Narrative Theory

Linear Structure: The linear structure follows one parth (like a line). To simply put it: A start, middle and end. The story travels in this particular order too. Beginning at the start. A non-linear story however, can starts in the middle or where the conflict is and then go back to the start or use flashbacks and flash – forward. Open Structure: An open structure narrative, leaves the ending of the story open to the viewer to determine what they think/ interpret from the ending. Like an open question left for the audience. For example Life of Pi where the audience have to decide whether they believe if the story was true or The planet of the Apes where we only discover the truth but the character is left behind. Also this structure can be like a cliff hanger and is used a lot for television/ soap operas. Or for sequels with a ongoing narrative such as the Hobbit where we see the dragon awaken and fly towards the town. Closed Structure: Is the opposite to the open structure. There is a clear ending which resolves the story. Quite often used for film. An example of this could be the Butterfly Effect or Disney films. Circular Structure: A circular structure (often) begins at the end of a story/ or climax and we are then ‘taken through the journey’ of how that arrive where we began. An example of this structure can be seen through films such as Forrest Gump where we see him explaining his life story and Shaun of the dead where the ending is positioned in the same pattern as the start of the film even though it is of a later time.

Vladimir Propp

Vladimir Propp in the late 1920s, developed a theory, which was conceived after reviewing over a hundred Russian Fairytales. And after looking at these fairytales he identified a similarity between them – their plot and characters often had a lot in common. He believed and so made the Prop’s character theory that the characters in a narrative had particular ‘functions’ that could be defined into certain roles. Below are the 8 characters he felt appeared in the fairytales he studied and are vital/ important to the narrative. He suggested these 8 archetypes could be applied to any story even other than fairytales These roles can be shared among the people of the story

  • The hero (seeks something / protagonist)
  • The Villain (opposes the hero / main antagonist)
  • The donor ( helps the hero by providing a ‘magic object’)
  • The Dispatcher (sends the hero on his way)
  • The false hero (false assuming the role of the hero / taking credit off the hero or taking his ‘reward’)
  • The helper (gives support to the hero on their quest)
  • The princess (the reward for the hero, but also needs protection from the villain.)
  • The father

Also one character may be more than one of the above, for example in the Disney’s Little Mermaid Ursula takes Ariel’s voice. She then uses it to cast a spell of the prince and to marry her human version instead to prevent Ariel from succeeding her quest. In this case Ursula is the villain and the false hero. Many modern films no longer follow this theory – however Disney and Hollywood films are a good example of the use of his narrative theory.

Tzvetan Todorov

Bulgarian Literary theorist Suggests that most narratives start with a state of equilibrium in which life is normal and protagonists happy Then this state of normality is disrupted by an outside force, which has to be fought against in order to return to a state of equilibrium. This can be applied to many many films. Often this is a narrative/ normal sense of plot – however films may play about with the order. They might move the event to the beginning or the very end. Throughout a film there often is a Todorov’s Theory included within every scene. This way the audience can connect with every part of the film – for instance in the Back to the Future Martie has to drive the time machine exactly at when the thunder hits the electricity cable (EQUILIBRIUM) – however the cable becomes untied and the Doc must hurry to put it back up (EVENT) – Martie is able to drive just at the right to back to the future (Restoration.) I want to think about how I could apply this to my animated scenes to keep the audience gripped.

Roland Barthes

Roland Barthes is a French Semiologist (a thinker that creates philosphies) created the Barthe’s five code which he believed could be applied to any narrative:

 Barthes’ codes
  • Hermeneutic/Enigma code – This is where the story is a left as a not fully explained to the viewer and therefore is left open. Often used to keep the audience wondering what is going to happen next and keep them hooked. It creates tension an lets the viewer interact with the ideas. This can be used effectively in detectives/thrillers where the characters and audience do not know exactly what is happening. Clues or hints may be given but nothing solid is said – it makes the audience want to watch to find out the truth. Then at the end all is resolved and the audience are able to feel more ‘closure’ to the story. Furthermore it means that all loose ends are tied together and make sense. The director/author may use this tool on purpose to leave the audience confused – think about their piece, or to be left unsaid so the audience must take their own interpretation of the plot. (Such as in Life of Pi – when you must determine if the story was true or not). Or this may be used – just because there is no answer to the problem.
  • Proairetic/Action code : This code is when what makes the characters take action – the consquense/ sequence of actions that take place and unfold in the story.  This code often works well with the Hermeneutic code as they both generate tension and build up to the climax. The code indicates any action that will lead to something else in the story taking place – therefore this creates suspense. For example when in Romeo and Juliet when Romeo is told Juliet is dead.
  • Semantic code: Semantic code refers to word or scene within the text/film that has other connotations or meanings.
  • Symbolic code: This is like the semantic code however it refers to a much bigger level. Did the piece mean something deeper or have other meanings unsaid. For instance semantic could be – when a shot of person about to have their head cut off – then a quick shot to birds flying away. This could show the spirit flying away. However symbolic could be the symbolism of colours used throughout a film for instance in Gone with the Wind – where she is always in green as her character is very Jealous.
  • Referential code: This is when a idea/event/ anything that cannot be challenged as it is seen as the “truth” and is justified in that world. When a film is placed in a world that is fictional. As an example Blade Runner as this is set in a time in the future. Or in Harry Potter we cannot argue that the Ministry of Magic is accessed by a telephone box as it is in that world true.

Christopher Brooker’s 7 basic plots 

Christopher Brooker’s Narrative Theory expressed that there are seven basic plots that each story contains. Below are the seven:

  • Overcoming the monster: When a character/ characters must overcome a fear that they have/ which may be stopping them from living their lives. In addition this could be a literal protagonist overcoming the antagonist of the plot.
  • Rags to Riches: The struggles of the character is paid of as they are able to receive their reward at the end. This can be in the shape of wealth, romance, power or etc. For instance Slum-dog Millionaire – The character at the beginning lives in the slums of India and we follow his life as he ultimately wins millions on the Indian ‘who wants to be a millionaire show’. This plot makes the audience want the character to win his riches. We are rooting for the character as we see him as the under dog.
  • Quest –  The character must go and retrieve something or find a location/ person. Private Ryan, Watership down or Quest for Camelot.
  • Voyage and Return: The character heads out for a voyage and returns with experience – The Hobbit or 
  • Comedy: The plot it light-hearted and created for entertainment with drama in the story.
  • Tragedy: A plot that does not contain a happy ending – Titanic.
  • Rebirth: the character is changed from the beginning of the story after his journey. This is normally with a character that is unlikeable but then is ‘re-born’ into a nicer character such as Christmas carol or Gone with the Wind. This story may also apply to a story where the character changes from a protagonist that changed to an antagonist when a bad experience happens to them.

Women look at themselves through the eyes of men.” – Laura Mulvey

Laura Mulvey – The Male Gaze

Although Laura Mulvey does not create any Narrative theories – during my research I found her and thought that her views and discoveries was perfect for what our group is trying to convey – another area which we may consider looking at. Laura Mulvey created the text on ‘visual pleasure and narrative cinema’  (published in 1975) – She claimed that film is a tool that is used by men. It is dominated by men and created for men. Furthermore the ‘male gaze’ is used to show male sexual fantasy. The male gaze (like above) shows the female, (and her body) to the camera, zooming in from different part of the body – and emphasizing the sex appeal of the women. This has been done since early Hollywood and is still being used – for example transformers. The effects of using the ‘male gaze’ within film means that women are associated with their bodies/ appearance whereas males are associated with the brains/ intelligence. It forces women to perform the fantasy to the male audience but yet females must watch themselves being objectified:

“One might simplify this by saying: men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of women in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object – and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.” (Ways of seeing – Page 47 – John Berger)

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