Narrative

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What is a narrative?
A narrative is a story.
How is a narrative arranged?
A cinematic structure in which content is selected and arranged in a cause-and-effect sequence of events occurring over time.
What type of genre are narrative films?
fiction films
Narrator
Who or what tells the story of a film. The primary narrator in cinema is the camera, which narrates the film by showing us events in the movie's narrative. When referring to the more specific action of voice-narration, the narrator may be either a character in the movie (a first-person narrator) or a person who is not a character (an omniscient narrator).
Narration
The act of telling the story of the film. The primary source of a movie's narration is the camera, which narrates the story by showing us the events of the narrative on-screen.
Spoken Narration
commentary spoken by either an offscreen or on-screen voice. When that commentary is not spoken by one of the characters in the movie, it is omniscient. When spoken by a character within the movie, the commentary is first-person narration.
First person narration
Narration by an actual character in the movie
Voice-over narration
Narration heard concurrently and over a scene but not synchronized to any character who may be talking on the screen. It can come from many sources, including a third person (who is not a character) bringing us up-to-date, a first-person narrator commenting on the action, or, in a nonfiction film, a commentator.
Direct address narration
A form of narration in which an on-screen character looks and speaks directly to the audience.
Third person narration
Narration delivered from outside of the diegesis by a narrator who is not a character in the movie.
Omniscient point of view
Providing a third-person view of all aspects of a movie's action or characters.
Restricted point of view
Providing a view from the perspective of a single character. For example, restricted narration reveals information to the audience only as a specific character learns of it.
Character
An essential element of film narrative; any of the beings who play functional roles within the plot, either acting or being acted on. Characters can be flat or round; major, minor, or marginal; protagonists or antagonists.
Round character
A complex character possessing numerous, subtle, repressed, or contradictory traits. Round characters often develop over the course of a story.
Flat character
A relatively uncomplicated character exhibiting few distinct traits. Flat characters do not change significantly as the story progresses.
Protagonist
The primary character whose pursuit of the goal provides the structural foundation of a movie's story.
anti-hero
An outwardly unsympathetic protagonist pursuing a morally objectionable or otherwise undesirable goal.
antagonist
The character, creature, or force that obstructs or resists the protagonist's pursuit of their goal.
plot
The specific actions and events that the filmmakers select and the order in which they arrange those events and actions to effectively convey on-screen the movie's narrative to a viewer. Compare narrative and story.
obstacles
Events, circumstances, and actions that impede a protagonist's pursuit of the goal. Obstacles often originate from an antagonist and are central to a narrative conflict.
stakes
In a conventional narrative, that which is at risk as a consequence of the protagonist's pursuit of the goal.
normal world
In a narrative screenplay, the state of the character and setting before the inciting incident.
inciting incident
The narrative event that presents the protagonist with a goal that sets the rest of the narrative in motion. Also known as the catalyst.
catalyst
The event or situation during the exposition stage of the narrative that sets the rest of the narrative in motion. Also known as the inciting incident.
rising action
The development of the action of the narrative toward a climax. Compare falling action.
crisis
- A critical turning point in a story in which the protagonist must engage a seemingly insurmountable obstacle.
climax
- The highest point of conflict in a conventional narrative; the protagonist's ultimate attempt to attain the goal.
resolution
The concluding narrative events that follow the climax in a falling action and celebrate or otherwise reflect upon story outcomes.
story
In a movie, all the events we see or hear on the screen, and all the events that are implicit or that we infer to have happened but that are not explicitly presented.
diegesis
The total world of a story—the events, characters, objects, settings, and sounds that form the world in which the story occurs.
diegetic element
An element—event, character, object, setting, sound—that helps form the world in which the story occurs.
non diegetic element
Something that we see and hear on the screen that comes from outside the world of the story (including background music, titles and credits, and voice-over narration).
backstory
A fictional history behind the cinematic narrative that is presented onscreen. Elements of the backstory can be hinted at in a movie, presented through narration, or not revealed at all.
duration
A quantity of time. In any movie, we can identify three specific kinds of duration: story duration (the time that the entire narrative arc—whether explicitly presented on-screen or not—is implied to have taken), plot duration (the time that the events explicitly shown on-screen are implied to have taken), and screen duration (the actual time that has elapsed to present the movie's plot, i.e., the movie's running time).
story duration
The amount of time that the entire narrative arc of a movie's story—whether explicitly presented on-screen or not—is implied to have taken to occur. Compare plot duration and screen duration.
plot duration
The elapsed time of the events within a story that a film chooses to tell. Compare screen duration and story duration.
screen duration
The amount of time that it has taken to present the movie's plot on-screen, i.e., the movie's running time. Compare plot duration and story duration.
summary relationship
A time relationship in which screen duration is shorter than plot duration. For example, a two-minute montage may illustrate what happens to a character over the span of ten yars. Compare real time and stretch relationship.
real time
The actual time during which something takes place. In real time, screen duration and plot duration are exactly the same. Many directors use real time within films to create uninterrupted "reality" on the screen, but they rarely use it for entire films. Compare cinematic time, stretch relationship, and summary relationship.
stretch relationship
- A time relationship in which screen duration is longer than plot duration. For example, slow motion photography, the repetition of images, or the use of multiple points of view may stretch the time that it takes to illustrate one plot point. Compare real time and summary relationship
cinematic time
The passage of time within a movie, as conveyed and manipulated by editing
surprise
a surprise, a being taken unawares, can be shocking, and our emotional response to it is generally short-lived.
suspense
a more drawn-out (and, some would say, more enjoyable) experience, one that we may seek out even when we know what happens in a movie. Suspense is the anxiety brought on by a partial uncertainty
repetition
the number of times with which a story element recurs in a plot is an important aspect of narrative form. If an event occurs once in a plot, we accept it as a functioning part of the narrative's progression. Its appearance more than once, however, suggests a pattern and thus a higher level of importance
familiar image
defined by film theorist Stefan Sharff as any image (audio or visual) that a director periodically repeats in a movie (with or without variations) to help stabilize its narrative. By its repetition, the image calls attention to itself as a narrative (as well as visual) element.
setting
the time and place in which the story occurs. It not only establishes the date, city, or country, but also provides the characters' social, educational, and cultural backgrounds and other identifying factors vital for understanding them
scope
the overall range, in time and place, of the movie's story. Stories can range from the distant past to the narrative present, or they can be narrowly focused on a short period, even a matter of moments. Determining the general scope of a movie's story—understanding its relative expansiveness—can help you piece together and understand other aspects of the movie as a whole.
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