Narrative Analysis

Understanding Stories

Intro

Narrative analysis is the examination and interpretation of story, using tools such as structure, characters, and themes to break down narratives into their component parts. At Cutscene University, our goal is to teach the study of story using the vast collection of video game narratives that have been developed since the category’s inception. To examine these narratives in detail, we’ve provided a series of essays covering the basics of analysis, as well as a set of next-level studies for students who wish to learn more. By reading these essays, students should have everything they need to advance to Cutscene University’s Game Studies section, focused on in-depth analysis of individual games.  

the basics

Structure

Different ways to arrange scenes to tell a cohesive story.

Characters

Protagonists, antagonists, and foils are just some of the roles to fill in fictional worlds.

Themes

Tying stories to meaningful questions through repeated ideas and imagery. 

Setting

Creating worlds by anchoring stories in time and place.

In-Depth: Structure

Three-Act Structure

One of the earliest known structures, Three-Act Structure divides stories into beginning, middle, and ending.

Five-Act Structure

Frequently used in theater, Five-Act structure marks the midpoint as the height of tension, rather than the closing. 

The Story Circle

A condensed version of the Hero’s Journey, emphasizing the growth of the protagonist.

The Beat Sheet

An adaptation of the Hollywood formula, tailored for television and movies.

Kishotenketsu

A four-act structure that de-emphasizes conflict, focusing instead on complications and change.

In-Depth: Character

Character Archetypes

Character archetypes are commonly recognized templates that work as narrative shorthand in simple stories. 

Character Arcs

Character Arcs represent the way characters change with the progression of the story.

God of War: Kratos and Atreus

Character Flaws

Character flaws are internal obstacles for characters to overcome in pursuit of their goals. 

Next Steps

Dialogue

How characters express themselves, using spoken or written words.

Tone

Tone is the emotional expression of a story’s theme, as well as the source of mood and atmosphere. 

What Remains of Edith Finch: The House

Pacing

How the speed of a story changes from line to line and scene to scene.

Setup and Payoff

Using foreshadowing to plant questions, then answering them at the opportune time.

Exposition

Different ways to dispense must-know information without losing the audience’s attention.

Prototype: Alex Mercer

Tension

The imbalance of information between the characters and the audience keeps the story interesting.

Goals

Every character should want something. The story shows whether they get it, and how.

Stakes

What happens if a character doesn’t achieve their goal? What happens if they do? 

Urgency

Ticking clocks and time bombs: the classic narrative devices that keep stories moving.

Showing and Telling

Despite the oft-repeated axiom, ‘show, don’t tell,’ both showing and telling have a place in storytelling.