Narrative Structure

Macro Features
Reading Film
Macro Features
Having studied the micro features of film it is now important
that we understand the ways in which these features are
combined to construct greater meanings and messages for the
This can be termed as the macro features of film, i.e. still a
small section of film construction but a little bigger than the
micro features.
• Micro features:
• Macro features:
Work together in
order to
– Genre
– Narrative
– Ideologies
• The majority of audiences are aware of
genre on some level – it is one of the ways
they identify their film preferences.
– We started the year by exploring genre in
more detail, highlighting the specific ways in
which genres can be identified and the
relevant terminology that can be applied when
discussing genre.
– Can you remember what we covered?
• Narrative is the way in which
stories are structured and told
through media texts
• Plot is the substance of
the story
• Narrative is the way that
the story is told
• All media texts (fiction and
non-fiction) unfold their
information in a sequence
• Consider the storyboards you
created last lesson – did you
use a straightforward narrative
or a more complex structure.
Beginning, Middle and End
• The most straightforward style of narrative structures
involves a clear beginning, middle and end.
• The narrative unfolds the story or information by:
• Setting the scene
• Explaining how a situation was disrupted or a problem arose
• Resolving the problem for the ending
• This can be called the ‘3 act structure’
• This idea can also be presented through
Todorov’s Equilibrium theory
• A film begins in a state of equilibrium;
stabled, balanced and presenting the
status quo
• Something then happens to cause a
state of disequilibrium e.g. a problem
or disruption
• By the end of the film the problem will
have been resolved leaving a happy
ending and a new (?) state of
• Apply this theory to a film of your
Todorov’s Five Stages:
Todorov went further than the 3 simple acts
however, developing five key stages of the
1. Equilibrium – order is in place
2. Disruption of the equilibrium by an event
3. Recognition of the disruption – usually by
the main narrative agent (main character)
4. Attempt to repair the damage caused
5. A return to equilibrium
Can you still apply this theory to your chosen
Narrative Structure
• If the narrative is allowed to
progress in this way, with each
event leading to the next, in a
cause and effect fashion we
could describe it as a linear
• Alternative narrative structures
can include:
– Cyclical
– Disrupted or Fractured
– Episodic
Can you think of an
example of each of
these narrative
Narrative cont.
• Narratives can also be:
– Open – questions remain
unanswered eg. a cliff-hanger, the
end of the first part of a serial.
– Closed – all questions are
answered, e.g. a magazine
– Single stranded – one storyline
in the media text
– Multi-stranded – several
storylines weaving into an overall
narrative eg. Soap operas
Can you think of an example of each
of these?
Classical Hollywood Narrative
• The Classical Hollywood
Narrative was (and still is) a
highly specific type of narrative
with a particular range of
cinematic expression.
• Some of the typical traits of this
narrative structure are laid out
on your handout.
• As we work through try to think
of a clear example of each one
to note down so that when you
come back to your notes you
are sure to understand
We’ve Sensed It.
We’ve Seen The Signs,
Now… It’s Happening.
• Films can also employ enigmas
as a way of telling a story.
• Enigmas are mysteries or
questions that are designed to
capture an audiences’ interest
and make them want to find out
• Film posters tend to use very
explicit enigmas in order to spark
an audience’s attention.
• Watch the following trailer,
identifying any enigmas posed.
Vladimir Propp
• In his study of folk tales Propp
discovered a number of
common characteristics in the
structure of narratives
• His ideas are also very useful
when studying film narrative.
• He suggests that narratives
frequently contain a number of
character functions (types) and
also a number of actions or
Propp’s Character Types
• The Hero – A character who seeks something
• The Villain – Opposes or blocks the Hero’s quest
• The Donor – Provides the Hero with (magical) objects to
help his quest
• The Dispatcher – Sends the Hero on his way by
delivering a message
• The False Hero – Disrupts the Hero’s hope
• The Helper – Aids the Hero
• The Princess – A reward for the Hero and object of the
Villain’s plot
• The Father – Rewards the Hero’s efforts
• Pick a film of your choice and see how many of
these character types you can find.
Propp’s Actions or Events
1. Preparation – The Hero begins his quest
2. Complication – Hero experiences obstacles
3. Transference – Hero has to move from one
place to another
4. Struggle – Hero encounters the Villain and
eventually defeats him
5. Return – The Hero comes home
6. Recognition – The Hero is rewarded for his
Do these actions mean you can still apply this
theory to your chosen example?
Use the storyboards you created last lesson
and identify what elements of narrative
theory you incorporated.
Can you rearrange your images within the
storyboard to create an alternative narrative
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