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Narrative Structure
By Rebecca Ray
Find this Common Core aligned resource and more like it in our Middle School ELA and High School
ELA Categories!

What are Narrative Structures?


Literature has many forms, and each form has its own unique structure for telling a story. When
studying, teaching, or learning about narration in literature, it is also important to understand its
underlying arrangement. How is it created? What are the parts of a story? What aspects differ from
one form to another?
The primary types of narrative structures, or literary structures, come in these forms:
Novels
Poems or Poetry
Drama or Plays
Short Stories
Novellas
Myths, Legends, Folktales, Fairy Tales, and Epics
For novels, novellas, and short stories, you will see that the typical pattern of three or five parts of
a story. This is referred to as the plot diagram. It is the foundation of many other structures and is
the most commonly used. It can also be applied to other forms of media, like movies and TV
shows.
A similar diagram can be used for understanding the patterns of drama or plays. This is known as
the Five Act Structure. It too has five parts, each act coinciding with one part of the narrative
diagram. Shakespeare was famous for structuring his plays in five acts: Act I is the introduction,
Act II is the rising action, Act III the climax, Act IV the falling action, and Act V the resolution or
denouement. This pattern is widely successful, and has been used by many playwrights.
Lastly, the narrative structure used for epics and some myths, legends, folktales, and fairy tales is
often the "Hero's Journey". Not every story will fit this structure, but it is commonly used for these
types of narratives when the protagonist is considered a "hero". A famous example would be The
Odyssey, a Greek epic where the hero, Odysseus, is forced to live, lost at sea, because of Poseidon's
ill will towards him. Modern examples can be found in Disney movies animated adventures such
as Toy Story or Finding Nemo.

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Here at Storyboard That, we have compiled articles and storyboards created about the different
structures of literature: Five Act Structure, types of Shakespearean plays, the plot diagram, and the
Heros Journey.

CONFLICT

You blocks, you


stones, you
worthless fools
- GO HOME!

RISING ACTION

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EXPOSITION

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The Tragedy of Julius Caesar Five Act Structure

Cassius, what
you speak of is
treason!

I have no personal
reason to spur at
him...

Caesar returns from battling a former Roman general.


He is victorious, and the citizens are celebrating in his
honor. Not all Romans are pleased with Caesar though;
they fear him, and believe that he is on the path to
becoming a dictator.

A group of senators have turned against Caesar and


elicit Brutus, one of Caesars friends, to join a
conspiracy against him.

Brutus considers whether or not to trust Caesar. He


eventually joins the conspiracy because he fears what
Caesar may become if he is made King. He states it is
not that he loves Caesar less, but that he loves Rome
more.

CLIMAX

FALLING ACTION

DENOUEMENT

Sic Semper
Tyrannus!
Friends,
Romans,
countrymen,
lend me your
ears!

The conspirators lure Caesar to the capital and kill


him.

Brutus was an
honorable man!

Brutus asks Antony to show support for his actions by


speaking to the crowd. Antony is supposed to agree
with the conspirators, but he backhandedly causes a
riot, forcing the conspirators to flee the city.

Antony forms an alliance that vows revenge for


Caesars death. He, Caesar's nephew Octavius, and
Lepidus go after the conspirators in battle. Eventually,
all the conspirators commit suicide, and Antony
proclaims that Brutus shall receive a hero's burial.

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The Five Act Structure


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The Five Act Structure


NarrativeStructure|PlotDiagram|PartsofaStoryArc

The Five Act Structure (also commonly referred to as the dramatic structure) is used to expose
dramas or plays. The Five Act Structure, which has been redeveloped from Aristotles Three Act
Structure, can be overlaid on a traditional plot diagram. The Five Act Structure follows the same
five parts of the plot diagram; however, it does this with five acts. Shakespearean plays are known
for following this structure.

( Read Lesson Plan Buy Poster Buy PDF )

Plot Diagrams
The plot diagram is a commonly known organizational device used by those studying novels, short
stories, and novellas which tracks the major elements in the plot. The diagram's triangular shape
visually represents the pivotal events of the story: the climax being the apex of the triangle, the
introduction being the base, and the rising and falling action are the sloping sides, followed by the
denouncement or resolution being the last base.

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( Read Lesson Plan Buy Poster Buy PDF )

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Plot Diagram for The Five People You Meet in Heaven

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EXPOSITION

CONFLICT

RISING ACTION

Eddie is an elderly maintenance man at Ruby Pier. He is a widower


who keeps to himself, and doesnt really like to be bothered. He
will make little animals out of pipe cleaners for children, like little
Amy or Annie.

A few months prior, a young man named Nicky had ridden on


Freddys Free-Fall, and had lost his car key into the mechanism of
the ride. The key jammed a pulley, which stripped the cable of the
ride and caused a malfunction of the ride. As they get the people
off of the ride to safety, Eddie sees little Amy or Annie at the base
of the ride. She will be crushed, so he runs to save her.

Eddie finds himself in Heaven, and he must learn several


important lessons before he can move on to the next step. From
the Blue Man, he discovers that all stories are connected. From
his Captain, he learns the importance of sacrifice. From Ruby, he
learns to forgive his father. From Marguerite, he learns that love
never dies.

CLIMAX

FALLING ACTION

RESOLUTION

Eddie meets Tala, and she tells him that he burned her. Eddie is
devastated to learn that he had helped set fire to a hut that she
was hiding in, and she died as a result. He learns that she hadnt
been a figment of his imagination, and he was responsible for her
death.

Tala has Eddie wash her with a rock, which cleanses her from her
burns. He is still sad though, because he feels like he wasted his
life. She tells him that his purpose on earth had been to keep
children safe, and that while he had saved Amy or Annie, Tala had
pulled Eddie to Heaven to keep him safe.

Eddie and Marguerite are reunited with each other, and Eddie
waits in line for Amy or Annie to arrive in Heaven. He is going to
teach her the first lesson: that everyone is connected, and all
stories are one.

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The Odyssey Heroic Journey

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ORDINARY WORLD

CALL TO ADVENTURE

REFUSAL

MENTOR / HELPER

King Odysseus is at home, in Ithaca, with his wife,


Penelope, and newborn son, Telemachus.

Odysseus is called to fight the Trojans by King


Menelaus.

He does not want to leave his family and sail to Troy;


he knows it will be a long trip. He pretends to have
gone mad, until Palamedes, sent to retrieve Odysseus,
put Telemachus in front of Odysseus' plow. Odysseus
had to reveal his sanity in order to save Telemachus.

Athena, the Goddess of wisdom, crafts, and war is


Odysseus' guide. She wants to help Odysseus, though
she has been instructed not to by Zeus. She takes pity
on him while other gods forsake Odysseus, constantly
saves him from death, and gives him guidance.

CROSSING THE THRESHOLD

TESTS / ALLIES / ENEMIES

APPROACH

ORDEAL

After the war, the gods become angry with the Greeks
for their prideful ways. A great storm emerges and
throws them off course.

Odysseus is thwarted with many tests as he travels


back to Ithaca.

Odysseus nearly makes it home, but his crew opens a


bag, given to Odysseus by Aeolus, god of the winds.
When the bag is opened, it releases a wind that blows
them far away from Ithaca.

Odysseus is sent to the underworld seeking


information from the blind prophet Tiresias to guide
him home. This quest brings him to the verge of death.

REWARD

ROAD BACK

ATONEMENT

RETURN

The King of Phaeacia gives Odysseus passage home.

Unlike other heroes, Odysseus was not in search of


treasure. Instead, he was desperately trying to reach
his home. Once he returns, he finds out that his house
has been overrun with suitors trying to steal his wife
and palace.

Instead of rushing in and killing the suitors, Odysseus


is patient, wishing to learn if his wife has been
faithful.

Odysseus, dressed as a beggar, completes a final


challenge, and is restored to his rightful place.

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The Hero's Journey


The Hero's Journey is a common structure known to epic poems or journeys. The most notable
being Homer's The Odyssey. The Hero's Journey is a slightly more complex diagram which follows a
similar pattern to the plot diagram. The Heros Journey is a structure and/or stages that a hero
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wades through to completion.


Joseph Campbell, an American mythologist, writer and lecturer, created this cycle after researching
and reviewing numerous myths and stories from different times and regions of the world. What
he found was that they all share the same fundamental principles. This spawned The Heros
Journey, also known as the Monomyth. The most basic version has 12 steps, while more detailed
versions can have up to 17.

( Read Lesson Plan Buy Poster Buy PDF )

Shakespearean Play Genres


Shakespearean plays come in three varieties: tragedy, comedy, and history. Although these genres
are not exclusive to Shakespeare, he is famous for producing highly successful plays based on his
own structure for each. In the following article, each type of play and its structures are explained
in detail - proving these genres were deliberately systematic!
Read More

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