The Classical Plot and the Invention of Western Narrative


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Outside of film, some novels also present their narrative in a non-linear fashion. The chapters of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni 's novel Before We Visit the Goddess are not arranged based on the linear sequence of events, but rather in a way that fulfills certain literary techniques. This allows the characters in the novel to have a believable life timeline while still employing the techniques that make a story enjoyable.


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In works of interactive narration there is only one narrative but the method of delivery requires the user to actively work to gain the next piece of the narrative, or have to piece the parts of narrative that they have together in order to form a coherent narrative. This is the narrative approach of some modern video games.

A player will be required to reach an objective, complete a task, solve a puzzle, or finish a level before the narrative continues. An interactive narrative is one which is composed with a branching structure where a single starting point may lead to multiple developments and outcomes. The principle of all such games is that, at each step of the narrative, the user makes choices that advance the story, leading to new series of choices. Authoring non-linear narrative or dialogue thus implies imagining an indefinite number of parallel stories.

In a gamebook , readers are told to turn to a certain page according to the choice they wish to make to continue the story. Typically, the choice will be an action rather than dialogue. For example, the hero hears a noise in another room and must decide to open the door and investigate, run away, or call for help. This kind of interactive experience of a story is possible with video games and books where the reader is free to turn the pages but less adapted to other forms of entertainment. Improvisational theatre is similarly open-ended, but of course cannot be said to be authored.

A simple graphic narrative has four stages: an introduction of the characters and a description of a situation, the introduction of a problem, unexpected opportunity, or other complication into the situation, a resolution in the form of a partial or complete response to the problem by one or more of the characters, and the denouement, the aftermath of the response that makes clear the success, partial success, non-success, or uncertain success of the response.

This fourth stage may also show how the original situation has changed due to what has taken place in the Complication and Resolution stages of the narrative. In a simple narrative, the four stages appear in order. That is, the sequence of the telling or presentation follows the chronology of the told.


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In a more complex story, the order of the telling may vary. The first option would seem to be a priori plausible in the literature of ancient Greece where, as in Roman literature, imitatio and aemulatio were key concepts, where all authors up until the Hellenistic era were telling roughly the same mythological stories, and where its main canonical text, the Homeric epics, provided most of the narrative tricks of the trade. But what about diachronic narratology on a larger scale which would discuss resemblances in narrative technique between neighbouring literatures e.

Can we still draw historical lines here and, if so, how should we imagine this to have worked in practice? Do authors pick up their narrative devices from other texts, or are they somehow present in a culture in the form of memes? Some first tentative thoughts on these matters are developed in de Jong a and b.

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Primary tabs View active tab Revisions. Irene J. Definition Diachronic narratology means the description and analysis of the history of the forms and functions of narrative devices within a given period of a literature.

Explication An explicit plea for the diachronization of narratology was launched by Fludernik , although before her others, e. History of the Concept and its Study From Synchronic to Diachronic Narratology Classical narratology, a product of formalism and structuralism, almost is by definition synchronically rather than diachronically oriented. Form and Function of Narrative Devices One of the central research questions of diachronic narratology is that of the relationship between form and function: how does one and the same device acquire ever new functions, depending on the exigencies of a genre, the predilections of an author, the theme of the narrative, or the taste of an age?

Genres and Development In ancient Greek narrative the use of narrative devices is not genre-bound: historians use epic devices, tragedians use historiographical devices, orators use tragic devices, and so on. Narratology and Oral Poetry Narratology has developed primarily in connection with the novel and hence with prose narrative. Topics for Further Investigation One of the areas calling for further reflection and investigation is how exactly we are to evaluate the results of diachronic narratology.

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The Classical Plot and the Invention of Western Narrative

New Directions in Oral Theory. Auerbach, Erich [] Mimesis, the Representation of Reality in Western Literature. Princeton: Princeton UP. Booth, Wayne [] The Rhetoric of Fiction.

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Chicago: Chicago UP. Cohn, Dorrit The Distinction of Fiction. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP. Curtius, Ernst R. European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages. Matrices of Genre. Authors, Canons, and Society. Cambridge: Harvard UP. Fludernik, Monika Fusillo, Massimo Il tempo delle Argonautiche. Un analisi del racconto in Apollonio Rodio. Narrative Discourse.

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An Essay in Method. Ithaca: Cornell UP. Haubold, Johannes Greece and Mesopotamia: Dialogues in Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. Berlin: de Gruyter. Jahn, Manfred Jong, Irene J. Narrators and Focalizers. The Presentation of the Story in the Iliad. London: Duckworth. A Narratological Commentary on the Odyssey. The arc makes sense for tragedy, but fiction can be wildly other. And not necessarily orgasmic. Writers have proposed other shapes or patterns for narrative, too.

Sebald, twenty years ago.

Tragedy Lessons from Aristotle: Crash Course Theater #3

In The Emigrants , he seemed to work with patterns that yielded connections and meaning, rather than anything linear. I dissected some of the most effective, unusual narratives to see what they had in common, and what I found: shapes recurring in these texts coincide with core patterns in nature. Matter fills space according to a host of natural laws that again and again yield the same patterns. I actually went through a cascade of epiphanies as I read, staring out the window at the world Stevens kept transforming. Arcs or waves can create powerful narratives, but it might be more freeing, as writers, if we think not of a story following an arc, but of the reading experience doing so.

A tentative entry leads to ever greater involvement until the words stop, and the narrative settles into some kind of sense. Patterns other than the wave, though, are everywhere.

The Classical Plot and the Invention of Western Narrative

Branching and other fractal patterns: self-replication at different scale made by trees, coastlines, clouds. Cellular or network patterns: repeating shapes you see in a honeycomb, foam of bubbles, cracked lakebed, or light rippling in a pool; these can look like cells or, inversely, like a net.

These fundamental patterns inform our bodies, too. We have wiggling meanders in our hair, brains, and intestines; branching patterns in capillaries, neurons, and lungs; explosive patterns in areolae and irises; spirals in ears, fingertips, DNA, fists. Our brains want patterns. We follow them instinctively: coiling a garden hose, stacking boxes, creating a wavering path when walking along the shore.

The Classical Plot and the Invention of Western Narrative The Classical Plot and the Invention of Western Narrative
The Classical Plot and the Invention of Western Narrative The Classical Plot and the Invention of Western Narrative
The Classical Plot and the Invention of Western Narrative The Classical Plot and the Invention of Western Narrative
The Classical Plot and the Invention of Western Narrative The Classical Plot and the Invention of Western Narrative
The Classical Plot and the Invention of Western Narrative The Classical Plot and the Invention of Western Narrative
The Classical Plot and the Invention of Western Narrative The Classical Plot and the Invention of Western Narrative
The Classical Plot and the Invention of Western Narrative The Classical Plot and the Invention of Western Narrative

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