3. Introduction to Narrative and Narrative Structures

Narrative is a rhetorical mode of language-based communication (Barthes 1978, 79-81). As such it describes a process by which signifiers are employed to report on either actual or imaginary events, using structural sequence to temporally progress, thematically discuss or otherwise frame and structure the entity in question (Hayles 2008).The most common forms of narrative are signified through written text or vocalisation while interactive and generative forms of narrative are becoming more frequent, especially with the advent of computational and interactive media (Dovey and Kennedy 2006, 6). Such interactive and generative examples can be found in textual and vocal form, such as I Ching, or Night of January 19th (Aarseth 1997, 9-13), as well in a number of gamebooks such as those found in tabletop role-playing games (Costikyan 2007, 5-10).

These interactive and generative forms of narrative, which have their roots in analogue forms, have since developed into digital media forms ranging from hypertext (Landow 2006), to video-game productions (Murray 1997). Some of these structures facilitate the storyteller as a system (for example in procedurally generated narratives) or can privilege the audience as significant agents in narrative progression or generation (video-games), thereby inverting the traditional relationship between creator and audience (Jenkins 2006, 25-26). In all of these forms, their narrative structure is the aspect that determines how the story is to be told, and the ways in which audiences can interact with these stories.

Narrative structure, in its purest sense, refers to the way in which a given narrative is constructed, for example, in a linear fashion. To this end it describes an established framework that correlates to the nature of the media form in question (Barthes 1978, 79; Hayles 2008, 50-51). This notion is primarily derived from Roland Barthes' assertion that such a framework is important 'in order to describe and classify the infinite number of narratives' (1978, 82). Thus narrative structure, as expounded by Barthes (1978), focuses not upon the individual word, or reception of the story, but rather on the internal relationships between each distinct section of narrative and the relationship of those parts with the whole.

Of particular importance here is the idea of narrative nodes, or as Barthes refers to them 'cardinal functions' (1978, 83). These entities are the primary facilitators of the given narrative, which structure how it is to be navigated and understood (Ryan 2006, xxiv). Narrative nodes are integral for structuring how we can talk about and understand the past, for as mentioned above, no narrative simply exists in a pure form (Murray 1997, 209-12). The narrative structures that are to be discussed here are linear, nodal network, multilinear and emergent.


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