Narration and focalization
Stories don’t just exist—they must be toldThe telling affects the story and how it is experienced
Narration is the telling of the storyThe narrator is the person (entity) who tells the story
Storytelling levels in literature
Source: Jahn, Narratology
Narration in audiovisual texts
However, in audiovisual content the concept of narration is more problematic than in literatureThere may be no single narratorSome say there is no narrator at allOthers say that the ‘auteur’ is the narrator (usually the director)Jahn: “Filmic Composition Device” [FCD]
Narration in film
An important piece of vocabulary
The fictional world within which the characters live and act is know as the ‘diegesis’
Narration can come from ‘within’ the fictional world (“homodiegetic”) or ‘outside’ the fictional world (“heterodiegetic”)Narration can be very obvious (“overt”) or may be hard to detect (“covert”)The narrator may take the viewpoint of a character, may present the views of several characters or may approach the story from a godlike view (“omniscience”)
Thehomodiegeticnarrative is delivered by a story character—someone actively involved in the narrative. Usually, but not always, she uses the first-person pronoun in her address. She may be the protagonist or just a bit player, but she is somehow affecting or affected by the actions going on in the story.
The Wonder YearsInside ManDesperate Housewives
The author/auteur must decide which character will narrate.The perspective of the narrator influences what the audience member will see, hear and know about the plot, other characters, etc.Minor characters may have very limited knowledgeThe nature of the narrator will also affect the tone and emotional implications of the narrative
Limitations of homodiegetic narration
“she is subject to 'ordinary human limitations' . . . she is restricted to a personal and subjective point of view; she has no direct access to (or authority on) events she did not witness in person; she can't be in two places at the same time . . . and she has no way of knowing for certain what went on in the minds of other characters.”Jahn,Narratology
The Lovely BonesAtonementApocalypse NowMalcolm in the MiddleFight Club
RashomonGoodfellasThe Usual SuspectsApocalypse NowA Clockwork Orange
Displacement of time
Homodiegeticnarrators often tell a story about things that they experienced some time in the pastA common form of such narration gives an account of the narrator’s earlier lifeThe Wonder YearsStand By MeTitanic
Heterodiegetic narration comes from a narrator who is not a character in the story.Heterodiegetic narrators vary widely in their knowledge and perspective. They may be restricted to the perspective of a single ‘person’ or may have ‘omniscience’—boundless ability to know all there is to know about the plot, characters, setting, etc. in a story.
News anchorsDocumentary voice-oversCommercialsScroll in Star WarsVO in Lord of the Rings
Almost all WesternsThe Lost BoysThe ClientThe GraduateThe HulkStranger than FictionLord of the Rings
The personality and characteristics of the narrator will affect the audience response to the narrativeHow serious is he?How authoritative is he?How ‘normal’ is he?Some voices project certain traitsVO Narrators can make a lot of money
How obvious (or overt) is the narration? An overt narrator is out in the open—a focus of the audience member’s attention. A hidden narrator is covert.An overt narrator makes thetellingorconstructionof the story an important focus for the audience
Indicators of narration in audiovisual media
In film, television, videogames, etc. five main indicators of narration are present:Voice over (VO) narration—an off-camera voice speaks to the audience memberMore rarely, an onscreen narrator is presentThe point of view of the cameraIntrusive visual effectsOnscreen writingMuch of the craft of traditional Hollywood style is in making the narrationcovert.
News anchorsGame show hostsInside ManExtreme Makeover
Big Bang TheoryCSI MiamiBut note visual effectsThe ClientA History of Violence
Point of View
Physical point of view: the position or angle from which the camera or a particular narrator or character observes an event or a sceneMental point of view: the perspective taken by a particular narrator or character in a story in seeing and hearing an even or scene, reflecting on an idea, creating a relationship between two or more things, or remembering events ordreams
Focalization refers to theviewpointfrom which the story is toldUsually the viewpoint of the narratoromniscientHowever, the viewpoint can be split from the narrationThe narrator (or FCD) can tell the story from a character’s perspective
Three major types of POV (Jahn)
View of narratorHomodiegeticfirst-personHeterodiegeticomniscientNarrator becomes covert and presents viewpoint of story characterInternal focalization
Advantages of omniscience
The viewer/reader can be made aware of things that are unknown to the charactersplot, characters (and what they are thinking), setting,backstoryThe maniacal killer is right behind you, idiot!The position allows forevaluationof characters and their actionsHe got what he deservedHe knew he would get caught—that’s why he did it
Advantages of omniscience
The story can be more ‘expansive’—it can include a much wider set of characters, motives, actionsWhile he was doing this, she was doing that, and her friend was with her brother, etc.
The story can be told from the viewpoint of a character even if the narrator isheterodiegeticThe narrator ‘gets inside the head’ of that character, often relating their perceptions, fears, beliefs, etc. to the implied audience member.
“One of the main effects of internal focalization is to attract attentiontothe mind of the reflector-character andawayfrom the narrator and the process ofnarratorialmediation.” (Jahn)The goal in this case is to draw attention to the storyand not its telling
Focalization can be represented by ‘subjective’ cameraworkover-the-shoulder camera shots, shot-reverse shot representations of interactions among characters, focus on a character looking into the distance then turning to adopt the sightline of the looker, etc.Things that only one character can see may be presented to the audienceSixth SenseInternal thoughts may be represented by VO
Objective and subjective visualization
CSIBig Bang TheoryNCIS
A Beautiful MindGladiatorLord of the RingsRashomonWolfenThe Fisher King
Shifting narration and focalization
Narration and/or focalization can shift within a given text—perhaps between omniscient and first-person or from one character to another.Commonly, narrative begins with character narration, then it shifts to omniscientheterodiegeticFCDGrey’s Anatomy
Can You Trust the Narrator?
Sometimes narrators can’t be trusted. A narrator whose account you cannot trust is known as an “unreliable narrator.”Limited view/Limited accessSelf interest/DeceptionPersonal perspectiveMental instability
RashomonThe Usual SuspectsA Clockwork OrangeThe Murder of RogerAykroydGoodfellas
Fight ClubDexterA Beautiful Mind
An infraction caused by saying too much; a narrator assuming a competence he does not properly have; typically, a first-person narrator (or a historiographer) narrating what somebody else thought . . . or what happened when he was not present.
An infraction caused by omitting crucial information; saying too little; typically, an omniscient narrator pretending "not to know" what happened in her/his characters' minds, or what went on at the same time in another place, ordistortivelycensoring a character's thought, or generally pretending to be restricted to ordinary human limitations.
“Paralepsisandparalipsisare instances of violations of Grice's (1975) famous principle of co-operation -- the notion that speakers (narrators) are socially obliged to follow an established set of 'maxims': to give the right amount of information, to speak the truth, to speak to a purpose (tell something worth telling), to be relevant, etc.”
Audiences willassumenarrators are following the rules until it is demonstrated that they are not.