Narratology and Story-making in Film

Two types of fictional narratives

Mimesis (showing)
Diegesis (telling)

Diegesis is used by film critics to describe the fictional world created by a films narration

Narratology is the stuffy of how stories work; how we make sense of them; how we fit them together to form a coherent whole

Narratologists study different narrative structures, storytelling strategies, aesthetic conventions, types of stories (genres), and their symbolic implications

  • Realistic narrator – events speak for themselves; movie is chronological
  • Classical narrator – narrator fills in boring gap
  • Formalistic narrator – subjective perspective; overly manipulative

Story v.s. plot

  • Story is general; dramatic action shown in chronology
  • Plot involves storyteller’s method; arrangements of events (e.g. flashback)
  • Movies are like essays – a thesis (at the beginning) defines the film

Many film noirs present stories in complicated plots; they are heavily reliant on flashbacks

Classical Paradigm – conflict between a protagonist, who initiates action, and an antagonist, who resists it

Realism – portrays life without distortion

Formalism – emphasizes world of imagination (abstract editing/style – e.g. showing snippets of character’s line

Adaptation – many adaptations of literary sources

  • They often require more skill than working with screenplays (e.g. think about the film Adaptation and his struggle to write a screenplay from the novel The Orchid Thief)
  • Faithful adaptations attempt to recreate the literary source as close as possible

Genre & Myth

  • Genre – type of movie (comedy, drama, musical…..)
  • Distinguished by a characteristic set of conventions in style, subject matter, and values

Film critics and scholars classify genre movies into 4 main cycles:

  • Primitive (or formative) – novelty of the form; many conventions are established in this phase
  • Classical – embodies classical ideals of balance, richness, and poise; values are assured and widely shared by the audience
  • Revisionist – more symbolic, ambiguous, less certain in its values; this phase tends to by stylistically complex, appealing more to the intellect than the emotions; in genres, preestablished conventions are exploited as ironic foils to a question or undermine popular beliefs
  • Parodic – this phase is a mockery to the conventions, reducing them to clichés and presenting them in a comic matter.

Genres have a way of springing back to life after taking a rest for a few years (e.g. Chicago – Musical)


  • Manner of the presentation – general atmosphere created
    • Tone affects the audiences response
    • Acting styles can determine the tone
  • Genre also helps determine a films tone
  • Voice over narrator can determine tone
    • E.g. Clockwork Orange – narrated by a thug
    • E.g. Maelstrom – used a fish as a narrator – creates a novelistic mood.
    • Music can also create tone (commonly used method)
    • Story

      • Story can be many things
        • It is a property that has box-office value
        • To a writer, story is screenplay
        • To a film star, story is the vehicle
        • To a director, story is an artistic medium
        • To a critic, story is a classifiable narrative form
        • To a sociologist, story is an index to public sentiment
        • To a psychologist, story is an instinctive exploration of hidden fears or communal ideas
        • To a movie goer, it can be all of these and more

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