Not Narratology: The Process of Emplotment

Posted by PH on January 30, 2013

Proposal for a paper submitted to the Narrative Minds and Virtual Worlds conference in Tampere, Finland, May 2013:

The concept of plot has historically been crucial to the study of storytelling in its many forms. However, with the emergence in the late 1960s of a narratology based on linguistic paradigms, plot became a subordinate term existing in some indeterminate space between story and narrative discourse.
This paper describes how a contemporary consideration of medium renders this position untenable. In particular, it shows that once the phenomenon of narrative is removed from fixed media such as print and film the process of emplotment becomes the defining activity of storytelling for both storyteller and audience alike.
For the storyteller, emplotment is not limited to managing the transition from story to narrative discourse but is actually implicated in the production of the story itself. Furthermore, by reviewing the process whereby the story becomes discoursed, it becomes clear that a “look-ahead” function must exist that takes into account the affordances of the medium (a look-ahead function that is already widely recognized in the reading of narratives).
Evaluation of a number of real-world scenarios further suggest that the mental ability which allows this to happen—the human capacity for emplotment—has at least three key characteristics. First, it is able to maintain stable and coherent mental models (i.e. storyworlds) over very long periods of time. Second, it is nonetheless fluid, highly adaptable, and able to integrate story materials from different mediums at will. Third, it can do so on the basis of very small amounts of story data.


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