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Narrative as a Formal System

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Presentation on theme: "Narrative as a Formal System"— Presentation transcript:

1 Narrative as a Formal System

2 Introduction to Narrative Form
Narrative is a fundamental way that humans make sense of the world Narrative form is most common in fictional films, but can appear in other basic types of film, like documentary

3 Introduction to Narrative Form
Because stories are all around us, we go to a narrative film with definite expectations. We assume there will be characters and some action that will involve them with one another. We expect a series of events that will connect in some way.

4 Introduction to Narrative Form
We expect that conflicts will arise and achieve a climax--a resolution, or a new perspective of them. As the viewer watches the film, they pick up on cues, remember information, anticipates what will happen next, and participates in the creation of the film’s form.

5 Introduction to Narrative Form
The film shapes expectations by arousing curiosity, suspense, and surprise. The ending satisfies or cheats the viewer’s expectations formed by the film as a whole. The ending may activate memory by cueing the viewer to review earlier events with a new understanding.

6 Introduction to Narrative Form
As we examine narrative form, notice how it engages the viewer in a dynamic activity.

7 What is Narrative?

8 What is Narrative? A chain of events in cause-effect relationship occurring in time and space. Narrative is what we usually mean when we say story, but story has a more specific meaning in the context of film. The three aspects of narrative are: Causality, Time, and Space.

9 What is Narrative? Another formal principle that may affect the film is parallelism, which creates a similarity among different elements. A narrative may cue us to compare characters, settings, situations, times of day or any other elements.

10 What is Narrative? Parallelism allows films to become richer and more complex than if it focused on one character.

11 Story and Plot We make sense of a narrative by identifying its events and linking them by cause and effect, time, and space. Also, we often infer events that are not explicitly presented. We recognize the presence of material that is extraneous to the story world.

12 Story The set of all the events in a narrative, both the ones explicitly shown and those the viewer infers, constitutes the story. The story includes events clearly shown as well as events not shown, but presumed by the viewer. The total world of the story is called diegesis.

13 Plot Plot is used to describe everything the viewer sees and hears in the film. The plot includes all of the story events shown. The plot includes added nondiegetic material, like credits and music.

14 Story and Plot Story and plot overlap in parts and differ in others:
Clearly shown events are a part of story and plot. The story goes beyond the plot by suggesting events we don’t see. The plot presents nondiegetic images and sounds that may affect our understanding of the story. See Diagram on next slide:

15 Story and Plot

16 Story and Plot Perspectives
From the perspective of the filmmaker, the story is the sum total of all the events in the narrative. The filmmaker presents some of these events, making them part of the plot, and hints at others. The filmmaker can then add nondiegetic material to make a story into a plot.

17 Story and Plot Perspectives
For the viewer, there is only the plot. We create the story in our minds from the cues in the plot. We also recognize the added nondiegetic material.

18 Cause and Effect If narrative depends so much on cause and effect what kinds of things can function as causes in a narrative?

19 Cause and Effect Usually the sources of cause and effect are characters. Most often characters are people. By causing and reacting to events, characters play roles within the film’s narrative system. Characters create causes and register effects; they make things happen and react to the twists and turns of events.

20 Cause and Effect A “complex” character is made up of several different traits, which play a role in the narrative. A character that is “complex” or “well developed” has many traits that interact with each other. A minor character my only have one or two traits.

21 Cause and Effect Other elements like disasters and nature can originate cause and effect too. What are some examples? Still, once these natural occurrences set the situation up, human traits, desires and goals take over to develop the narrative.

22 Cause and Effect In general, the viewer actively seeks to connect events by means of cause and effect. Given an event, we tend to think how it was caused and what it might cause. This is causal motivation.

23 Cause and Effect The detective film is a good example of cause and effect; story and plot. A murder is committed, we know the effect but not the causes- the killer, the reason, the method. Mystery depends on curiosity, our desire to know what happened before the plot action begins.

24 Cause and Effect It is the detective’s job to discover the missing causes- to name the killer, their reason and the method. In the mystery film, the climax is the revelation of earlier events in the story which we did not see.

25 Cause and Effect The plot may also present causes but withhold story effects, creating suspense and uncertainty in the viewer. The is the most disruptive at the end of the film and can leave a film open ended.

26 Time Causes and their effects are basic to narrative, but they take place in time. While watching a film the viewer constructs story time from what the plot presents.

27 Time The plot may present events out of chronological order.
Most plot do not show every detail from beginning to end. The story duration containing irrelevant parts is usually skipped. The plot may present the same event more than once.

28 Time These options mean when making the story from the plot the viewer puts events in chronological order and assigns them some duration and frequency.

29 Time The three main aspects of time in narrative form are: Order
Duration Frequency

30 Temporal Order Temporal Order involves the sequence in which the chronological events of the story are arranged in the plot. Flashbacks and Flashforwards illustrate Order.

31 Temporal Order A flashback is simply a part of the story the plot presents out of chronological order. From the plot order we infer the story order. If the story order is ABCD, then a flashback could show the story like DABC.

32 Temporal Order Similarly, a flashforward moves from present to future than back to present, ABDC.

33 Temporal Order Temporal Duration involves the time span presented in the plot and assumed to operate in the story. Story duration Plot duration Screen duration

34 Temporal Duration Story duration includes all relevant events not shown in the plot. A film’s plot selects certain stretches of story duration. The sum of all these pieces of story duration produces plot duration.

35 Temporal Order There is also screen duration, the time it takes to watch a film. The relationship among these is complex and different in every film, but the filmmaker can change screen duration independently from story or plot duration.

36 Temporal Order Just as plot duration selects from story duration, screen duration selects from plot duration. Screen duration can expand story time with editing, or compress it with a rapid series of shots like a montage.

37 Time Temporal Frequency involves the number of times any story event is shown in the plot Normally, a story event is shown only once in a plot, but sometimes a single story event may be shown many times. Examples: Run Lola Run

38 Time The various ways that a film’s plot may manipulate story order, duration, and frequency illustrate how the spectator must actively participate in making sense of the narrative film.

39 Time The plot supplies cues about chronological sequence, the time span of actions,and the number of times an event occurs and it is up to the viewer to make assumptions and inferences and to form expectations.

40 Time Often we justify changes of time because of cause and effect.
A flashback is due to an event that causes someone to remember the past. The plot will skip over years of story duration if they don’t contain important information The repetition of actions may communicate major causes very clearly to the viewer.

41 Space Normally, the place of the story action is also that of the plot, but sometimes the viewer must imagine other spaces. Space can also become the basis for the plot pattern. This is common if the action is confined to a single place.

42 Openings The opening of a film provides a basis for what is to come and introduces us into the narrative. Sometimes, the plot will seek to arouse curiosity by bringing us into a series of actions that has already started. This is called opening in media res, or in the middle of things. Example: The Usual Suspects

43 Openings Sometimes, the film begins by telling us about the characters and their situations before any major actions occur. Some of the actions that took place before the plot started will be stated or suggested so that we can start to connect the whole story. Example: Amelie

44 Openings The part of the plot that lays out story events and character traits important in the opening situation is called the exposition. In general, the opening raises our expectations by setting up a specific range of possible causes for and effects of what we see.

45 Patterns of Development
As the plot proceeds, the causes and effects will define narrower patterns of development. Most patterns of development depend heavily on the ways that causes and effects create a change in a character’s situation.

46 Patterns of Development
The most common pattern is a change in knowledge. Often, a character learns something in the course of the action, with the most important knowledge coming at the final point of the plot.

47 Patterns of Development
A very common pattern of development is the goal-oriented plot, in which a character wants to gain a desired object or achieve a desired state of affairs. Plots based on searches would be an example.

48 Patterns of Development
A variation of the goal-oriented plot pattern is the investigation, typical of detective films. The protagonists goal is not an object , but information.

49 Patterns of Development
Time or space can also make plot patterns. A situation in the present may cause a series of flashbacks showing how events led up to the present situation.

50 Patterns of Development
The plot may also create a specific duration for the action, a deadline. Any given plot can combine these patterns. Many films using a journey pattern involve deadlines.

51 Patterns of Development
For any pattern of development, the viewer will create specific expectations that can be delayed, cheated or satisfied. In many films, the middle portion may delay an expected outcome.

52 Closings The narrative will usually resolve its causal issues by bringing the development to a high point, a climax. In the climax, the action is presented as having a narrow range of possible outcomes.

53 Closings The climax aims to lift the viewer to a high degree of tension or suspense. In the climax of many films, formal resolution combine with emotional satisfaction.

54 Narration Narration is the process by which the plot presents story information to the viewer. The purpose of narration is to achieve specific cinematic effects. For example, creating or heightening curiosity, suspense, surprises or expectations

55 Aspects of Narration The most important elements of narration are the Range and Depth of information presented. Another important element is the use of a Narrator.

56 Range of Narration Unrestricted narration is when the viewer knows, sees and hears more than any of the characters. Such extremely knowledgeable narration is called omniscient narration.

57 Range of Narration The opposite is Restricted Narration. This is when the viewer only knows, sees and hears what a major character experiences. Range is not absolute, it is a matter of degree and both kinds of narration create desired effects.

58 Range of Narration Narration is never completely unrestricted, there is always something we are not told, even if it is how the film will end. Typical unrestricted narration involves the plot shifting from character to character to change our source of information.

59 Range of Narration Similarly, a completely restricted narration usually includes a few scenes that the main character is not present to witness.

60 Range of Narration The plot’s range of story information crates a hierarchy of knowledge. At any given moment we can ask “Who knows what and when?” The viewer must be included among the “whos,” because we may get more knowledge than any one character.

61 Range of Narration Restricted narration tends to create greater curiosity and surprise for the viewer. In contrast, Unrestricted narration can help build suspense.

62 Depth of Narration Depth involves the continuum between objective and subjective perspective. Objective perspective would be restricted to what the character says and does. Subjective perspective shows the thoughts and feelings of the character. This includes memories, fantasies, dreams and hallucinations. Also called mental subjectivity.

63 Depth of Narration We might see shots taken from a character’s visual standpoint, the point-of-view shot, Or hear what the character would hear, this is sound perspective. These would create a greater degree of subjectivity, called perceptual subjectivity.

64 Depth of Narration Subjective perspectives can increase the viewer’s identification with a character and heighten the expectations of their decisions. Objective perspectives can be an effective way of withholding information to create curiosity, suspense and surprise.

65 Narration Most films use varying degrees of both objective and subjective perspectives to create desired effects. Range and Depth of narration operate independently of each other and both are also used to varying degrees to shape the plot.

66 Narration In general, films insert subjective moments into an overall objective perspective. Flashbacks are usually motivated as mental subjectivity, since the events we see are caused by a character recalling the past.

67 Narration Yet once we are in the flashback, events will be presented from a objective standpoint. The may also include action that the character had no way of knowing.

68 Narration In this case the film takes objective narration as a foundation from which we dive in search of subjective depth, but then we return to the objective narration.

69 Narration Narration, then, is the process by which the plot presents the story information to the viewer. This process may shift between restricted and unrestricted ranges of knowledge and varying degrees of objectivity and subjectivity.

70 The Narrator Narration may also use a Narrator, a specific agent whose purpose is to tell the story. The narrator may also be a character in the story. This is common in detective stories and can add a more subjective perspective to the film.

71 The Narrator Some films use a noncharacter narrator, which gives the film a more objective perspective. This is common in documentaries and is also called the “Voice of God”. Some films may not make it clear who is the narrator, if they are a character or not, to increase mystery or suspense.

72 The Narrator In any case, the viewer’s process of picking up cues, making expectations, and constructing an ongoing story out of the plot will be shaped by what the narrator tells or does not tell.

73 Classical Hollywood Cinema
Even though the number of possible narratives is unlimited, cinema has tended to be dominated by this single mode of narrative form. It is called “classical” because of its lengthy, stable and influential history in cinema, “Hollywood” because it developed its most elaborate form in American studio films.

74 Classical Hollywood Cinema
Classical Hollywood narrative form depends on individual characters decisions, choices and traits. Often an important trait is desire. This desire sets up a goal and the narrative’s development is achieving that goal.

75 Classical Hollywood Cinema
There is an opposition that creates conflict. The character that exemplifies this opposition is the “Antagonist”. While the main character the viewer follows is the “Protagonist”.

76 Classical Hollywood Cinema
Cause and effect imply change, therefore, characters and their traits are a strong source of causes and effects. Characters often desire something to be different from the way it is in the beginning. Motivation in classic narrative film will try to be as clear and complete as possible.

77 Classical Hollywood Cinema
Narration in “CHC” tends to be objective against various degrees of mental or perceptual subjectivity. “CHC” also tends toward unrestricted narration, unless the genre, like detective, depends on mystery.

78 Classical Hollywood Cinema
Most “CHC” display a strong degree of closure. The film seeks to complete its cause and effect chain with a climax and resolve all conflicts and mysteries.

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