Narrative structure

Narrative structure

Most films can be seen under some basic hollywood narrative structures. Typically, a film can often be described under a three act structure, where the world of the film is established, there is is rising tension which leads to a climax and resolution.

Much of how this looks or works may depend on genre conventions, however, we as an audience depend on the good guy to win, the couple to end up together, or more than anything, that there is an ending. The narrative needs to feel as if it had a beginning, middle and an end.

Opening Sequences

An Opening Sequence is important in a narrative as it is used to establish the story’s genre, setting, characters and themes. We are introduced to the world of the film and discover some of the narrative possibilities.

In a traditional 3 act structure, the opening sequence is seen to end once the main protagonist has discovered their motivation.

Opening sequences can often set the tone of the rest of the film. An action film may start out with a chase sequence whilst a science fiction film may start with an intergalactic war.

When looking at opening sequences you need to be thinking about:

  • what do we have at the end of the opening sequence?
  • what issues or ideas are established?
  • in which ways could the story move forward?
  • how has the sequence engaged the viewer?
  • which characters are introduced?
  • what do we know about the setting?

Closing Sequences

Most narratives progress towards a climax. After the climax hopefully all the questions asked within the opening sequences have been answered in the closing sequence. This is the relationship between the opening and closing sequences. Sometimes a film may not answer all the questions set up within the narrative, which may defy audience expectations.

Video Examples

Scene library


Swipe file

RAISING THE STAKES | "The Act One Break" S3:E1 - YouTube - Raising the Stakes
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Art of the Opening Scene — How to Start a Movie 6 Different Ways, From Nolan to Baumbach - YouTube
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Narrative – Moving Pictures
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“Narratives” in “Film Appreciation” on OpenALG
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3. What Are the Mechanics of Story and Plot? – Exploring Movie Construction and Production
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Watch "Kurt Vonnegut on the Shapes of Stories" on YouTube
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