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Transcript of Narrative Explained
In Media Studies, it is important to tell the difference between narrative and story
Story = a sequence of events
Narrative = the way those events are put together to be presented to an audience.
Analysing a narrative will involve the following:
This refers to all the aspects of narrative construction that involve technical decision making. Therefore anything to do with
camera angles and movement, lighting, sound, props. shot framing and composition, design and layout and editing.
What do each of the choices made tell you about what is going on - for instance, is a character shot from a high or low angle and how does that make you, the audience, feel about them? How are sound effects used to help you make sense of what is going on?
The use of language - written and spoken - and signs contained in graphics. We learn a lot about a narrative from what we are told in this way, but the best narratives show rather than tell, leaving the audience to draw their own conclusions.
These are the signs contained in the narrative that we decode as being significant and having meaning - for example a ragged coat worn by a character may mean that they are poor and possibly hungry. Think of them as clues that have to be followed, and different viewers/readers will follow clues in different ways.
Russian theorist, Tzvetan Todorov, suggests that all narratives follow a three part structure. They begin with equilibrium, where everything is balanced, progress as something comes along to disrupt that equilibrium, and finally reach a resolution, when equilibrium is restored.
This simple formula can be applied to virtually all narratives - it is a more formal way of thinking about the beginning, middle and end, and it takes into account Aristotle's theory that all drama is conflict ie there is a disequilibrium at the heart of every narrative.
Todorov came up with his theories after making a study of Russian folk tales. So too did Vladimir Propp, who came up with the theory that there are only a certain number of characters, who crop up in most narratives. It is easy to spot the hero and villain in most cases, but here are some others:
Character Type Role within narrative
Protagonist (or Hero) Leads the narrative, is usually looking for something (a quest) or trying to
solve something (a mystery). Does not have to be male :)
Antagonist (or Villain) Gets in the protagonist's way
Heroine Is usually some sort of prize or reward for the hero. NB if your hero is
female, your heroine can be male :)
Father An authority figure who offers a reward to the hero for completing their
quest. That reward might be a prince or a princess or a cool new job
Helper Helps the hero - often acts as a sidekick
Donor Gives the hero something - a clue, a talisman, a special power - which
helps them complete their quest
Mentor Teaches and guides the hero
These characters and the typical things that they do can be seen across a wide range of narratives. We expect them to be there, and to behave in a certain way. Try identifying them in
and then think about how they are used in
As well as Aristotle deciding that 'all drama is conflict' in the 4th century BC, 20th century theorist Claude Levi-Strauss suggested that
all narratives had to be driven forward by conflict
that was cause by a series of
. He called this the theory of Binary Opposition, and it is used to describe how each main force in a narrative has its equal and opposite. Analysing a narrative means identifying these opposing forces
light/dark good/evil noise/silence youth/age
right/wrong poverty/wealth strength/weakness inside/outside
and understanding how the conflict between them will drive the narrative on until, finally, some sort of balance or resolution is achieved.
Narrative - Every Picture Tells A Story
Find a dramatic photograph which contains a narrative that you can deconstruct.
ie - the photograph has to contain or suggest
equilibrium, disequilibrium, new equilibrium
and you must be able to list some of the technical codes and symbolic codes.
You can try looking in
and the following websites:
Yahoo Top Stories - Photos
Time - Photos
American Museum of Photography
good examples of non-linear narrative is Nolan's Memento (2000)
and the japanese film
in a film is not just what happens. The plot is the series of
conflicts or obstacles
that the screenplay author and director introduce into
the life of the characters
onscreen. The theme or message is the main point or points that the viewer draws from the way the characters respond to the obstacles or resolve the conflict in the film.
Narrative - plot -story
Exposition - rising action - Climax - falling action- denouement or resolution (comic, tragic, linear)
• Classic Hollywood linear / three Act (Wizard of Oz)
• Exposition, rising action, climax, resolution
• Cliff-hanger, red herring (Psycho), MacGuffin, twists
• Conflict, sub plots, binary opposition, catalyst
• Multiple, parallel and/or intersecting storylines (e.g. Titanic, Singing in the Rain); flashbacks/flashforwards (Atonement); montage
tripartite structure (Run Lola Run)
The following sentence outlines a story: The king dies and then the queen dies. A plot requires the notion of causality: The king dies, and then the queen dies of grief. the Narration of the story might be: The queen is grieving heavily. she remembers the King's recent death. One week later she dies too.
deconstructs a character, complicates an event, situation, or a combination of these elements by reordering the time sequence and creating a new arrangement of time for dramatic, and thematic, purposes. This rearrangement makes the telling of a story more compelling than if we left the scene progression in chronological order.
This unconventional structure doesn't mean audiences can't understand the film/medium. Viewers understand by making cause-and-effect connections between the scenes. Each beat of information must relate to what comes before and after, even if a scene transcends the chronological order of time. In nonlinear films, relationships created between the various time segments form a specific meaning when taken all together.
it's like connecting the dots
Think of narrative as storytelling: that is, as a way of ordering events and thoughts in a coherent sequence that makes them interesting to listen to. It therefore has a strong oral heritage. It's a story unfolding involving a plot (complex or simple).The sequence doesn’t have to be strictly chronological, though it can be; it can include digressions and flashbacks and foreshadowings, just as a story recounted around a campfire can.
other examples of non-linear narrative films:
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
- Batman Begins (2005)
- Sin City (2005)
-Flags of our Fathers (2006)
- The Prestige (2006)
- Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
- Watchmen (2009)
- Scott Pilgrim vs The World (2010)
- Kill Bill (2003)
Do you know which types of ending the following films have?
- Children of Men
- American Psycho
- The Shawshank Redemption
- Shutter Island
- The Graduate
- The Village
- King Kong
- Black Swan
- The Holiday
- The Last of the Mohican
- Planet of the Apes
- How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
- Total Recall
- High School Musical
- Silence of the lambs
2001 A Space Odyssey
Pulp Fiction (1994) Timeline
Summary of Narrative
study of narrative
different ways that media texts can tell a story.
Narrative is strongly linked to the
audience and purpose
of the text.
Therefore, when analysing a narrative we analyse the
construction of the story
ie the way it has been put together, not the story itself. You also need to consider what the story is about in its most basic terms, ie the theme (eg Love, war, winning).
All media texts have a narrative, whether they are a six hour TV miniseries or a one paragraph newspaper story or a glossy magazine photograph.
conflict comes primarily in two forms –
and external. Internal conflict involves the internal decisions, challenges or problems a character must overcome within their own psyche in order to advance in the story. These types of conflict are important because they develop the character throughout the story, making them more relatable to the audience.
l conflict can be physical, verbal or ideological – whatever it is, it is generally between more than one person and this sparks a great deal of action and/or drama in the narrative.
hopeful - sometimes tinged with sadness (one of the main characters may die) but we get a sense of hope for other characters/the world, things will be better (Road to Perdition, Titanic etc.)
Explicit (often happy) ending: everything is explained and ending is satisfactory
implicit: we often have to interpret the ending but directors ususally leave clues throughout the film that helps with the interpretation (e.g. American Psycho)
tragic (sad ending): leaves a sense of doom/gloom/hopelessness (e.g. the last of the Mohicans) with sometimes only a flicker of hope (e.g. children of Men)
twist: unexpected ending that we didn't unticiapte because of Red Herrings or simply a new revelation that can leave the audience feel 'cheated' if done poorly
tie-back: film starts with showing a character's fate and ends with having explained why
Unresolved endings (often cliffhangers): main conflict left unanswered and nothing is resolved, it feels like the story could go on (Halloween, Batman begins)
long-view ending: tells us what happens to characters in the future (e.g. last Harry Potter film)
ambiguous: we re not sure what to make of it, often feels like it's not as happy or positive as we expected (Inception)
Types of Endings:
2001: A Space Odyssey - http://whatculture.com/film/10-ambiguous-movie-endings-that-had-ridiculously-simple-solutions.php/2