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Narrative Structure in Film
How Films Tell Stories
What is Narrative Form?What is Narrative Form?
 Narrative form is the
structure though which
movies tell stories.
 When ...
3
 Narratives appear throughout media and
society – in novels, plays, comic books,
television shows and even commercials....
4
 A narrative is an account of a string of events
occurring in space and time.
 Narratives do not unfold randomly, but ...
The Narrative Structure
The Narrative Structure
•Exposition – meeting the characters, establishing the setting, setting
the tone – establishing th...
7
 Typically a narrative begins with one situation
(Exposition).
 A series of changes occurs according to a
pattern of c...
8
 The Empire Strikes Back begins with the
protagonist (hero) Luke Skywalker hiding from
the Empire.
 Story changes that...
CharacterCharacter
 Narrative films generally focus on human characters and
their struggles.
 Characters are typically r...
Developing Characters
How do writers develop round, dynamic
characters?
Through conversations with other characters
Throug...
Characters
 Storytellers use different types of characters
to tell their stories
 Flat: minor characters who do not go t...
12
Character TraitsCharacter Traits
Traits are attitudes, skills, habits, tastes,
psychological drives and any other qual...
13
ExamplesExamples
In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke’s character
traits are introduced early on and pay off in later
scen...
Character: Choices and GoalsCharacter: Choices and Goals
 Characters create cause and effect through
choices that lead to...
Character: Goals and obstaclesCharacter: Goals and obstacles
 Goals might include locating treasure, choosing
a foster pa...
Types of ConflictsTypes of Conflicts
Man v. Man:
Man v. Nature:
Man v. Himself:
Man v. Society:
Man v. Machine:
Man v. Sup...
17
Diagetic vs. Nondiagetic ElementsDiagetic vs. Nondiagetic Elements
 Diagetic elements are everything that exists in
th...
18
The Purpose of Nondiagetic ElementsThe Purpose of Nondiagetic Elements
“Filmmakers use non-diegetic elements for
severa...
19
ExamplesExamples
 Examples of non-diegetic narrative elements
include:
 The voice-over in The Shawshank Redemption
 ...
20
Selecting and Organizing EventsSelecting and Organizing Events
 Feature films have a running time or screen
time of be...
21
The Story and the PlotThe Story and the Plot
 The writer transforms a complete chronological
story into an abbreviated...
22
The StoryThe Story
 The fabula is the chronological narrative, in its
entirety.
 It include events that take place du...
23
The PlotThe Plot
 The plot entails more than simply omitting events
from the story – it also involves reordering event...
Selecting Events for SignificanceSelecting Events for Significance
“The distinction between the fabula and the
syuzhet (Pl...
The End
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Narrative structure in film

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Narrative structure in film

  1. 1. Narrative Structure in Film How Films Tell Stories
  2. 2. What is Narrative Form?What is Narrative Form?  Narrative form is the structure though which movies tell stories.  When we speak of ‘going to the movies,’ we almost always mean that we are going to see a narrative film – a film that tells a story.
  3. 3. 3  Narratives appear throughout media and society – in novels, plays, comic books, television shows and even commercials.  Narratives are most common in fiction film, but appear in all basic types of film:  Documentaries  Animated films  Experimental and avant-garde films  Short Films Narratives are EverywhereNarratives are Everywhere
  4. 4. 4  A narrative is an account of a string of events occurring in space and time.  Narratives do not unfold randomly, but rather as an ordered series of events connected by the logic of cause and effect.  This logic of cause and effect ties together character traits, goals, obstacles and actions. Events Occur in Space and TimeEvents Occur in Space and Time
  5. 5. The Narrative Structure
  6. 6. The Narrative Structure •Exposition – meeting the characters, establishing the setting, setting the tone – establishing the normal of the film world •Rising Action – the central conflict is introduced and the tension between the protagonist and the antagonist begins to mount •Climax – The climax is the turning point, which marks a change, for the better or the worse, in the protagonist’s future. •Falling Action – The major action has happened. This is the aftermath . This is the sorting out of the major conflict’s resolution. •Dénouement/Resolution – the creation of the new normal. The conflict is resolved
  7. 7. 7  Typically a narrative begins with one situation (Exposition).  A series of changes occurs according to a pattern of cause and effect.  Finally a new situation arises – through character choice and conflict – that restores equilibrium to the world of the story and brings about the end of the narrative.  The new story equilibrium almost always results in character change. How Narrative UnfoldsHow Narrative Unfolds
  8. 8. 8  The Empire Strikes Back begins with the protagonist (hero) Luke Skywalker hiding from the Empire.  Story changes that result from conflict and character choice force him into a climactic showdown with antagonist (villian) Darth Vader.  Vader triumphs and equilibrium is restored.  Though Luke is defeated, he changes by becoming wiser and more humble. ExampleExample
  9. 9. CharacterCharacter  Narrative films generally focus on human characters and their struggles.  Characters are typically responsible for cause and effect in narrative.
  10. 10. Developing Characters How do writers develop round, dynamic characters? Through conversations with other characters Through group associations Through direct description of that character Through reactions to conflict
  11. 11. Characters  Storytellers use different types of characters to tell their stories  Flat: minor characters who do not go through any substantial change throughout the story or have much substance to them (think stereotypes)  Round: More fully developed characters who may experience a change during the story
  12. 12. 12 Character TraitsCharacter Traits Traits are attitudes, skills, habits, tastes, psychological drives and any other qualities that distinguish a character. Traits in opening scenes are relevant to later scenes; this is related to cause and effect.
  13. 13. 13 ExamplesExamples In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke’s character traits are introduced early on and pay off in later scenes. They include his knowledge of the Force, his survival skills, his ability with a light saber, and his impetuousness.
  14. 14. Character: Choices and GoalsCharacter: Choices and Goals  Characters create cause and effect through choices that lead to conflict and consequences.  These patterns are designed so that the viewer clearly sees and understands them.  Characters posses traits, face conflicts, make choices and undergo changes that enable or hinder pursuit of a specific goal.
  15. 15. Character: Goals and obstaclesCharacter: Goals and obstacles  Goals might include locating treasure, choosing a foster parent or looking for love.  Characters encounter obstacles in pursuing these goals – the collision of goals and obstacles create conflict and thus drama.
  16. 16. Types of ConflictsTypes of Conflicts Man v. Man: Man v. Nature: Man v. Himself: Man v. Society: Man v. Machine: Man v. Supernatural: Think of movies that fulfill these conflicts
  17. 17. 17 Diagetic vs. Nondiagetic ElementsDiagetic vs. Nondiagetic Elements  Diagetic elements are everything that exists in the world that the film depicts – including everything implied offscreen: settings, sounds, characters, events.  Nondiagetic elements are elements within the film, but not within the film’s world, such as credits, music or voice-over narration.  Characters are unaware of these elements.
  18. 18. 18 The Purpose of Nondiagetic ElementsThe Purpose of Nondiagetic Elements “Filmmakers use non-diegetic elements for several reasons: they may draw attention to aspects of the narrative from a position outside the story, they communicate with the audience directly, and they engage viewers on an emotional level.”  Pramaggiore and Wallis,” Narrative Form”
  19. 19. 19 ExamplesExamples  Examples of non-diegetic narrative elements include:  The voice-over in The Shawshank Redemption  The opening “crawl” of text in Star Wars  The printed book pages that designate ‘chapters’ in The Royal Tenenbaums
  20. 20. 20 Selecting and Organizing EventsSelecting and Organizing Events  Feature films have a running time or screen time of between 90 and 180 minutes. But the stories they tell rarely take place in that amount of time.  In order to tell a story that may cover months or years, the filmmakers must choose to present certain events and leave others out.
  21. 21. 21 The Story and the PlotThe Story and the Plot  The writer transforms a complete chronological story into an abbreviated, recognized version of events that plays out on the screen for the audience.  Often the differences are referred to as story and plot.
  22. 22. 22 The StoryThe Story  The fabula is the chronological narrative, in its entirety.  It include events that take place during the span of time of the plot that are implied but not overtly depicted.  These include a character’s backstory.  Though we never see Charles Kane’s teenage years in Citizen Kane, an idea of them is implied to the viewer; these offscreen events are part of the story.
  23. 23. 23 The PlotThe Plot  The plot entails more than simply omitting events from the story – it also involves reordering events – some times using flashbacks and flashforwards.  These are scenes from the past or future that interrupt the film’s present tense to rearrange the chronology of the story.  Repositioning events influences the way audiences understand them.
  24. 24. Selecting Events for SignificanceSelecting Events for Significance “The distinction between the fabula and the syuzhet (Plot)makes clear that each event represented in the film has been selected for dramatization and has been ordered systematically – there are no accidents . . . The syuzhet need not chronicle every moment in the fabula, and it usually emphasizes the importance of some moments relative to others.”  Pramaggiore and Wallis,” Narrative Form”
  25. 25. The End

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