Narrative Structure As Powles sees it.
Elements of a narrative: • Characters
Theme • “With great power, there must also come – great responsibility!”
Characters • The characters in a story are the people who DO the various things that move the plot forward. • They don’t have to be people… if you see Disney movies, you have seen characters who are cars, animals, and even candles and chairs. • The main character in a story is usually the PROTAGONIST – this is the character with whom the reader’s sympathy lies. • In opposition to the protagonist is the ANTAGONIST – the character the reader hopes to see fail.
So… Protagonist Antagonist
Characters continued • A character is understood to be DYNAMIC if he or she undergoes a significant change in the story – this is usually an emotional change, such as a new outlook on life or an important realization brought about by an epiphany. • A character who does not undergo any significant change is a STATIC character. • A character which can be summed up with only a sentence or two is usually described as a FLAT character, whereas • a character which is multi-dimensional and could not be simply summed up is a ROUND character. • A character with quickly identified characteristics may be a STOCK CHARACTER. (e.g. a ‘mad scientist’, ‘rebellious teenager’ or ‘hen-pecked husband’.) • A FOIL is a character who serves as a contrast to another perhaps more primary character, so as to point out specific traits of the primary character.
Setting • The setting of a story is the time, place and social environment in which the story’s events occur. • The setting establishes the context for the reader to understand the story’s events. • Understanding the importance of the setting often requires that the reader has knowledge of both the history and geography of that area. • The more precisely the setting can be identified, the more likely that the author intends for the setting to provide meaning for the story.
Setting, continued. • The setting of a story can also include • The characters’ background (e.g. a story set in New York City that involves Holocaust survivors – here, the characters’ experiences would be important in understanding the context of the story’s action) • The environment in which the characters live (Does the story take place in an affluent area or a slum? Is it simple enough to say it takes place at a ‘bar’ or is the type of bar and the people who frequent it important for the story?) • The atmosphere (the story could take place in an office, but it’s an office in which layoffs are imminent – this becomes a very important element of the setting and very useful for understanding the characters’ actions)
The Plot • The plot of a story revolves around the conflict, or the problem faced by the protagonist.
Plot, continued. • Conflicts concern opposing forces. Most people define the conflict in this way:
Plot, continued It is important to remember that when discussing the plot, it is usually not enough to merely state that it is a ‘person vs. person’ conflict. You should be clear in stating what the oppositional forces ARE. For example, • Here, Spider-Man faces the Green Goblin, making this a person vs. person conflict.
Parts of the plot Introduction – Here the setting is established and the main characters are introduced. Inciting Incident (or inciting force) – This is where the conflict in the story is introduced. Rising Action – This is the bulk of the story, and involves the protagonist’s various efforts to resolve the conflict. Crisis – a moment of intensity that leads directly to a turn in fortune for the protagonist Climax – a significant turn in fortune for the protagonist; in many stories it marks the resolution of the conflict; in Shakespearean drama it usually occurs at the mid-point of the play. Falling Action – Events which occur after the protagonist’s fate is sealed; may include the resolution of sub-plots Denouement – the concluding, final thought of the story.
Theme • The theme of a story is, according to Perrine’s Literature, “its controlling idea or its central insight. It is the unifying generalization about life stated or implied by the story” (191) • Not all stories have a significant theme – in literary fiction, it is generally the purpose of the story; in commercial or ‘pop’ fiction, it is not as important as such elements as plot and suspense. • The theme of a story is not ‘something that happens’; rather, it is revealed by the things that happen in the story.
Theme, continued. Sometimes, a theme is explicitly stated… • “Life is like a box of chocolates… you never know what you’re gonna get.”
Theme, continued. • More often, however, the theme is NOT explicitly stated, and the reader may have to read closely to understand it. • When discussing theme, it is important to remember that a subject alone is not a theme. For example, “loyalty” is not a theme, but “loyalty to country often inspires heroic self-sacrifice” IS. • The theme is a generalization about life or experience or understanding. It should not be too specifically linked to a character in the story. For example, the idea that “with great power comes great responsibility” is not just true for Spider-Man, it’s true for anyone who has power. • The theme reveals an insight into humanity, but is not necessarily a constant. Words like every, all, always should be used with caution. • A theme should require expression without resorting to using a cliché. There is nothing particularly vital about a story which is summed up with the idea that “you should not judge a book by its cover.” This may be a lazy shortcut approach to expressing the theme and could miss any real revelation of the story’s vitality.
Narration and Point of View • The point of view of a story is the angle of vision from which a story is told. • There are four basic points of view: • First-person. Here the story is told by one of the characters (using “I” and “me”), and is told from that character’s perspective. • Third-person limited. Here the author tells the story using the third person (about “him” and “they”), but is limited to a complete knowledge of one character in the story and tells us only what one character thinks, feels, sees, or hears. • Third-person omniscient. The author tells the story using the third person, knowing all and free to tell us anything, including what the characters are thinking or feeling and why they act as they do. This point of view is not limited by time or place (so the narrative can express knowledge of what is happening at any place and at any time) • Third-person objective (or dramatic). Here the author tells the story using the third person, but is limited to reporting what the characters say or do; the author does not interpret the characters’ behaviour or tell us their private thoughts or feeling • The point of view can also establish the tone of the story. For example, how might a traditional story like Little Red Riding Hood be different if instead of being told from a third-person perspective, it was told from Red Riding Hood’s perspective? From the Wolf’s?
Tone • A writer’s speaker’s attitude toward the subject, the reader, or himself or herself is the TONE of the work. It provides emotional colouring for the images created by what is written. • Tone is easily understood in verbal language – just consider how they WAY a word is said can give it additional meaning – even something as simple as the word “no”. • In writing, tone is generally conveyed through word choice and punctuation. For example, each of the following usages means something slightly different: no NoNOno? NO! NO?! NOOOOOO! nononono