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Narrative structure

 Narrative structure

Story has structure.

  1. A story or a narrative is an account of events. But it is not just any sort of account of any events. It is a selection and ordering of events into a meaningful pattern. More simply put, narrative structure is about the the ways in which a story has been structured or put together.
  2. It is consequential sequence of events.  Its typical structure begins with a setting of the scene and introduction of characters in an initial situation, a state of relative equilibrium.
  3. It then proceeds to a disruption of this equilibrium, with the emergence of some sort of catalyst for the eruption of tension, conflict, misunderstanding, contradiction, mystery or loss.
  4. There follows an exploration of the causes, implications or consequences. Then come various attempts at resolution, which build toward a climax, a high point of tension, bringing revelation or catharsis.
  5. It ends with a resolution in a new state of relative equilibrium.

Narrative structure

  1. Narrative structure is about ORDER OF EVENTS (sequence), it is about POINT OF VIEW (the perspective from which the events of the story are revealed), it is about CONFLICT DEVELOPMENT and RESOLUTION (rising action resulting from conflict, which is resolved to some degree and becomes falling action).

  2. Freytag's triangle (you don't need to know this term), or what I call a plot diagram, plots the orientation or exposition, the rising action and minor crises, the climax and the resolution. The events along this pathway make up the STRUCTURE of the narrative.

  3. BUT, this sequence is not necessarily chronological. In ATFD some parts of the text are in flashback from the first person narrative perspective. Other parts, are in the third person narrative, following the actions (from the perspective of, including thoughts and author revealed details about) multiple characters.
Narrative structure controls what the writer wants the reader to know.
  1. A group of terrorists hijack a bus, kill some people, ultimately cause the suicide of a young boy, and psychologically damage his father; this is the story of After the First Death. However, the narrative structure of this same story is very different.

  2. Why has Updike chosen to tell his story in such an unusual way? Ben's first person perspective is through the eyes of a mentally and physically wounded boy (even if Ben is actually Mark it doesn't matter because Mark has assumed the identity of this disturbed son). What Ben reveals is 'up-close-and-personal'. We the readers see the world as Ben sees it. NOW, why does Updike reveal events on the bus from several perspectives and in the third person omniscient? Why not stay with Ben? Answer, so that he can provide us with details that will make us think about and understand those characters; details  which he (Updike) wants us to know about. Why? So that we get to make judgements about different characters' motives, understand that even they don't understand themselves (who really does?) and then we come to a PARTICULAR VIEW OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE otherwise known as THEME.

  3. In telling events in different order (sequence) from the way they occurred chronolgically, and by looking at events from different characters' perspectives (point of view), the author increases the ways in which he can make / shape / construct meaning or THEME for readers.

  4. In addition, SUSPENSE is created as we are given some bits of info while being withheld others. The plot twists and turns, the unususual or unexpected may throw us off course. What is going to happen next? Will these people's problems be resolved? Must read on! The writer creates and present plot COMPLICATIONS in varied ways. Remember that plot graph.In any short story or novel a labelled plot diagram graphs these crises /complications, these twists and turns. These developments are part of the STRUCTURE of the story.

Complex Narrative Structure may contain the following:

- flashbacks
- dream sequences
- repetition
- different characters' point of view
- multiple plot lines converging at the end
- flash forwards
- different time frames
- pre-figuring of events that have not yet taken place
- circular plotting where we are led back to the beginning
- backwards story telling, where the denoument is shown first and
explained through the plot.

Purposes of Varied Narrative Structure

As well as providing a deeper and more interesting sequence of events, narrative structure can position the reader to think and feel a wider range of responses by providing differing views or perspectives in experiencing / viewing the action. These maintain or increase interest, develop conflict, help construct theme


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Feel free to access these resources for study purposes or classroom use. However where they have been directly dowloaded for distribution or copied and provided as notes, please acknowledge as a courtesy. John Watson