Temporal Patterning in Narrative

Posted by PH on January 30, 2013

Abstract from a paper I am to deliver at the 3rd Conference of the European Narratology Network in Paris, March 2013:

This paper investigates the phenomenon variously known as the “dramatic arc”, the “narrative arc”, or the “story arc”, most widely disseminated as variations upon Freytag’s Pyramid. Descriptions of this arc are commonplace throughout certain sections of the literature on new media theory, computer game design, film theory, dramatic theory, and interactive learning environments. What this dramatic arc suggests is that a narrative unfolds over time in a predictable way, that it has temporal patterning.
Whilst “patterning” is a common concept within mainstream narratology, the idea that narrative has a prototypical temporal structure is almost entirely absent from this literature. This paper traces the idea back to its origins in Aristotle and, using a number of transmedial case studies, proposes there is some evidence to suggest a prototypical pattern.
The paper then addresses a key theoretical issue—the nature of the y axis in these representations—resolved with the identification of a new variable, logical displacement. This allows a new visual methodology for narrative analysis with a discrete subset of inter-related traces: logical displacement, time, emotional intensity, and information.


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2 Comments to Temporal Patterning in Narrative

  • Dear Collaegue,

    As I told you when we discussed your presentation in Paris, I think it is not completely true to say that “the idea that narrative has a prototypical temporal structure is almost entirely absent” from the literature of narratology. Indeed, I think you could be interested to have a look to the model (a pattern of narrative tension) I developed in La Tension narrative (Paris, Seuil, 2007). You can find in this book a clear conceptualization of the y axis inspired by the functional narratology of Meir Sternberg. If you want to have an abstract of this study, you can find it on:

    In fact, I must admit that even though I developed a reflection on the interaction between the sequential structure of the plot and its intensity, I am not sur if the “prototypical” pattern is widely used. I think that many different patterns can be realized in a complex narrative, but still it can be described with the two axis. I thought it was mostly in stereotypical narratives (such as Hollywood movies built following some instructional patterns) that realized fully the prototypical pattern. Anyways, I was very interested to learn from you study that so many narratives were actually following the same prototypical structure.

    I would be very happy to hear your comments about my model and to continue this discussion.

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