Narrative structures

As a preface to this article, I would like to say that the featured 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 fashion novel has three acts which embody a Japanese structure called Jo-ha-kyū (slow start, pacey progression and swift swansong).

My children’s 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 high school 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 other novel, a Bildungsroman, 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 about which ones they are, though. The first climax is when Marty knows that he saved Doc’s life, the second is when Doc drives Marty home, the third is when Marty 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 informs Marty of this upon seeing the van. The crucial difference is that when Marty asked Doc before about having ripped off the plutonium, Doc lied 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 is fading out. Instead of answering Principal Strickland’s question about being a slacker, George shakes his head.

The difference between comedy and drama is that drama is often what people choose not to say. For example, a person may not respond when asked if someone else survived. 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. From that plot point onwards, the `85 version breaks down to George’s bedroom, gas station exterior, Lou’s Café 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.

After Marty urges George, the `84 version continued with the video scene but with no experiment ensuing. The plotline shifts to George’s bedroom then same as before. Another structural difference, and a pretty big one at that, is that Marty returned to the café 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 he talks to her, the `84 experiment took place at night instead of the afternoon. There’s a possibility that the writing partnership had 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 wildly. 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 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 Eric Stoltz’s replacement was busy working on a sitcom during the day. The film-makers are trying to hide the fact that the movie already had an eeriness that stems from a nocturnal atmosphere. The only grain of truth is that the actor had to initially film night scenes because the pregnant lead of his sitcom forced him to become the temporary star.

Even with there being two 2015 books about the film, it’s never been revealed as to who was responsible for the structural changes. Robert Zemeckis should be interviewed about this unless Bob Gale writes a book about it. 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 or The Talking Dead). 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. Raphael Salkie designed this theory as a way to deal with global issues. 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. I’m sure that the same has been said about BTTF. The difference is that Pulp Fiction doesn’t have a single wasted scene. People have often said the same thing about BTTF but even Bob Gale admitted (for a 1994 book titled The Cutting Room Floor) that 6 minutes were removed after the first test screening.


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