Narrative Part 1: Traits & Timeline

How a story is organized and communicated to an audience.

Storytellers have a whole range of tools to use in designing how their story is specifically communicated.

First up! You’ve gotchur plots.

A Plot:

The main plot of your story.

It follows the general events of the story and the path of your main character.

B Plot:

Typically follows a supporting character and is related directly, or indirectly, to the main character and the main “A” plot.

It’s a smaller side story.

The best “B” plots are typically a smaller version of the “A” plot in some way. For instance, the main character in your “B” plot could be pursuing the same goal as the main character in your “A” plot. They have the same desire line. But maybe we see that the “B” plot character fails, while the “A” plot character succeeds. The “B” plot then stands in stark contrast. Demonstrating just how things could have gone for your story’s main character.

C and D Plots:

These are even smaller side plots that run through the story.

What else do we need to worry about when crafting our narrative?

A few key traits:

  • Perspective
  • Scope
  • Stakes

Perspective:

How the story is presented to the audience.

Is the story from the perspective of the main character? Or is it experienced from the point of view of several different people? This makes it possible for the audience to know more than the main character. It also makes it possible for them to know less.

Scope:

How wide-reaching are the events of the story?

Does it have a really wide scope with global ramifications? Or does it have a really narrow scope – two guys talking in a bar?

Stakes:

How important is the story to the characters involved?

Are they fighting to save their very lives? Or are they trying to get a date to prom?

Outside of these concerns, we’ve got to take a look at our:

Timeline:

Most stories are linear with a beginning, middle, and end, in that order. But not always.

Some stories employ a non-linear structure.

And there are many tools we can use to pull this off.

Flashbacks:

You know what these are.
The story was progressing forward in time. But then it shows you something that happened before the beginning. Reaching back to show you events you’ve never seen.

Flashforwards:

This is when the story is moving along and then shifts to a point in time far in the future. A kind of counterpoint to the “flashback.”

Anchors:

An “anchor” is a stable point in the story’s timeline that acts as the primary focus. The “present” of the story’s timeline. It gives the audience something to hold on to in their minds. Storytellers are great for establishing an anchor. We see this device used in Forrest Gump, among others.

Montage:

This is primarily a way of compressing time. You show bits and pieces of a larger period of time – conveying the gist.

Co-Current Timelines:

This is when you have two timelines going at once.
Both are considered the “present” by the audience. And at some point you connect them both up. We see this in The Notebook. You have the older versions of the characters. And the younger versions. Two timelines that eventually intersect.

To Be Continued…



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