Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film

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It is not criticism. It is about explaining what the possibilities are. That question raises subsidiary ones: What are the ways we recognize the presence or absence of a narrator?

What is plot? Point of view? To do this, he breaks down narrative into components: Narrative is composed of story and discourse, and the story is made of events and existents. This extends loosely from Aristotle. The idea of structure that Chatman uses comes from Piaget, who claims that structure contains wholeness, transformation, and self-regulation.

Narrative is a structure by these terms, and furthermore it is a semiotic structure. As a semiotic structure, it is divided into quadrants by expression and content, and substance and form. Discourse is the expression of narrative, while content is the story. Both of these have elements of substance and form. A worthwhile endeavor is to imagine what of this constitutes the world and the model.

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It seems like both of these are content, but what identifies the world versus the model in terms of the cultural codes, characters, and such is lest clear. The experience of reading is a part of the discourse, and it is arguable that in an adaptation project, the form of expression should be mimicked or made analogous to the source material. Experiencing a narrative requires interpretation, filling in the gaps.

This is a crucial element in story, that it is possible for the reader to inject their own interpretations, and supply extra details and imagery to what is being read. This is interesting in the context of film and visual video games, which supply more and more visual information.

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Chatman explains that narratives evoke a world of potential details. The text supplies some of these details, but it is up to the reader to fill in the rest. There is a range of artistic expression in narrative, as is present in painting. Painting may be more or less detailed impressionistic works forgo detail to create expression and mood , likewise narrative may choose to go in or out of details at whim.

Narrative is never complete. Statements in discourse may be interpreted, and have different interpretations. Discourse can show and tell, but showing and telling have different meanings. All statements are mediated to some degree, but telling increases the degree of mediation. The range of mediation and forms of narration create a spectrum of modes between the author and the reader.

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Events make up the things that happen, and this is the content, but the arrangement of these events as presented to the reader is a matter of discourse. The presentation of sequence implicitly conveys causality. Readers interpret consecutive events as causally related. The verisimilitude of events, the manner in which they are interpreted as real, is according to how the reader thinks they should be, not necessarily as they are. Thus, explicit narration is only required for events which are notable or unusual.

Narration thus becomes an issue of inclusion and omission. This is an interesting point because it ties back to the way in which we read or use models. Although the application to formal models is difficult because common expectations are notoriously difficult to express. Chatman describes extensively the filmic devices for developing cuts and scenes, and explains these in relation to the terms of narrative sequence. These have to do with the role of time in events, which have flow of rhythms and cycles.

Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film by Seymour Chatman

Using Pride and Prejudice as an example, he explains how the narration is broken into phases of scene action and description. Rhythm and flow are good to think about from the perspective of adaptation, because these carry the dramatic mood and experience of the narrative. The latter part of this chapter discusses macroscopic plot structures. Chatman argues that to form characterization of narrative forms, it is necessary to understand cultural codes, among other things.


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Without understanding these, typologies of narratives for instance, Propp must be narrow and confined to particular domains. Where an event is something that occurs in time, an existent is something that occurs in space. In cinematic narratives, this is more literal: existents are things that show up on screen and take up space on the screen. Chatman gives five qualities for these: p.

Verbal and cinematic story space are different in several respects. Text has much more ambiguity and freedom, and is open in terms of visual imagery, but this imagery may be suggested given the style of the narrative. Conversely, cinema cannot describe things and events, it must show them. Games, interestingly, are in an in-between space. They can both show and tell by making use of various interactive techniques.

What is the relation of the plot to the character?



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