Narrative can be found in situation comedies for example in “Friends” Monica’s and Chandler’s hidden relationship was one. It can also be found in Soaps for example the “Anna and Alex’s baby” in Hollyoaks is another. In EastEnders “Who shot Phil?” is an example of an almost over-hyped narrative. Where the audience was kept on tenter hooks to find out who the attempted murderer was and what Phil would do to them.
Some products that wouldn’t normally be expected to do so use narrative. For example in music City High’s “What would you do” tells the story of a single mother who’s been forced into prostitution due to a lack of money. Narrative is used in songs because listeners want to hear a clear format that they can understand easily and not have to think about. We also like songs that tell stories because we love being told stories, it’s comforting as we have been told them from an early age.
Narrative can also be found in adverts and a brilliant example of this is the Nescafe series. These started in the 1980’s and told the story of a man and a woman who meet over a cup of coffee and fall passionately in love. More recently the Mini adverts at the moment are mocking the stereotypical and almost over obsessive use of narrative used in films by saying things like, “They went in search of the lost empire found it the end!”. This uses narrative because what’s being said is an extremely simplified story, a plan of a story.
Narrative is generally stretched out in soaps and therefore the characters attitudes occasionally distort but ten to remain in equilibrium. For example Steve Owen in Eastenders is generally thought of as a baddy or a villain like when he killed Saskia and blamed Matthew. Although he can be seen to be a goody/ hero when he rescued the people from the garage, and even a victim when he got kidnapped and cut by Phil and his gang. Contrasting to this Ian Beale is generally seen to be a victim like when his business went bust and everyone turned there backs on him but he has been seen to be a villain when he lied that his daughter had cancer so Mel would marry him.
Narrative is used because stories have been told to the audience since they were born and therefore they understand and enjoy them. Producers know this and therefore use stories to keep the viewers entertained and watching and therefore when used in advertising have more time to sell the product.
What is narrative structure?
However one media product that uses narrative extensively is film. Films are in many ways long stories. That’s why Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and Bridgett Jones’s Diary among others have been as successful in films as they have done in books.
In each film we see the narrative is told through the characters and how these characters act. Characters that are seen a lot in films are villains, hero’s/heroines, henchmen and wise people. There are also set ways these characters act. Villains should be trying to revert the world or a beautiful princess into bad for example in Tomorrow Never Dies Renard is trying to take over the world. Villains do also kidnap or try to kill victims for example in A life less Ordinary Ewan McGregor kidnaps Cameron Diaz. Heroes try to stop the bad things from happening, cliche goodies are Batman, Superman, and James Bond. The henchmen can be on either side and are basically helping them. Mike for example is Sullys in Monsters Inc, who is obviously good and the Hyenas in the Lion King were Scars the villains henchmen. The wise people guide the hero in his quest, for example Gandalf in Lord of the Rings.
The good always have to defeat the bad in films and the right boy and the right girl have to stay together as the producers want to promote the sort of society we want to live in. Producers use this cliche “happy ending” because it leaves the audience feeling happy. If there was a sad ending for example the “Hero” dies like in Message in a bottle or the world is not saved from the “baddy” the audience would be left feeling depressed and not like the film as much.
Film producers try to create an idealised just society because they know it is the sort of film the audience would fantasise about living in and therefore want to see come across in film.
The characters that are used and the events they create is called narrative structure. All films can be simplified into one simple diagram:
Why does narrative structure help audiences understand the film?
Because of this over used formulae of events narrative structure is often very easy to recognise early on in a films viewing, and because we know this the can often make a guess about the plot by watching the first five minutes. We proved this by watching the first five minutes of The Untouchables and predicting what was going to happen next. My prediction was:
We can tell that Elliot Ness is the hero in this film because of his life style, his pretty wife, his lovely house and the first scene we see him in he’s reading the newspaper and looking concerned about a young girl who has just died. On the other hand the audience can guess that Al Capone is the villain because of his interaction with other characters. We can see he has power over other people because when the barber accidentally cut him shaving the barber looked genuinely scared. We also know Al Capone is the villain because it’s a well known historical fact.
Therefore there is a very strong chance that Al Capone will try to corrupt the country life style but eventually Elliot Ness will defeat him. This is very close to the actual plot line.
Audiences like the idea of narrative structure because they can guess the story line and understand the film plot before even seeing the film. The producers like it because it gives them less work to do-they have the set plan they just have to change the vents around a bit. It also gives them a safety harness they can be original and surprise the audience but still be pretty sure the film will be a hit. For example in Ice Age the villains henchman, Diego, actually becomes the hero’s henchman at the end of the film.
If the plot line doesn’t follow a set procedure the audience feels confused and therefore doesn’t like the film. If the concept isn’t grasped quickly audiences turn off. This happened to me personally while watching Vanilla Sky. To me the plot line seamed jumpy and unfinished and I couldn’t understand it. Therefore I didn’t like it and I told my friends I didn’t like it. Therefore as one of films top promotion issues is word of mouth a film would loose viewing figures if the plot line isn’t easy to see.
Therefore to conclude this essay narrative structure is a story format used in film. It is used to enable the producers to make a film that is original, interesting and above all understandable. Producers like narrative structure as they want to make their plot lines easy to follow and audiences like it because they want to be able to see an easy to follow plot line!
If a film doesn’t follow a clearly set out plot line word of mouth would be badly effected and this being one of films major promotional issues would lead to a decline in viewing figures, resulting in a smaller money intake.
In the final part of the film the heroes usually beat the villains and the right man gets the right girl because it creates the idealised life the audience would like to be a part of.