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Lecture/Seminar Series – Digital Narratives. Week 1 Narratology and Film Week 2 Cinematic Narrative Models Week 3 Visual Storytelling Week 4 Anti-Narrative Week 5 Student Presentations. Levi –Strauss and Binary Oppositions

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Lecture/Seminar Series – Digital Narratives

Week 1 Narratology and Film

Week 2 Cinematic Narrative Models

Week 3 Visual Storytelling

Week 4 Anti-Narrative

Week 5 Student Presentations


Levi –Strauss and Binary Oppositions

Our understanding of words id based on the difference between a certain word and its 'opposite' or its 'binary opposite’ (e.g. good/evil, hero/villain, society/wilderness, insider/outsider etc.). Narratives are often structured around these binaries.

When studying any kind of narrative, it is worth looking for the ways in which the meanings we make from the story are guided by these 'binary oppositions'


Ways of understanding film narrative - Propp

Propp in his study of folk tales discovered a number of characteristics in the structure of narratives. His ideas are also very useful when studying film.

His ideas suggest that narratives contain a number of character functions (types) :

The hero

who is the character who seeks something

The villain

who opposes or blocks the hero’s quest

The donor

who provides an object which has a magical property

The dispatcher

who sends the hero on his way by providing a message

The false hero

who disrupts the hero’s hope

The helper

who aids the hero

The princess

who acts as a reward for the hero and as an object of the villain’s scheming

The father

who acts to reward the hero for his efforts


Actions / Events









Visual Storytelling

Film and television narratives use a complex system of signs (both visible and audible) in order to communicate effectively to their audiences.

This system of signs helps the viewer to understand the meanings and messages of the texts as well as allowing them to focus on the narrative (and the diegesis) rather than the way in which the text is constructed.

This system of signs is normally referred to as ‘cinematic codes’

Cinematic codes

Cinematic codes in their most basic form can be divided into two main groups:

Combinations of visual signs

Combinations of audio signs

In fact it is much more likely that cinematic codes will be a combination of both visual and audio signs.


There are three basic building blocks for each group of signs:

Visual signs – the shot

1 The Long shot - used to establish the location or setting, or to show characters in their environment

2 The Mid shot - used to establish relationships between characters and for dialogue

3 The Close up - used to establish the emotions or motivations/reactions of the main characters

Audio Signs – sound

1 Dialogue - used to explain characters motivations/reactions and to clarify events in the film

2 Sound effects - used to reinforce a sense of a particular place/setting and to add realism/ drama

3 Music - used to reinforce the mood or atmosphere of the scene or to add drama and emotion



The term mise-en-scene is a french term meaning literally ‘placed in the scene’ or ‘what is put into the frame’. Establishing a convincing and believable mise-en-scene is crucial for 3 main reasons:

1 to allow the audience to focus on, and be drawn into the narrative

2 to allow the audience to identify generic conventions to help them understand

3 to communicate ideas about the characters and the events through the look of the scene

The elements of mise-en-scene are as follows:

the set and props

lighting and colour

costume, hairstyle and make-up

facial expressions and body language

the position of the characters in the set


The Continuity System, Spatial Awareness and Narrative

Important to our experience of film is how the construction of visual narratives becomes ‘invisible’ (the techniques do not draw attention to themselves). This is so that the audiences attention is given over to the diegesis (the story, characters, events etc.)

The most dominant form of visual construction, at both the level of filming and editing, is what is known as the ‘continuity system’

This system is governed by a complex set of rules about how images are framed and how they are organized into sequences

Characterised by:

Establishing Shot (establishing space)

180 degree axis

Shot / Reverse Shots

Cross cutting (between spaces in the same time)

Eye-line and Graphic matches

Dissolve (time gaps)

Bridging sound


Montage and Symbolic Editing

Montage– juxtaposing images by editing (disrupted spatial awareness and created narrative fragmentation).

During the 1920s, the pioneering Russian film directors and theorists Kuleshov, Eisenstein and Vertov experimented with montage.

Montage could create ideas or have an impact beyond the individual images. Two or more images edited together create a "tertium quid" (third thing) with accumulated meaning.