Narrative in Film. Meaning, Definition & Examples.

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Definition: Narrative in film refers to how a story is constructed and presented to the audience. It encompasses the sequence of events, characters, and storytelling techniques in filmmaking.

Several different narrative structures are commonly found in the film, each with unique characteristics.

Related Reading: The Hollywood Story Arc Explained.

Linear Narrative

linear

This is the most straightforward narrative structure, chronologically presenting the story’s events.

One example of a film that follows a linear narrative structure is “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994), directed by Frank Darabont.

Non-linear Narrative

non linear

In this structure, the story’s events are presented out of chronological order, often with flashbacks or flash-forwards.

“Pulp Fiction” (1994), directed by Quentin Tarantino, is a classic example of a film that employs a non-linear narrative structure.

Circular Narrative

circular

Also known as a closed loop structure, this narrative structure begins and ends in the same place, creating a sense of completion or cyclical nature.

“Groundhog Day” (1993), directed by Harold Ramis, showcases a circular narrative structure where the protagonist experiences the same day repeatedly.

Episodic Narrative

episodic

This structure divides the story into distinct episodes or chapters that may or may not be interconnected.

“Pulp Fiction” can also be considered an example of an episodic narrative structure due to its multiple storylines.

“Boyhood” (2014) is another example of an episodic structure. Boyhood is a coming-of-age drama filmed over 12 years. The film follows the life of a young boy named Mason as he grows up and faces various challenges.

Each year is presented as an episode, showcasing different moments and milestones in Mason’s life.

Multiple Perspective Narrative

multiple perspective

This structure presents the story from different characters’ viewpoints, providing varying perspectives and interpretations of events.

“Rashomon” (1950), directed by Akira Kurosawa, is an excellent example of a film that employs multiple perspectives to explore the truth behind a crime.

“Cloud Atlas” (2012): Directed by Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski siblings, features an intricate multi-narrative structure. The movie spans different periods and follows multiple interconnected storylines, exploring themes of reincarnation, destiny, and love.

Speaking of Kurosawa, you might like Famous Filmmakers who started late.

The difference between the narrative and the plot

  • Narrative: the overall story, including the characters, events, and themes.
  • Plot: the specific sequence of events that occur within the narrative.

While the narrative is the broader concept, the plot focuses on the specific details and actions that drive the story forward.

Read more on plots in movies.

Conclusion

Film narrative structures offer filmmakers various ways to engage and captivate audiences.

Whether it’s a linear, non-linear, circular, episodic, or multiple-perspective structure, each approach brings its unique storytelling techniques to the forefront.

By carefully selecting the appropriate narrative structure, filmmakers can effectively convey their stories and create memorable cinematic experiences for viewers.

Up Next: How To Come Up With Good Plot Ideas For Your Next Short Film Or Feature

Author

  • Jan Sørup

    Jan Sørup is a indie filmmaker, videographer and photographer from Denmark. He owns filmdaft.com and the Danish company Apertura, which produces video content for big companies in Denmark and Scandinavia. Jan has a background in music, has drawn webcomics, and is a former lecturer at the University of Copenhagen.

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