Narrative theory

NARRATIVE THEORY – (Some of) The basics…

– ‘How do stories work?’
  • ARISTOTLE'S UNITIES - Perhaps the first 'narrative theory' as such. A narrative should be created within a 'unity' of time, place and action - that is, it should all take place in the same location, in real time, and with all action moving towards a logical (and moral) conclusion.
  • FREYTAG'S DRAMATIC STRUCTURE- Gustav Freytag was a 19th Century German dramatist and novelist who constructed his theory from the analysis of ancient Greek and Shakespearean drama. Freytag's dramatic arc is divided into five parts. (Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action & Denouement/Catastrophe/Resolution)
  • TODOROV’S THEORY – Todorov proposed a basic structure for all narratives. He stated that films and programmes begin with an equilibrium, a calm period. Then agents of disruption cause disequilibrium, a period of unsettlement and disquiet. This is then followed by a renewed state of peace and harmony for the protagonists and a new equilibrium brings the chaos to an end. The simplest form of narrative (sometimes referred to as ‘Classic’ or ‘Hollywood’ narrative).

Narrative theory - Media@ESF

  • PROPP’S THEORY –Vladimir Propp’s theory was formed in the early twentieth Century. He studies Russian fairytales and discovered that in stories there were always 8 types of characters evident. These are: the hero, the villain, the donor, the dispatcher, the false hero, the helper, the princess and her father. He did not state these characters were all separate people e.g. the provider could also be the helper. There are only 8 different character types and only 31 things they ever do (character functions). Once you have identified the character type (e.g., the hero) it’s easy to guess what they will do (save the maiden, defeat the villain, marry the maiden or whatever) because each character has a SPHERE OF ACTION. This is easily relatable to films and programmes today.
  • JOSEPH CAMPBELL- The Hero's Journey...Narrative theory - Media@ESF Narrative theory - Media@ESF
(see which is an outstanding explanation of Campbell's ideas)
  • BARTHES’ ENIGMA CODE – The narrative will establish enigmas or mysteries as it goes along. Essentially, the narrative functions to establish and then solve these mysteries.
  • LEVI-STRAUSS’ BINARY OPPOSITION – Narrative tension is based on opposition or conflict. This can be as simple as two characters fighting, but more often functions at an ideological level – e.g., in Westerns, what do the cowboys and Indians each represent? What ideologies are embodied by the opposed sides in LOTR or Star Wars?
  • Remember, still images can have narratives also – refer to what John Ellis called the ‘narrative image’.

What narrative structures are being built and used here?


And a bit more advanced...

And - is it true that there are only seven plots? Also contains information on the hero narrative.


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