction leads to an initial turning point, which is followed by a complicating action. This leads in turn to the central turning point at the halfway mark. After that shift, a period of development takes place; this is where the protagonist clearly struggles toward goals. That struggle leads to the climax, followed by the resolution and epilogue. At the beginning of a film, audiences find themselves thrust into a fictional world of characters and actions they cannot fully understand. To help orient viewers at the opening of a film, filmmakers often impart a great deal of information in a relatively short period of screen time. The very opening of the film, dense with narrative details, is called the exposition. The exposition brings viewers “up to speed" on place, time, characters, and circumstances. The exposition is not synonymous with the first act, however. The first act includes the exposition but generally is longer, because it also sets up the film's primary conflict. Three- and four-part narrative structures Three-Act Structure Four-Part Structure (Thompson) Act One: Exposition leads to turning point 1 . Exposition leads to turning point Act Two: Complications lead to climax 2. Complicating action leads to major turning point at halfway mark 3. Development: struggle toward goal leads to climax Act Three: Action leading to resolution 4. Epilogue