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The Evolution of Narratives from Stone Walls to Film Reels

We reveal the somewhat tiresome truth that storytelling hasn't changed all that much despite centuries of so-called 'innovation'. From cave drawings to CGI spectacles, we still cling to the same old narrative structures, just with shinier tools. In this exploration, we confirm that whether it’s a dusty old book or a flashy 3D blockbuster, humans are suckers for a good story, no matter the medium.


Josh Coblentz

5/5/20245 min read

camping under black sky
camping under black sky

When you think of going to movies 90% of the time you’ll find yourself at a narrative feature. Narrative storytelling has been around as long as language itself. Being able to tell a story that isn’t necessarily true but has all the elements of capturing attention and just for a moment maybe, letting us believe in our heads that what we are seeing or hearing is real. When kindergarteners write what they want to be when they grow up you see professions like doctor, astronaut, and director. But these kids don’t want to be a reality TV director, they aren’t thinking “I’d love to direct the latest season of Jersey Shore!” they want to direct the next big summer blockbuster that everyone rushes to the theater to see. In the world of film and television, scripted narrative is the gold standard, the glorious head of household that audiences clamor to see from all over the world. Hopefully, in less time it takes for a round trip to crafty we all have a better understanding of why this is, and what scripted narrative even is.

Defining the Genre

Scripted narrative film and television refer to storytelling through the visual medium, where a deliberate and structured narrative unfolds over a specified duration. In these forms of visual storytelling, creators employ various elements such as plot, characters, settings, and dialogue to construct a cohesive and engaging storyline. The narrative structure is integral, guiding the audience through a sequence of events that may involve conflict, resolution, character development, and thematic exploration. Unlike documentary-style productions that aim to capture real-life events without a predetermined story arc, narrative film and television present fictional or dramatized stories. There are als where the production is more focused on capturing real reactions to scripted events. Also, contrasting with news media since news programs are only intended for informational purposes and are not supposed to include dramatic flair. Narrative relies on a predetermined story that was written and planned out before filming took place. Starting from an idea leading to a script then to the screen. Everything is planned out, each scene, every line, and the actors are all casted to meet the vision of the people in charge of making the narrative. The goal of narrative film and television is to entertain, provoke emotions, and offer a curated experience that transports viewers into the imaginative worlds crafted by storytellers.

The Varying Forms – From Book To Screen

You could say narrative storytelling has been around for as long as people have been drawing on the walls of caves. A narrative is just a way of saying how a story is told, which is really just a series of events that the audience is paying attention to. Whether it be in the form of a novel written in the 14th century or a summer blockbuster in 2020. Both are narratives, just with different mediums. In the film industry we tend to focus on the medium of the silver screen and the small screen. So when a film professional is talking about a narrative, it’s safe to assume they are referring to a movie or television series. This practice began as filmmakers sought captivating stories that had already found a readership, promising a built-in audience for the film adaptation. Early adaptations were often straightforward, but as the art of filmmaking grew, directors started infusing their unique styles and perspectives into their adaptations. When a narrative is adapted from a book to a screen, it undergoes a transformation that often involves condensation and modification of the original material. This is necessary due to the intrinsic differences between the two mediums. Books rely on descriptive language to convey internal thoughts and detailed settings, while films utilize visual and auditory elements. Directors and screenwriters must decide which elements are most essential to the story and how to effectively convey the same depth and nuances through performance, cinematography, and editing.

The Many Genres of Narratives

With how connected human development and narrative storytelling have been in the past 300,000 years – modern human existence – there are a huge variety of ways to describe different types of narratives. Basically if you can imagine it, then there is a category (or a few) for it. With top dogs like drama, science fiction, comedy, romance, mystery and horror, humans have been telling stories in books, film, painting, voice for so long that the number of genres is seemingly endless. And surely more will be created!

The genres of narratives are not just forms of entertainment but are cultural artifacts that reflect and influence society. They can reinforce or challenge societal norms, provide escape, foster empathy, and sometimes offer critical reflections of our world. As society changes, the themes within these genres adapt, reflecting current issues, hopes, and fears.

This exploration into the many genres of narratives underscores their significance in both entertainment and cultural discourse. By engaging with different genres, audiences can experience a wide range of emotional responses and philosophical reflections, making the art of narrative a crucial element in the human experience.

The Future of Narratives

While the nature of storytelling hasn’t changed a whole lot in the many years of human development, the medium and the way we tell them has. Seeing the current industry trends has led me to two likely outcomes for future narratives. One is the integration of artificial intelligence in story telling and the other is choose your own adventure movies and TV shows, like Netflix’s Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, for example. Recently there was an episode of South Park produced almost entirely with AI, which really isn’t all that impressive since the show already feels like it was written by a robot, but it’s still very much a proof of concept that shows that AI has the power to influence narratives. It’s also extremely likely that many writers for these shows and movies are using artificial intelligence to get ideas or flesh out concepts for their projects. That’s not even taking into account the SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes of 2023 which dealt heavily with how AI was threatening to take writers’ jobs and rob actors of their image. Another outlook beginning to take shape is the episodic format where the audience chooses an ending in the moment of the program. Imagine that when an episode ends the audience member is able to pick an episode that follows that is tailored to their preferences and may be different from the person sitting next to them. This way of storytelling has been around for quite some time in the form of books, but it is widely starting to be accepted in the film industry as a valid way of telling stories. Unfortunately, we can’t actually fully predict the future but it seems like narrative will surely go the way of AI and we see the introduction of choose your own adventure films and television shows become successful. Meanwhile, Hitchcock will be rolling in his grave.

Narrative story telling is essentially timeless; we have been telling stories for thousands of years. From painting pictures on walls to painting pictures on indoor screens, we have used narrative structure to express our creativity. This fact alone can explain why narratives have been so prevalent in film and television. Along with why the majority of the population sees a movie and immediately pictures a narrative style film.

a man holding a boom pole next to the director of photography on a scripted narrative set
a man holding a boom pole next to the director of photography on a scripted narrative set