Narrative Structure

By Rebecca Ray

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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:

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.

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 Hero’s Journey.

The Tragedy of Julius Caesar Five Act Structure
Create your own at Storyboard That EXPOSITION CONFLICT RISING ACTION CLIMAX FALLING ACTION DENOUEMENT 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 Caesar’s 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. The conspirators lure Caesar to the capital and kill him. 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 Caesar’s 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. You blocks, you stones, you worthless fools - GO HOME! Cassius, what you speak of is treason! I have no personal reason to spur at him... Sic Semper Tyrannus! Brutus was an honorable man!