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Theories of Narrative The aim of this session is to introduce you to some key theorists and ideas in the study of narrative. It is hoped that these will inspire further independent research for the seminar and perhaps inform your essay and future practical work.

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  • 1. Theories of Narrative
    • The aim of this session is tointroduce you to some key theorists and ideas in the study of narrative. It is hoped that these will inspire further independent research for the seminar and perhaps inform your essay and future practical work.

2. Definitions of Narrative

  • Narrative:The story- what happens or what is depicted, this refers to actions, events and characters.
  • Narration: How the story is told, how the information is presented to viewers, for example visual style and point of view the story is told from.

3. Narrative structure

  • Linear/Chronological
  • Non Linear Pulp Fiction
  • Cyclical Groundhog day/Run Lola Run
  • Cause and effect often motivated by the needs and wishes of the characters.
  • Single/Multiple viewpoints

4. Omniscient/Restricted Narration

  • Restricted narration when we see an event through the viewpoint of only one person. This can add surprise as we only discover events alongside them
  • Omniscient narration when we see events from multiple viewpoints. This can add suspense as we are privy to information other characters are not. SeeMagnoliaclip.

5. Little Red Riding Hood

  • TASK: (5-10 mins)In pairs/groups compose a film idea for Little Red Riding Hood. Think of different ways you can tell the tale, e.g. from multiple viewpoints, from a different perspective, what conventions/generic styles would you use to portray the action?

6. Red Riding Hood 7. Tvzetan Todorov

  • Franco-Bulgarian philosopher who coined the term narratology meaning to look at units of meaning in a text
  • Claimed all stories had a basic structure based on equilibrium

8. Traditional/Hollywood Narrative

  • Equilibrium(sense of order/calm)
  • Adisruptionof this equilibrium by an event
  • Arealisationthat a disruption has happened
  • An attempt torepairthe damage of the disruption
  • Arestorationof the equilibrium which may be a new or changed one

9. Roland Barthes

  • French critic
  • Identifies 5 codes of narrative inS/Z
  • Proairetic code
  • Hermeneutic code
  • Cultural code
  • Semic code
  • Symbolic code

10. The Hermeneutic Code

  • This code poses questions or enigmas which provide narrative suspense.
  • As audiences the unravelling of these codes and thinking about the questions posed by events provide viewing pleasure

11. Vladimir Propp

  • Russian Formalist
  • The Morphology of the Folk Tale(1928)
  • Stated that all fairytales have common narrative structures and character functions

12. 31 Functions of Fairytales

  • Propp identified 31 key functions in his analysis of Russian folktales
  • Not all 31 had to be present, however, they did always follow the same sequential order
  • These functions were performed by one of 8 main character types that advanced the action

13. Clip

  • TASK: Watch the opening ofRun Lola Run(Tykver: 1998) How does it illustrate some of the theories we have been discussing? Think about narrative devices, structure, enigma, equilibrium etc

14. Claude Levi-Strauss

  • Argued that meaning in narratives is based on binary oppositions. He was less interested in the arrangement (syntagmatic) of the narrative than in the deeper meaning (paradigmatic)of themes

15. Binary Oppositions

  • Levi-Strauss looked at narrative structure and themes in texts in terms of Binary Oppositions.
  • Binary oppositions are opposite values that reveal the structure of media texts.
  • It is important to look at the detonations (literal meaning) and connotations (cultural significance) of the sign.
  • For example, if you read the word coward you decode it by referring to values that our culture relates both to cowardice and its binary opposite term, heroism.

16. Binary Oppositions Night Day Weak Strong Emotional Rational Female Male Evil Good Artificial Natural Coward Hero 17. True Blood

  • Watch clip ofTrue Blood.How do characters play with binary oppositions of good and evil, youth and age, innocence and experience? Is this common of vampire narratives? Which binaries are privileged?

18. Summary

  • TODOROVS equilibrium, disequilibrium, new equilibrium
  • PROPPS THEORY 8 character types, 31 Functions in Folktales
  • BARTHES ENIGMA CODE Essentially, the narrative functions to establish and then solve these mysteries.
  • LEVI-STRAUSS BINARY OPPOSITION Narrative tension is based on opposition or conflict. but more often functions at an ideological level e.g., in Westerns, what do the cowboys and Indians each represent ?

19. Ideas for further debate

  • Find a text where tradition binary oppositions are reversed, e.g. evil is privileged over goodWhat are the underlying ideologies behind binary oppositions?
  • Apply Propps theory to a text. Does it apply to less plot driven narratives? See if you can find a text that does NOT adhere to his theory.
  • Research Barthes 5 codes, e.g. symbolic code and analyse what meaning these bring to texts. (Google Scholar search forS/Zshould help!)

20. References

  • Barry, P (1995)Beginning Theory.Manchester: Manchester University Press.
  • Fell, J.L. (1977) Vladimir Propp in Hollywood inFilm Quarterly . Vol. 30, No.3pp19-28
  • Propp, Vladimir. (1928)Morphology of the Folk Tale.Excerpts available from:
  • Todorov, Tzvetan & Weinstein, Arnold. (1969) Structural Analysis of Narrative inNOVEL: A Forum on Fiction.Vol. 3, No 1, pp70-76
  • Todorov, Tzvetan. (1971) The 2 Principles of Narrative inDiacritics . Vol. 1, no 1, pp37-44.
  • Whalen, Tom. (2000) Run Lola Run inFilm Quarterly.Vol. 53, No.3, pp33-40.