Narrative theories

What is narrative?

Narrative is the word used to describe chronological events. narrative is endemic to us and can be found in TV Shows, novels and even advertisements. These narratives can be in the past, present and even future, also narratives don’t necessarily need to be factual or even realistic. An example of this is the Star Wars franchise, which is set in ‘a galaxy far far away’. Star Wars is a highly successful franchise which has grossed over $4.7 Billion, as well as having books, comic strips and even video games. A recent example of this is the recently released Star Wars Battlefront. The has been rated 7/10 by critics and is the 4th fastest selling game this year. There have been 7 films in the Star Wars franchise so far, with another 2 films on the way in 2017 and 2019 respectively. The first three films made formed the original trilogy, with the next three films forming the prequel trilogy, the next film, and the films due to be released in the next 3 years complete the sequel trilogy. This is again an example of narrative with sequels and prequels etc. It all forms a chronological order of events that is easy, and simple, to follow.

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 Why is narrative important?

Narrative is important because it has been around since the existence of the human species and is how humans have always communicated with one another, and all use to this day. Another reason narrative is important is because without narrative things get complicated. This would be bad for Films and TV shows as the audience would watch the first few episodes, or the start of the film, and get confused; loose interest and eventually stop watching. Most importantly our everyday life is a narrative, we are born, we all age day by day, we go to school, get qualifications, get a job, have a family of our own, grow old, retire then we all eventually die. Furthermore there are things in our everyday lives and our history that is a narrative. Darwin’s theory of evolution is the chronological order of how we evolved over tens of thousands of years. The date increases by one each day, the time on a clock increases by a second every day. Humans first mode of transport 4000 years ago, other than their feet, were donkeys and horses. 4000 years later we have cars that doesn’t even need a human driver. Narrative is hardwired into our brains and everything that happens is a form of narrative.

Three narrative theories:

1) Vladimir Propp- Character types

This theory suggests that in the majority of  media there are eight different character types. These character types are the hero, villain, heroine, father, helper, donor and mentor. Although there are eight different character types, Propp stated that not all of the character types are required to create a successful narrative. This can be seen in pretty much all modern media, as an example of this i will use the I will use the 2001 film Shrek(Andrew Adamson,Vicky Jenson). Shrek is a perfect example of Propp’s character types, this being because it is a fairytale, in which all fairytales follow these character types. Furthermore Shrek is a great example to show that a film does not need all of the character types to be hugely successful.

  • Hero – Shrek
  • Villain – Lord Farquaad
  • Heroine – Princess Fiona
  • Father – Donkey
  • Helper – Donkey
  • Donor – Donkey
  • Mentor – Donkey

I believe that Shrek(Andrew Adamson,Vicky Jenson) is a good example of Vladimir Propp’s  theory because the film follows the character theory very well. Also the film shows that following the character types is successful as the 2001 film spawned three sequels and two spin of films. Also the franchise consists of multiple short films, a TV series, a musical, two TV specials and multiple games. The first film had a production budget of around $50 million and in the worldwide box office raked in an estimated $491 million. A big part of the revenue for this film would be its success in using the various character types. Many other films, animated films especially, use the same format as Shrek and they also are hugely financially successful.

2) Levi-Strauss- Binary Opposition 

binary opposites

Strauss suggested that the way we, as humans, understand words is not what they actually mean but rather the difference between the word and its opposite. An example of this is the word Hero, as everyone knows there is a hero in pretty much every form of media out there, whether it be in the news, TV or film. Furthermore the theory suggests that we only understand this word because we know the difference between the word, hero, and its opposite, Villain for example. This is known as Binary Opposition and the example I presented, hero v villain, is the most common Binary opposition there is. This binary opposition is even in the real world. For example in WWII we had the Allies(hero/good) and the Axes powers(villain/bad).

A great example of Binary Opposition is the mega franchise Star Wars. Across a total of seven films the Star Wars franchise has accumulated a staggering $4.48 Billion, with another five films planned for release in the future. This shows that using even simplistic binary oppositions like those used in Star Wars can prove hugely successful, although using more complicated ones like Totalitarian > Democracy can also be beneficial. Furthermore Star Wars shows that there does not have to be a limit on the amount of binary oppositions you can use, as Star Wars uses many more than I have shown above. Star Wars is possibly the most successful series of films out there and I think that the use of Binary Opposition is the reason why. These are a few of the many examples;

  • Good > Evil,
  • Light > Dark,
  • Totalitarian > Democracy,
  • Nature > Technology,
  • Love > Hate,
  • Young > Old.



3 ) Tsvetan Todorov- Equilibrium


Todorov’s narrative theory suggests that every narrative has three states, equilibrium, disequilibrium and the new state of equilibrium. With the first state being equilibrium, this is the state where everything is normal and stable. An example of this would be in Kingsman: the secret service.This would be the start and origin of the narrative, although this doesn’t have to be a peaceful and perfect origin. This can be seen in the recent film Mad Max: Fury Road, which begins after the world has become a desert wasteland due to a nuclear holocaust. The film was released in May 2015 and has  The example I will use for Todorov’s theory is the 1997 film Titanic.

In the case of the film Titanic this would be when Jack(Leonardo DiCaprio) wins a place on the Titanic by winning a poker game. During his stay aboard the Titanic he comes to meet Rose. Todorov’s second state is the disequilibrium. This would be when there is a disruption and the narrative becomes unstable(the problem), this is common amongst all forms of media, such as films, TV shows etc. In Titanic this would be when the ship collides with the iceberg , therefore Jack looses contact with Rose. Todorov’s final state is the new state of equilibrium. This is where the narrative starts to become stable, similar to the first state, although things are not identical and there will be some minor changes. In Titanic this is when Rose finds Jack floating in the water, in which he later dies. This is a pretty major change for the new state of equilibrium, unlike most films where there is only a minor change, although it shows that even a major change such as the one in Titanic can prove very successful. As the 1997 film has made over $2.2 Billion.


This theory is used in almost every form of modern media as it is very familiar to the audience and it is a simple and easy theory apply to any mainstream media. Furthermore this theory can make even the most boring narrative more interesting as it engages the audience, making them want to know what the end-point is. This is because this theory puts the narrative into a structure which means the audience wait for the resolution. This is important because without resolution the audience would not feel the film has concluded appropriately and so might leave the cinema unhappy. This could therefore impact the films success and chances of a sequel.

In my opinion, I think that Todorov’s three states of equilibrium would be most effective to establish in the opening of my film, this is because the first state is the state of equilibrium, this is the state where everything is normal. This usually happens at the start of films and TV shows so i think it would make sense if we introduced the state of equilibrium during the opening scene. On the other hand it would be difficult to apply Propp’s character theory as we would need to introduce the majority of the characters in the first few minutes, which would most likely confuse the audience. Furthermore it has been proven by almost every film and TV show that establishing the three states of equilibrium is a successful move.



2001 – Shrek(Andrew Adamson,Vicky Jenson)

1977 – Star Wars(George Lucas)

1997 – Titanic(James Cameron)

2015 – Mad Max : Fury Road(George Miller)

2014 – Kingsman: The Secret Service (Mathew Vaughn)

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One thought on “Narrative theories

  1. There is good evidence of research but you must ensure each paragraph is six lines minimum as standard. Where it is not you discuss topic but do not have the necessary explanation.

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