Narrative structures

As a preface to this article, the cover image is relevant because my autobiography is structured like Christopher Nolan’s Memento (2000). The first chapter is the most recent year whereas the final chapter is the first memorable year if not the first year of my life in general.



My first novel has six acts like a TV series whose episodes last for over 40 minutes (or even ones which run for an hour).



My second novel (released if not written) has three acts which embody a Japanese structure called Jo-ha-kyū (slow start, pacey progression and swift swansong).



My third novel has the Yin-Yang structure i.e. the character feels different in the two acts. Many people are right in assuming that Yin is female, but they assume that Yang is black. They also assume that Yin is positive. The first act of the novel is Yin because the girl is vulnerable. Her heart is blackened as a result. She becomes more of a tomboy in the second act, yet regains her pure heart.



My fourth novel has five acts which embody a Japanese structure called Gidayū (i.e. love, war, tragedy, journey and coda). The Gidayū structure (devised by Takemoto Gidayū) predated the pyramid structure (coined by Gustav Freytag) i.e. exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and dénouement.



My fifth novel embodies a Japanese structure called Kishōtenketsu (i.e. introduction, development, twist and conclusion).



My novels tend to have more than one ending because there is usually more than one loose end. It’s not unique to have more than one ending, but it is unusual. The best example that I can think of is Back to the Future. Like what Ryan North said in his novelization review, it has five climaxes. I have to slightly disagree with about which ones they are, though. The first climax is when Marty succeeds in returning to the future, the second is when he knows that he saved Doc’s life, the third is when he knows without asking that his family had benefited from his actions, the fourth is when he reunites with Jennifer, and the fifth is when Doc invites him to visit the future. The novelization is based on the draft that came before the 1984 shooting script. The structure of the ’84 version is different from the ’85 release.


Instead of a news report about a group of Libyan Nationalists stealing plutonium, Doc tells Marty about this upon seeing the van. The crucial difference is that when Marty asked Doc before about having ripped off the plutonium, Doc lies to him. Instead of Marty skateboarding to school, he skateboards to the audition. Instead of Doc requesting to see the snapshot based on his past observation, he wants to see the photo after Marty tells him that his brother his fading out. Instead of answering Principal Strickland’s question about being a slacker, George shakes his head. After the school cafeteria confrontation, Marty is in Doc’s living room while having a phone call with George instead of urging him as the latter attempts to return to his house. That plot point onwards, the ’85 version breaks down to George’s bedroom, gas station exterior, Lou’s diner and skateboard chase before we see Doc being in his garage while watching an ominous video of himself.



Afterwards, he shows Marty how to return to the future. The ’84 version continued with the video scene but with no experiment ensuing. The plotline shifts to George’s bedroom then George meeting him the next day prior to both entering the diner. Another structural difference is that Marty returned to the diner after the chase to see George but instead had the same conversation with Lorraine that happens after the garage experiment goes wrong in the ’85 version. After Marty unintentionally reunites with her, the ’84 experiment took place at night instead of the afternoon. There’s a possibility that the writing partnership experienced creative differences which had lead to difficulties that could only be hashed out if there two differing versions. Even the structure of the ’55 dinner scene variates.



The structure of the ’84 version is as follows: introductions, the future uncle joke, Stella reprimanding Sam about adjusting the TV, the Jackie Gleason comment, more adjusting, the smoking surgeon commercial, an observation about TV being free cinema and the disclosure of Marty having two televisions. In the ’85 version, the scene goes like this: Stella’s reprimand, the introductions, the Uncle Joey joke, more adjusting, the Jackie Gleason comment and the dual TV social commentary. Spielberg was worried about kids taking up smoking. Another example of creative differences is what is written on the back of the Save the Clock Tower flyer. In the ’84 version, Doc wrote the time and location of when the experiment takes place so that Marty wouldn’t forget. In the ’85 version, Jen writes her phone number down. I prefer the ’84 version more because you would think that Marty would already have his girlfriend’s number.



In that version, he had a prop photograph of her. In the first draft of the ’85 version, Marty showed a photo of her to Doc when telling him about how dire his predicament is, but we never got to see the photo. What they should have done is rewrite the living room scene so that Marty shows Doc an old photograph with her number on it. In the ’84 version, Marty never told him about her. Even with all these differences, there are scenes which still take place at night. This counteracts a claim that the only reason why so many scenes take place at night is because the replacement was busy working on a sitcom during the day. The film-makers are trying to hide the fact that the movie was already to have an eeriness that seems from a nocturnal atmosphere. The only grain of truth is that the actor had to initially film night scenes because he was temporarily the main star of his sitcom because of the pregnant lead.



Before studying English literature, I studied Media. The irony was that I learned more about narrative theory in Media than any English class up to that point in time because the latter was about characterization and narration (the academia equivalent to an aftershow like WWE Talking Smack). One theory that I learned was the quinary structure (i.e. equilibrium, disruption, recognition, repair and new equilibrium). This was devised by Tzvetan Todorov.



Another theory has six components i.e. abstract, orientation, complicating action, resolution, evaluation and coda. It belongs to William Labov. The last theory that I learned was B.P.S.E. – background, problem, solution and evaluation. You can use this formula for every chapter or if you were to divide your novel into four acts. After studying Media, my favourite theory was one which belonged to Herman Northrop Frye i.e. spring, summer, autumn and winter. This can be interpreted (among other ways) as hope, ecstasy, decay and death.



On a final note, the narrative of Pulp Fiction is structured in a way that people forget (therefore don’t get too sad by) the death of a character.

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