Tzvetan Todorov’s Theory of Narrative Structure

Traditionally, narrative structures followed a formula which was identified by the theorist Tzvetan Todorov in 1969.

Todorov studied classic fairy tales and stories.

He discovered that narratives moved forward in a chronological order with one action following after another. In other words, they have a clear beginning, middle and end.

Todorov also suggested that the characters in the narrative would be changed in some way through the course of the story and that this would be evident by the resolution.

This traditional story arc format is known as a linear narrative:

Steps What happens
1 The narrative starts with an equilibrium
2 An action or character disrupts the equilibrium
3 A quest to restore the equilibrium begins
4 The narrative continues to a climax
5 Resolution occurs and equilibrium is restored

Most episodes of Sherlock follow this traditional narrative structure.

Sherlock and Watson are relaxing at the start of the episode, then an action or character will do something that creates a case for them to solve.

They begin their quest to find a solution and apprehend the villain.

The narrative continues until they confront the villain at the climax.

Once the disruption is resolved and the equilibrium is restored, Sherlock and Watson can relax again.

That is until another case comes to their attention in the next episode.

Photograph of Sherlock Holmes

Behind the scenes photograph of Sherlock and Watson solving a case.

Unconventional narratives

Non-linear narratives and circular narratives have a structure that is not so straightforward.

A non-linear narrative can move backwards and forwards in time usually using a flashback technique. This is used in the film 500 days (of Summer) which follows a relationship but we see flashforwardsand flashbacks as the story progresses.

A circular narrative may begin at the end of the story and work its way back to the origins of the narrative. Circular narratives are often only understood clearly by the audience at the end of a film.

The film Slumdog Millionaire has a circular narrative which starts with the main character, Jamal, starring on Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

Over the course of the movie the narrative takes the viewer back to Jamal’s childhood and explains how he came to appear on the show and how he knows the correct answers.


I used this theory of narrative structure by Tzvetan Todorov as the basis of my short film and tried to achieve these stages of equilibrium and disequilibrium to create enigma and maintain audience engagement.



As I needed a test for the class room scene, I used one of my old English class assignments and deliberately put crosses on it with red marker to denote poor performance by the protagonist. The letter F represents a failed test. It has been encircled at the top which magnifies it. This formed part of my props.



Attached below is the image of the poster that I put on the glass board. It introduces the character as well as the audience to the writing competition. The poster has been designed in Microsoft Publisher due to the unavailability of any other design software in school such as Photoshop at that moment. As I had to match with the schedule of my main character, I had to design a poster instantaneously. Thus I tried using the available resources to save time and to get done with the work too.



Editing Process


The first step that I took in order to edit my film was to create a sequence containing the relevant part of my shots. I marked in and out points on every clip to pick out the scene which created most accurate meaning. As soon as I shot a clip, I would quickly add it to the sequence which created a rough structure of the film. I later edited every single clip to sort out the sequence.

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After working on the sequence of my film, I worked on the main title slide which i added at the beginning. I watched tutorials to understand how to add title slides appropriately and learned about the selection of the accurate font. Premiere pro is a technical software which requires an in depth understanding of tools in order to execute the project. In this connection, YouTube tutorials helped me to understand the tools and their respective use.


I decided to keep my title short so that the audience can easily read the text while the slide lasts. In a moving image, viewers generally rush through the text so that they don’t miss it and while they are reading through it, they often skip words so that they can complete reading the text in full. To avoid this, I decided to keep the text short and precise so that the audience can easily read and understand the title.




The next step in the editing process was to work on the sound. A added a combination of diegetic, non diegetic and voice over in my short film as it helped me make my short film more alive and real. I used three audio tracks in Adobe Premiere Pro because it simplified the management of tracks and allowed me to synchronize all sounds together.

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The source panel enabled me to work on waveform of every sound and helped me in the selection of the relevant part of the sound.

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I used three audio tracks to add sound to my film. The first track contains the voice over. The second track contains the diegetic sounds that i have added to the film to achieve verisimilitude. Finally, the third track contains the background music that runs throughout the film.

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To develop the feeling of a flashback, I decided to add a blur effect in between two of the clips. The first effect was added to blur in. The second effect on the second clip was used to blur out. To begin with, I watched a YouTube tutorial to learn how to use key frames in order to add the required effect. Key frames enabled me to adjust the blur on both the clips.

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I applied to my project what I learned from this tutorial and it helped me achieve my desired effect.

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Video Shooting

After thorough planning of scenes through storyboards, I finally decided to start the shooting process. With all the research and planning, rough drafts and video structures available, the shooting process took no longer than two weeks. The only problem that I faced while shooting was the unavailability of my main character for some of the scenes due to her tough art schedule. This resulted in postponement of certain shots. However, i still managed to complete the shooting process in time so that I could start with the editing. Here are some of the pictures of the video shooting process:

The pictures below are from the shooting of the second scene from the class room. I tried fitting the students in the frame so that i could capture the scene while I panned my camera from right to left.

The following pictures are from the fourth scene shot in the school corridor. Initially I tried adjusting the camera such that i could fit in frame all the students who walked in to read the poster on the notice board. Secondly, i tried to capture a close up of the poster so that i could reveal to my audience what the characters are so passionately looking at.


Idea 2

After conducting a feasibility plan, i realized that I needed to make certain changes to my scenes in order to maintain realism and complete the final video in time. I made a second story board which contained more or less the same scenes, only improvised. I retained the idea of flashback as it made the idea seem professional. I changed later scenes which made it easier to shoot while attaining the required quality. Attached below is my second story board:


The first scene of the film is the same as before. However, i have used a different angle than before due to lighting issues that i faced previously. I also change the angle to add more of the book rack in the background rather than plane white walls. The angle allowed me to add more people in the background which made the room look packed.

Scene 1 is about the writer’s book signing organized by “exclusive publishers”. The scene is of the present time. Below is a shot of the first scene:



The protagonist goes into a series of flashbacks and thinks about her journey to this very point. The second scene goes in completer contrast with the first one. In the second scene the girl has been shown failing an English writing test. She is faced with anxiety and stress as opposed with what was  seen earlier.



The third scene is where the writer goes out in open field and observes nature. Nature serves to be the girl’s source of inspiration. The peace and calmness helps her overcome the stress of failure.
For this scene, i went to a park next to our school and took as many shots as i could of the place in my first visit as the school’s management was reluctant to send students beyond the school premises. I managed to get some good shots in the first attempt and was satisfied with the results.

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The fourth scene shows how the girl finds out about the writing competition on her school’s main notice board. I used a different notice board as before; however, it was in the same corridor. It was opposite the previous notice and could be seen in the following picture.  This was because this board had more details about events and I thought it would be a better option.

The next scene that i intend to use will be from the girl’s room where she will compare her writings with her failed exam and decide about her participation in the event. This will be a turning point as the girl will decide to move forward with the participation since it promises a book published as the winning prize. The scene reflects how she did not let a failed exam confine herself from achieving something great and decided to take a chance. It will include details about how she starts typing her work and finally mails it on the respective id.

The room that i will be using for this purpose will be the art room in our school as it has good lighting and a wide table that could be shown as her main study area. Previously, i intended to use a table lamp to add more light. The light in the art room, however, was sufficient to shoot this scene.
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The next scene will show the girl receiving news about her success in the competition. I will be using the same corridor as I did before as it is the focal point of the section and is widely accessed by every student.


I intend to link the sixth scene with the first scene as my final scene in order to establish a link between the starting and the ending point. This will complete the journey the girl took and will finally showcase the result of her decisions.




Scene Details: Scene 6

This scene depicts the writing competition. The main character will compete with others in a career defining writing competition. I will use close ups to capture the anxiety and worry on the character’s face.