Narrative as a Formal System

Principles of Narrative Construction

Narrative film – a film that tells a story

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What is Narrative?

We can consider narrative to be a chain of events linked by cause and effect and occurring in time and space. Typically begins with one situation; a series of changes occurs according to a pattern of cause and effect; finally, a new situation arises that brings about the end of the narrative.Causality, time and space are important but things such as parallelism may be used.

Plot and Story

Discourse is the distinction between the plot and the storyDiegesis is the total world of the story action.Nondiegetic elements are extraneous music and credits.Plot is used to describe everything visibly and audibly present in the film. It may contain material extraneous to the story world.The set of all the events in a narrative, the ones explicitly presented and those the viewer infers.


Presumed and inferred events Explicitly presented events Added nondiegetic material

Cause and Effect

Usually the agents of cause and effect are characters.Crime conceivedCrime plannedCrime committedCrime discoveredDetective investigatesDetective reveals a, b, and c

Story Plot A, b, c, d, e, f D, e, f


Sometimes, narratives make you imagine a place that a character may go in time. Ex, if they disappear you must imagine where they went, you are not shown in the filmBesides story and plot space, cinema employs screen space: the visible space within the frame.Just as screen duration selects certain plot spans for presentation, so screen space selects portions of plot space.

Openings, Closings, and Patters of Development

Opening provides a basis for what is to come and initiates is into the narrative.It is called opening in medias res (in the middle of things) when the story starts in a series of actions that have already started. These actions that have happened are usually clued or suggested so we can piece together the story.Exposition is when in the opening situation, the portion of the plot lays out important story events and character traits.The first quarter of a film’s plot is called the setup.A change in knowledge is the most common general pattern of plot development that causes and effects a change in a character’s situation.A goal-oriented plot is when a character takes steps to achieve a desired object or state of affairs. (Plots based on searches)Variation of the goal-oriented plot is the investigation. The protagonist’s goal is not an object, but information.Plot may also create a deadline to build suspense (back to the future)Space can become the basis for a plot pattern.A film doesn’t simply stop; it ends.Narrative will typically resolve issues at a high point or climax.In the climax the action is presented as having a narrow amount of possible outcomes.Some films’ endings remain relatively open, the plot leaves is uncertain about the final consequences of the story events.

Narration: The Flow of Story Information

Many factors enter into narration, but the most important ones for our purposes involve the range and the depth of the info that the plot presents.

Range of Story Information

Unrestricted: we know more, we see and hear more, than any other of the characters can.Extremely knowledgeable information is known as omniscient narration.When we cant see or hear anything the character cant see or hear, the narrative is restricted.The plots range of story creates a hierarchy of knowledge. At any point during a film we can ask the viewer if they know more, less, or as much as the characters do.

Depth of Story Information

A film’s narration manipulates not only the range of knowledge but also the depth of our knowledge.Films plot may give us information on what characters do and say; their external behavior. Plot can also give us info on what characters see and hear by using shots such as point of view.Point of view is ambiguous; it can refer to range of knowledge or depth.We can hear sounds as the character may hear them (sound perspective)Visual or auditory point of view offers degree of subjectivity (perceptual subjectivity)Character’s mind (mental subjectivity)Objectivity and subjectivityAccessing mind through physical behavior

The Narrator

Narration is the process by which the plot presents story information to the spectator.A narrator may be used. This is a specific agent that purports to be telling us the story.The narrator may be a character in the story.A non-character narrator are common in documentaries (kind of like a ‘voice of god’)

Summing up Narration

The road Warrior (Mad Max II) shows good narration.We are sympathized with Max through POV shots, dizziness, sounds, etc. almost like a virtual adventure?Unrestricted narration also occurs and we see things Max may not.

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