Previous Final Projects

BBC Doc – Greek Tragedy
-began as ritual in honor of  god Dionysus (tragoedia mean “goat-song”)
– officially recognized in 534 BC
-ekstasis: “to be or stand outside oneself, a removal to elsewhere” from ek- “out,” and stasis “a stand, or a standoff of forces”
– contest between three playwrights over three days, sunrise to sunset
– Integral with democracy, unity in difference, understanding terrible/comic decisions of citizens
– Tragedy – downfall of a hero/heroine by hubris, fate or will of gods

Slide/Talk about Dramatic Storytelling (PDF)

Watch: Fargo

Notes: Track the changes of the two main protagonist  (and others if you can). Write down the characters changes in their outer circumstances and inner outlook. If  there is no change (inner or outer), then note that.


Jerry Lundegaard
Jean Lundegaard
Shep Proudfoot
Gaear Grimsrud
Carl Showalter
Wade Gustafson
Marge Gunderson
Mike Yanagita
Norm Gunderson


Three Act Structure in Movies
Act 1: (20-25min)
– exposition, normal life, intro to characters
-inciting incident, protagonist(s) has a choice of how and whether to act
Act 2: (20-60min)
– complications stemming from actions, cause and effect chain
– point of no return (protagonist committed to action)
– reversal and recognition (the twist and the protagonist understanding what needs to be done)
Act 3: (20-25min)
– unraveling or denouement
-resolution and closure

How is Fargo fractal in its narrative design?


Slide/Talk about Narrative Traditions (PDF)

Aristotle Poetics, 335 BC
Socrates>Plato>Aristotle – logic, scientific inquiry and methods, classification and taxonomy, aesthetics, literary criticism

Aristotle’s Poetics
– plot = “the arrangement of the incidents” into a whole
– drama vs. narration / show vs. tell (mimesis)
– unity of action (cause and effect chain)
– complex plot: reversal and recognition
– tragedy arouses pity and fear and then purges them (catharsis)

Poets = “Dramatists”

Epic – (narrated) episodic, multiple plots, various places and times, character(s) of a “higher” type
Comedy- character of a “lower” type, , unity of time/place
Tragedy – character of a “higher” type, unity of time/place (24 hrs)

Homer example of doing epic in dramatic method


Part I – V

arts are an imitative process – a mirror to view human nature

imitate men better (tragedy) or worse (comedy) than average

mixed mode – narration and drama (Homer)

of a good size and shape – can be held in the mind as a whole – a single day

Part VI
Tragedy – “imitation of an action” (mimesis), personal agents (actors)

Plot – arrangement of incidents and events, imitations of action, medium of imitation

Character – “subsidiary to actions”, revealed in actions, character = action, reveal moral purpose

Diction (dialogue/narration) – manner and style
Thought, Spectacle, Song – object of imitation

Part VII
Tragic plot –  imitation of an action that is “complete, whole and of a certain magnitude” beginning, middle, and end ( a “cause-and-effect chain”)
beginning- normal, then inciting incident
middle- complication to climax
end –  resolution,  the “unravelling”,  the dénouement
“neither begin or end at haphazard”
“orderly arrangement of parts” and “of a certain magnitude” (length) that can be “easily embrace by the memory”
a sequence of events “according to the law of probability or necessity” will admit of a change



“Unity of plot… is not…unity of hero”
sequence of actions that make a whole – as one
if any action is removed, “the whole will be disjointed and disturbed”
single action, whole and complete

Part IX
“what has happened and what may happen – what is possible according to law of probability or necessity”
not history! history = particular
poetry and drama = universal
“of all plots, the episodic are the worst” because episodes or acts succeed one another without probable or necessary sequence
Tragic plot – events inspiring fear or pity that come as surprise and still follow cause and effect or “air of design” – (no coincidences)

Part X and XI
simple plots – change of fortune
complex plots- Reversal of the Situation or Recognition or both, the element of surprise
Reversal of the Situation – “a change by which the action veers round to its opposite”
Recognition – change from ignorance to knowledge, recognition of persons, from incidents themselves
Scene of Suffering – destructive or painful action

“pity is aroused by unmerited misfortune”
“fear by the misfortune of a man like ourselves”
change from good to bad fortune coming “from error or frailty” not “vice or depravity”

Part XIV
“the plot ought to be so constructed that, even without the aid of the eye, he who hears the tale told will thrill with horror and melt to pity at what takes place”
don’t rely of the spectacular for tragic effect
killing a loved one, consciously or in ignorance, for example

Part XV
Character – good (even a woman!!), propriety (what is appropriate), true to life, consistent (consistently inconsistent)
portrayal of character – what is necessary or probable
complication and unraveling of plot must not be brought about by Deus ex Machina (“god from the machine”)
nothing irrational in actions

Complication – beginning of the action to turning-point
Unraveling or Denouement – from beginning of change to the end
Both arts should be mastered


Lunch Date, by Adam Davidson (1990)

break down events in terms of character and plot

in-class exercise: work on three act summary of your story idea



Aristotle, Western narrative traditions and conflict theory
– the battle of ego(s) -winners and losers
– protagonist with desire vs. antagonist obstructing desire
– conflict all the way down – dialogue, scene, act
– cause effect chain
– clarity of purpose and moral certainty are valued
– representation, mimesis in dramatic arts, presents the world as knowable
– objectivity, omniscient narration
– closure

Classical Hollywood Style – centered on conflict between characters, conflict all the way down from whole movie, to act, to scene (sometimes to shot and frame). Most computer games follow classical structure of conflict towards a single goal.

Alternative to Classical styles 

  • Non-Western (non-Aristotelian)  storytelling -less conflict, more fractal patterns, episodic
  • Modern, Avant-garde,  Experimental -fragmentation, broken causal/chains, dissonance, abstraction
  • Post-Modern  -metafiction, collage, remix, stories within stories

Digital narrative styles

  • networked, database, hypertext
  • episodic structures, tv and web series
  • the internet favors fractals- small patterns at the micro-level, that build to larger patterns or structures, self-similarity – creating a unity, “unit operations”
  • what is Drama/Tragedy in the future of digital culture?


Asian Narrative Tradition (China>Japan and Korea)
based on lyrical poetry: 4 stanzas –
1. bringing into being, 2. understanding, 3. changing, 4. drawing together

Emphasis on feelings, atmosphere, natural world, time passage, life as experienced subjectively, on human terms.  Not Greek Drama’s emphasis on action, big goals, cause and effect, will power and battles with winners and losers.



Mount Fuji

This great peak above the clouds, where hermit-wizards came for sport
The deep pools of whose caverns holy dragons have inhabited from old
The snow is like white silk, the rising smoke like a handle
A great white fan inverted, in the heavens above the eastern sea

Author: Ishikawa Jozan (石川丈山), (1583~1672).

from wikipedia entry on Qijue


Kishōtenketsu –  Japanese story form (from China)
Ki :  the introduction: setting, characters, situation, relationships
Shō : further development, following the introduction. no big changes
Ten : a pivot or twist to another, topic, character, situation, setting. this can be jarring, but doesn’t have to be
Ketsu: ending, it wraps up the story by uniting the first two parts with the third, the twist, making the parts a whole.


Yonkoma: 4-paneled  manga


She and Her Cat, by Makoto Shinkai



Experimental narrative: dada, surrealism, improvisational, anti-narrative

Conflict throughout, but broken cause-effect chain

Luis Buñuel: Un Chien andalou (1928)

in-class exercise:
Write a  four act summary of your story using the Kishōtenketsu form.
Create a surrealist/illogical summary of your story.


recommended anime:
Boogiepop Phantom
Serial Experiments Lain
anything by Hayao Miyazaki

5 Centimeters Per Second, by Makoto Shinkai (60 min)


Building Dramatic Structure
1. gather material –  improvisation at micro-level, remix other stories, combine genres,  play around until an idea for a story emerges… or the plot presents itself
3. build narrative/dramatic structure –  construction at macro level, architecture, rhythm