Fundamentals of Narrative 1

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Code Completion Credits Range Language Instruction Semester
311FON1 ZK 3 3T English winter

Subject guarantor


Name of lecturer(s)


Learning outcomes of the course unit


Mode of study

Classes will be discussion-based, I assume we will mostly discuss various themes together, instead of me delivering the lectures. I expect students will work regularly for the class, there will be reading for each week (not more than 25 pages each), and occasionally students may be required to watch the film or episode of TV series. There will be also assignments, even if some of them will be not written, rather would require students to come up with some ideas, think about various ways how the story may be manipulated, come up with their own plot for one particular story, etc.

Prerequisites and co-requisites

There is no prerequisites.

Course contents

The course, “Fundamentals of Narrative” will not teach you how to write the script per se, however, it may significantly help you to do so. We will discuss various facets of narratology, that is the study of narrative and narrative structure and the ways that these affect human perception. We will become familiar with the terms such as story, plot, narrative, narration, focalization, etc. that are widely used in the literature and their understanding is crucial for comprehending how the script works and what may influence the spectators’ perception. We will try to dig deep into the seemingly simple concepts of time, space, and character. We will discuss few approaches to the analysis of the texts (feminist, semiotic), as well as few theories based on the archetypes (Campbell, Hudson, Propp), and chronotope (Bakhtin). We will devote few lectures to TV series and the specific narrative techniques they are using. We will also discuss adaptation between various media and talk about how the change of the medium may influence the story. All in all, we will try to understand as much as possible how the narratives work, which is necessary for being able to create one.

Recommended or required reading

Bordwell, David. ”Mutual Friends and Chronologies of Chance.” Poetics of Cinema. New York and London: Routledge, 2008. pp. 189–250.

Bordwell, David, and Kristin Thompson. Film Art. An Introduction. (11th Edition.) McGraw-Hill, 2017.

Branigan, Edward. Point of View in the Cinema: A Theory of Narration and Subjectivity in Classical Film. Berlin, New York, Amsterdam: Mouton Publishers, 1984.

Chatman, Seymour. “Characters and Narrators: Filter, Center, Slant, and Interest-Focus.” Poetics Today Vol. 7, No. 2 (1986), pp. 189–204.

Dancyger, Ken, and Jeff Rush. Alternative Scriptwriting: Successfully Breaking the Rules. Amsterdam: Elsevier/Focal Press, 2007.

Heidbrink, Henriette. “Fictional Characters in Literary and Media Studies – A Survey of the Research”. In: Eder, Jens; Jannidis, Fotis; Schneider, Ralf (Hrsg.). Characters in Fictional Worlds: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Berlin/New York: De Gruyter, 2010, pp. 67–110.

Kozloff. Sarah. Invisible Storytellers: Voice-Over Narration in American Fiction Film. University of California Press, 1989.

Propp. Vladimir. Morphology of the Folktale. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009 (20th Edition).

Assessment methods and criteria

Course Requirements:

Class Attendance/Participation: I expect students to attend all classes. If a student is sick or has another duty (e.g. needs to be present on the shooting), s/he needs to apologize to the professor ahead of, otherwise, the absence is treated as unexcused. A student with extensive absences, i.e. five and more (whether excused or unexcused) will be asked to do extra work for the class and may fail the course if s/he does not fulfill the extra assignment.

Participation in the class discussion will be taken into account in the final grade. Participation means a meaningful contribution in the classroom, utilizing the resources and materials presented to students as part of the course. Students are required to actively, meaningfully, and thoughtfully contribute to class discussions and all types of in-class activities throughout the class. Meaningful contribution requires students to be prepared, as directed, in advance of each class session. Particularly, students will read the text(s) required for each lesson and will come to the class prepared with an excerpt from the text that was particularly captivating. All students will be ready to discuss the readings in the class. Lively discussion is expected. Students are expected to ask clarification questions if they cannot follow the instructor’s or other students’ line of thought or argumentation.

The use of electronic devices is not allowed unless it is explicitly required by the professor (that may happen in some specific situations). Students are expected to take notes by hand unless the student is entitled to the use of a computer due to his/her academic accommodations. In such cases, the student is required to prove the need.

Presentation: Around a third of the class time (i.e. 45 minutes) will be devoted to discussion. Students will prepare the presentation (Google slides, PWP, Prezi, etc.) The handout/presentation will include AT LEAST 5 questions for class. Those questions should be rather complicated, can be even controversial, encouraging the students to think about the topic more intensively. The student's presentation will last around 45 minutes. The goal is to get us talking about certain aspects of narratology and how it demonstrates itself in the particular film.

!! Send me the presentation at least 24 hours before the class begins! !!

A student will not write a midterm essay on film s/he has a presentation on.

Midterm essay: Students themselves will choose the topic for the paper – students should analyze the film (or the episode of TV series) while focusing on any topic connected to the narratology. Besides that, almost everything is allowed – students may compare two or more films, focus on one particular aspect of narration (say, voice-over narrator, or time), or may analyze the narration in the film as such. Students may choose any film they wish, just need to inform me ahead, in case the films chosen is not the one we have seen in class. Papers have to be typed and may be sent via email (or Moodle). The due date is not negotiable. If a student must request an extension, she/he has to do it before the paper is due. All sources (films, books, articles, interviews, websites, etc.) have to be cited: any time student quotes or paraphrases someone else’s work she/he has to give her/him credit, otherwise, it is understood as plagiarism, that is unacceptable and will cause student failing from the assignment and may lead to failing from the overall course as well.

The essay will have 1.400 words (about 5 pages double-spaced) minimum. Due: Nov 01

A student will not write a midterm essay on film s/he has a presentation on.

Assignments: There are altogether seven various assignments that students will fulfill during the term – they are clearly explained below, in the weekly schedule, and will be even more explained in the classes themselves. Students are expected to fulfill FIVE of them (that is, they may choose to skip two of them). However, assignments 3 and 4 are closely connected to the midterm essay and cannot be skipped. If a student cannot be present in the class, s/he can still fulfill the assignment by sending a 1-page paper to the professor before the class.

Assessment and final grade:

The final grade will be calculated as follows: Class Attendance and Participation (15 %); presentation (15 %); midterm essay (20%); 5 assignments (each for 10 %)

Course web page


Weekly schedule:

  1. (27.9.)


Assignment 1 (present the result in class 4th of October):

Pick one of the fairy tales below and try to update it into the current times while keeping its main storyline.

1/ Cinderella;

2/ Red Riding Hood;

3/ Hansel and Gretel.

Does not have to be written.

  1. (4.10.)

Plot vs. Story

Reading: Bordwell – Thompson, 72-110.

Assignment 2 (present the result in class 11th of October):

In any film (or an episode of TV series) pick a scene that you believe demonstrates zero-, internal- and external- focalization, and show us the scenes in the class. Does not have to be written.

  1. (11.10.)

Focalization: who sees / who speaks

Reading: Chatman.

Assignment 3 (present the result in class 18th of October ):

Think about the topics for your essay and come to the class prepare to discuss what would you like to write about and why. Does not have to be written.

  1. (18.10.)

Pitching of ideas for midterm papers / How to write an essay

Assignment 4 (present the result in class 25th of October ):

Prepare the presentation (Google Slides, PWP, Prezi, etc.) that would summarize the ideas that you wish to bring up in your midterm paper.

  1. (25.10.)

Voice-over Narrator (1st person) / Presentation of midterm papers

Reading: Kozloff, 41-71.

Watch: Daybreak s01e01 (John vs. The Apocalypse: Part 1; Brad Peyton, USA, 2019, 60 minutes) – available at Netflix

  1. (1.11.)

Voice-over Narrator (3rd person)

Reading: Kozloff, 72-102.

Watch: Never Have I Ever s01e01 (Pilot; Tristram Shapeero, USA, 2020, 28 minutes) – available at Netflix


  1. (8.11.)

Point of view

Reading: Branigan, 103-121.

Assignment 5 (present the result in class 15th of November):

Pick any film or an episode from the film series and think about how different it would be if the point of view was used (in case it is not), or how different it would be if we share point of view with another character (in case it uses the POV structure, prioritizing one particular character). By POV we mean here the OPTICAL POV, which is the situation when the spectator shares a view with a character. Does not have to be written.

  1. (15.11.)


Reading: Heidbring.

Assignment 6 (present the result in class 22nd of November):

Pick a part of the reading and explain how it is relevant to your work as a screenwriter. Explain, which strategies are you using when you write a character. Share with class “the story” of one of your characters – which was his path? How does s/he/they develop? Did you change the character significantly during your writing? If the film was realized, how much of the original character was still there? Does not have to be written.

  1. (22.11.)

Network Narratives

Reading: Bordwell (2008)

Watch: Babel (Alejandro Iñárritu, USA/Mexico, 2006, 143 minutes)

  1. (29.11.)

Plot Structure

Reading: Dancinger – Rush, pp. 15–59.

Watch: She’s Gotta Have It (Spike Lee, USA, 1986, 84 minutes).

  1. (6.12.)

Vladimir Propp: Morphology of the Folktale

Reading: Propp, pp. 25–65.

Assignment 7 (present the result in class 13th of December):

Pick any film or TV series you wish and try to confront it with Propp’s scheme. Does it fit at all? Does it fit partially? Is his scheme applicable to any film of any genre? Does not have to be written.

  1. (13.12.)


Schedule for winter semester 2021/2022:

room 241
Room No. 3

(Lažanský palác)
Date Day Time Tutor Location Notes No. of paralel
Mon 09:00–11:25 Petra DOMINKOVÁ Room No. 3
Lažanský palác

Schedule for summer semester 2021/2022:

The schedule has not yet been prepared

The subject is a part of the following study plans