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NARRATIVE THEORY

NARRATIVE THEORY

Narrative is the fundamental way in which human beings make sense of the world, each other, and themselves.

We inhabit a sea of narratives, from the time we are able to understand language, or perhaps, even before that.

Individual identities are constructed of narratives. So are religions, families, nations, and cultures.

Narratives serve many functions. They entertain, they teach, they organize political and social structure, they motivate and warn, they delve into our inner selves. Our memory is a series of narratives, our nighttime dreams, our fears and hopes. We understand and project our identities in the form of narratives. Narratives can serve more than one category:

We call narratives “Texts” Texts can be fictional or non-fictional, or a combination of both.

  • Personal: Autobiographical; Interior (memory, imagination)
  • Family
  • Societal
  • Political
  • Entertainment

Narrative is by its nature a construction of reality, not reality itself. By constructing narratives, we make sense of reality.

The four basic components of narrative construction are:

  • Events
  • Time
  • Space
  • Causality (the principle of cause and effect)

All time-based media is primarily a form of narration. Even when a series of events in time doesn’t make “sense” we want it to tell a story. We try to fill in the gaps.

Film is primarily mimetic, that is, it shows rather than tells. It involves a medium (film, theatre, videogame) and an audience.

Audiences form a relationship with narrative that begins with expectations. The most basic expectation is that we will be able to make sense of it on some level. The audience then interacts with the narrative, actually participating in the process (in videogames, actually interacting with the narrative), relating to the narrative in many ways. Each member of the audience reconstructs the narrative inside the self using space, time, causality. Out of this comes meaning.

STORY WORLD:

 Every story takes place within a world (worlds) and time-frame(s). It might be “A long time ago in a galaxy far far away.” Or it might be in a classroom in Taylor’s University today.

STORY EVENTS:

Events in a narrative are of two types: depicted and inferred. The narrator depicts, the audience infers. We might see a depiction of a person drinking from a cup, clutching his stomach, and falling down to the floor. We infer that he died from drinking poison.

STORY AND PLOT

The story contains all the events of the narrative, including the ones we never actually witness. If a story begins with a wedding, we infer that the couple met, fell in love, and decided to get married. If the bride is pregnant, we make another assumption. If a person gets on a train inNew Yorkand gets off inChicago, we don’t have to see the entire journey to know he took the train.

Plotting is the craft of constructing and arranging the specific story events depicted in a narrative. Some may be presented. Some may be hinted at. Some may be ignored. The audience creates the story from what is presented in the plot.

a)  Criminal conceives crime

b)  Criminal plans crime

c)  Criminal commits crime

d)  Crime is discovered

e)  Detective investigates crime

f)  Detective reveals a, b & c

CAUSE AND EFFECT – CHARACTERS:

 Actions are usually done by characters, human or otherwise, but usually with human traits. Characters have the following properties

  1. They are embodied.
  2. They possess character traits
    1. Simple: few traits, easy to understand
    2. Complex: many traits, more difficult to understand.
  3. They exist in a cause-effect relationship with other characters and with events.

Non-human agents take the place of characters. Is King Kong a character? The ship in “Titanic?”

CAUSE AND EFFECT: TIME

There are two ways of organizing time: Time order and time duration:

Order

Story time moves in one direction: in chronological order A>B>C>D. Plot time can move out of order. B<A>C>D. The plot construction can shuffle time. It can also deal with simultaneity: A+A1, B+B1, C+C1 D!

Duration

There are three types of duration in films:

  1. Story Duration: How long do the events of the story take?
  2. Plot Duration: How long do the events in the plot take? Plot duration can skip over some events and slow down for others. Everything could happen in one day or take an entire lifetime.
  3. Theatrical Duration: How long does the audience sit in a theatre or in front of a TV?

 

CAUSE AND EFFECT: SPACE

Plot spaces can be depicted or inferred. A character can be in one place and be describing another. Or, the audience can infer a space that isn’t depicted. If we see a couple walking out of a hotel hand in hand with satisfied looks on their faces, we might infer a hotel bedroom.

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