Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Rowan's Heirarchy of Narrative Needs

How do people talk about their entertainment? Inspired by Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, here's Rowan's Hierarchy of Narrative Needs. Note that I make no case for any kind of authenticity here, there has been no experiment of any kind - I'm doing this mostly to trigger a discussion of, well, discussion. One important thing to note is that in keeping with Maslow as a source of inspiration, the "hierarchy" part is important - theoretically, one has to be comfortable with lower-order things in order to progress to discussing the higher-order concerns.

8. Language
7. Plot
6. Politics
5. Characters
4. Writing
3. Form
2. Historical Context
1. Subtext & Theme

8. Language - I don't mean language as in writing style here, I mean whether it can be understood. Some people can't deal with foreign-language films with subtitles. Others hate dubbing. It's not just foreign language, it's also dialect - many people cite The Wire's dense urban Baltimore language as one of the biggest things stopping them from getting into the series at first.

7. Plot - Plot is the first thing that most people discuss when it comes to storytelling. Does the movie have an exciting story? Is the book confusing? Does this fit my conception of how the story should go? It also includes some degree of discussing quality in terms of plot, like saying that the best television episodes and plots are the ones where the most happens. This is fairly straightforward, although it also includes some less-obvious extensions like "shipping," in my opinion. "Will they or won't they?" is a pure expression of "Do I like this plot?"

6. Politics - This one is almost always negative, in that if people don't like the politics, they'll won't be able to talk about much more. Most commonly, this has to do with the normal Democrat vs Republican, liberal vs. conservative nonsense, although it can take other forms in other subcultures: "THIS BOOK IS FUCKING RACIST!" for example, or the websites that grade video games based on whether they offer Christianity as a viable religious option.

5. Characters -Is he likable? Is she behaving in a consistent fashion? Are you interesting in finding out how they react after their world gets shattered? Do you want to continue hanging out with them even after it's been six seasons and it's kind of a drag now but you just have to know if they stay friends and allies?

4. Writing - Things get a little bit subtler here. If the plot and characters are convincing, then what about the creators' depiction of those things makes them convincing? And, if they're not convincing, was it a structural issue or simply dialogue?

3. Form - Does this book do anything interesting stylistically? Is the TV show putting together its serialized narrative in a fashion likely to collapse, or succeed? This one is probably my personal favorite, for whatever that's worth.

2. Historical Context - Where does this movie fit in with the rest of the director's oeuvre? Was this book representative of a movement? Does it represent its times, or even say more about its times than nonfiction would suggest?

1. Subtext & Theme - But what does it mean? Who does it come from? Are they saying something intentional with it? What are they unintentionally saying? What do we read into it now? Is there patriarchy? Maybe hegemony? Why is this worth talking about?

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