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Choosing Narrative Structure in Film

Choosing the narrative structure that will be most suitable for sharing your story is important in the early part of the screenwriting process. Understanding the different narrative structure options that are available within the infinitely possible number of storytelling solutions available can be challenging. While most films will follow a three-act structure, the narrative structure that you choose is a bit more complex.

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Deciding between linear, non-linear, circular, or other forms of narrative structure will require a bit of planning.

Know Your Audience

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First, it’s important to know your audience before you begin to choose a narrative structure for your film. Why? Because you cannot expect a young child to follow a twisting and turning plot.

One that perhaps has a non-linear narrative which bounces back and forth. With flashbacks and bouts of time adjustment throughout.

However, an adult can not only follow something so complex, but will enjoy it. You’ll probably choose a linear structure, with an A, B, C delivery of your story for that young child.

The Possibilities are Endless

Filmmakers have infinite options when they choose how they will structure a story and deliver the narrative to the audience. They can of course deliver it in a linear fashion in which there is a distinct beginning, middle and end.

They can use a non-linear structure in which flashbacks show glimpses of the story through various points of time. While other periods of the story are also filtered in to ultimately reach the conclusion.

Or they could use a circular or cyclic narrative in which the beginning of the story shows the end of the story. And the character goes full circle to come back to the same place later on, in the true ending.

Ask Yourself

But how does one choose the narrative structure in film? What makes a good story? How can the plot be structured just right?

These are all common questions, especially for beginning filmmakers and screenwriters.

Narrative Structure Options

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Choosing a structure for your plot is all about understanding the potential options available to you and how they will be perceived by your desired target audience.

Common structures include the hero’s journey circle in which the character is introduced showing a scene from the end, begins an adventure, initiates goal setting.

And works toward achievement ultimately finding themselves in that same place. They then return to the beginning or ending once again.

Always Keep Audience in Mind

This structure can also be delivered in many other ways depending on the desires of the filmmaker and the intended audience. Choosing a narrative structure in film that’s right for your audience requires you to really think about the audience and what they will most closely connect with. 

Thinking about the ways that your characters can unfold, and how your audience will react to the characters and the plot of your story will help you to define the most appropriate means of delivering your narrative.

Keep in mind, that you don’t have to use a common narrative structure, but the tried and true examples that have been used time and again are effective and tend to work out well for most audiences – so why fix something that isn’t broken?