Narrative Theory (Postmodernism)
Narrative theory from a postmodern perspective
Published on: Mar 3, 2016
Transcripts - Narrative Theory (Postmodernism)
G325: Critical Perspectives in
Theoretical Evaluation of
Production - Question 1(b)
You discuss only ONE of your
productions AS or A2.
• To reinforce the key narrative
• To have a basic understanding of how to
evaluate your coursework against key
• Tim O’Sullivan (1998) argues that all
media texts tell us some kind of story.
•Media texts offer a way of telling stories
about ourselves – not usually our own
personal stories, but the story of us as a
culture or set of cultures.
• Narrative theory sets out to show that what
we experience when we ‘read’ a story is to
understand a particular set of constructions,
or conventions, and that it is important to
be aware of how these constructions are put
3 important words…
Narrative: The structure of a story.
Diegesis: The fictional space and time implied
by the narrative – the world in which the story
Verisimilitude: Literally – the quality of
appearing to be real or true. For a story to
engage us it must appear to be real to us as
we watch it (the diegetic effect). The story
must therefore have verisimilitude –
following the rules of continuity, temporal
and spacial coherence.
The Structure Of The Classic Narrative
According to Pam Cook (1985), the
standard Hollywood narrative structure
1.Linearity of cause and effect within an
overall trajectory of enigma resolution.
2.A high degree of narrative closure.
3.A fictional world that contains
verisimilitude especially governed by
spatial and temporal coherence.
Tzvetan Todorov (1977)
Bulgarian structural linguist.
He was interested in the way language is
ordered to infer particular meanings and has
been very influential in the field of narrative
1. Stage 1: A point of stable equilibrium, where
everything is satisfied, calm and normal.
2. Stage 2: This stability is disrupted by some kind of
force, which creates a state of disequilibrium.
3. Stage 3: Recognition that a disruption has taken
4. Stage 4: It is only possible to re-create equilibrium
through action directed against the disruption.
5. Stage 5: Restoration of a new state of equilibrium.
The consequences of the reaction is to change the
world of the narrative and/or the characters so that
the final state of equilibrium in not the same as the
Roland Barthes (1977)
Establishment of plot or theme. This is then
followed by the development of the problem,
an enigma, an increase in tension.
Finally comes the resolution of the plot.
Such narratives can be unambiguous and
According to Kate Domaille (2001) every story
ever told can be fitted into one of eight
narrative types. Each of these narrative types
has a source, an original story upon which the
others are based. These stories are as follows:
1. Achilles: The fatal flaw that leads to the
destruction of the previously flawless, or almost
flawless, person, e.g. Superman, Fatal Attraction.
2.Candide: The indomitable hero who cannot be
put down, e.g. Indiana Jones, James Bond, Rocky
3.Cinderella: The dream comes true, e.g. Pretty
4. Circe: The Chase, the spider and the fly, the
innocent and the victim e.g. The Terminator.
5.Faust: Selling your soul to the devil may bring
riches but eventually your soul belongs to him,
e.g. Devil’s Advocate, Wall Street.
6.Orpheus: The loss of something personal, the
gift that is taken away, the tragedy of loss or the
journey which follows the loss, e.g. The Sixth
Sense, Born On the Fourth Of July.
7.Romeo And Juliet: The love story, e.g. Titanic.
8.Tristan and Iseult: The love triangle. Man loves
woman…unfortunately one or both of them are
already spoken for, or a third party intervenes, e.g.
The Russian theorist Vladimir Propp (1928)
studied the narrative structure of Russian
Propp concluded that regardless of the
individual differences in terms of plot,
characters and settings, such narratives
would share common structural features.
He also concluded that all the characters could be
resolved into only seven character types in the 100 tales
1. The villain — struggles against the hero.
2. The donor — prepares the hero or gives the hero some
3. The (magical) helper — helps the hero in the quest.
4. The princess and her father — gives the task to the
hero,identifies the false hero, marries the hero, often sought
for during the narrative. Propp noted that functionally, the
princess and the father can not be clearly distinguished.
5. The dispatcher — character who makes the lack known and
sends the hero off.
6. The hero or victim/seeker hero — reacts to the donor, weds
7. [False hero] — takes credit for the hero’s actions or tries to
marry the princess.
When brought together and broken down into
their constitute parts these myths can be used
to formulate a universal monomyth that is
essentially the condensed, basic hero narrative
that forms the basis for every myth and legend
in the world and is, therefore, common to all
Both George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg
were heavily influenced by Campbell’s
theories and Star Wars conforms to
Campbell’s model of the Monomyth almost
1. Ordinary World – the ordered world that the hero will choose (or
be forced) to abandon.
2. Call To Adventure – a problem or challenge arises.
3. Refusal Of The Call – fear or reluctance may strike the hero.
4. Meeting With The Mentor – the mentor is a key character.
5. Crossing The First Threshold – the hero commits to the
6. Test, Allies, Enemies – the hero must learn the rules that will
govern his quest.
7. Approach To The Innermost Cave – the most dangerous
confrontation yet, perhaps the location of the treasure, or the object
of the quest.
8. Ordeal – the hero must face his fear or mortal enemy who will
seem more powerful. Mental or physical torture may occur.
9. Reward (Seizing The Sword) – the hero can celebrate the victory.
10.The Road Back – vengeful forces controlled by the villain are
11.Resurrection – perhaps a final confrontation with death.
12.Return With The Elixir – return to the ordinary world with some
wisdom, knowledge or something else gained from the adventure.
These structures are not unique to film but also
advertising and news stories.
In fact the structures presented are an integral
part of the majority of both western and
eastern cultures - details how narrative works
in society to inform the audience of events,
people, places through mediated ideologies
Narratives have a common
Jonathan Culler (2001) describes
narratology as comprising many strands
“implicitly united in the recognition that
narrative theory requires a distinction
between story, a sequence of actions or
events conceived as independent of their
manifestation in discourse, and
discourse, the discursive presentation or
narration of events.”
Structure is different to theme – narrative
presents the form in which the theme is
Claude Lèvi-Strauss (1958) his ideas about
narrative amount to the fact that he believed all
stories operated to certain clear Binary
Opposites e.g. good vs. evil, black vs. white,
rich vs. poor etc.
The importance of these ideas is that essentially a
complicated world is reduced to a simple either/or
structure. Things are either right or wrong, good or
bad. There is no in between.
This structure has ideological implications, if, for
example, you want to show that the hero was not
wholly correct in what they did, and the villains
weren’t always bad. (Postmodernism?)
Levi-Strauss also looked deeper into the
way that narrative were arranged in terms
of themes within that were ultimately
always systematic oppositions.
The order of events can be called the
syntagmatic structure of a narrative, but
Levi-Strauss was more concerned with the
deeper of paradigmatic arrangement of
There is a choice of elements (paradigms)
and they are arranged/dealt with in a
particular way (syntagms).
Think of this question as the first
part of your revision...
“Media texts rely on cultural experiences in
order for audiences to easily make sense of
narratives”. Explain how you used conventional
and / or experimental narrative approaches in
one of your production pieces.