June 30th: Narrative Traditions II


Meshes of the Afternoon – Maya Deren (1943)

Small Deaths, Lynne Ramsay

She and Her Cat, by Makoto Shinkai

160 Characters, by Victoria Mapplebeck

blog prompt:

The above award-winning short films do not follow the Aristotelian plot structure. That is, they are stories that do not develop around a single, clear central conflict. How do they work? Where is the conflict or strife? What do their worlds evoke for you? Can you detect narrative patterns or structures?

video lecture:


Aristotle, Western narrative traditions & 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?

alternatives to central conflict/tragic structure – look at shorts

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

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



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