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Building the Concept

Building the narrative through story elements

A basic understanding of storytelling principles helps to structure the narrative of your story. Consider the importance of storytelling in our everyday lives, and how different forms rely on similar storytelling conventions:

  •  Opening and closing sequences
  •  Conflicts or cause and effect
  •  Setting
  •  Characters
  •  Plot
  •  Structuring of time
  •  Point of view

The filmmaker's narrative decisions can be influenced by the close relationship between storytelling conventions and audience expectations of genres.

Plot and narrative structure

Well-developed characters are fundamental to storytelling. The central storyline or plot that drives the story's on-screen events is equally important.

The three-act linear approach to storytelling is commonly known as ‘classical Hollywood narrative’. This style has dominated mainstream cinema and television for decades:

Act 1 – Orientation
Act 2 – Complication
Act 3 – Resolution

Contemporary filmmakers often challenge expectations by altering or scrambling the narrative in a non-linear way. Use of flashbacks, circular progression or even multiple tandem narratives can jolt audience expectations.

Opening and closing sequences

Conventionally, the opening sequence introduces a world where on-screen normality is disrupted by an abrupt or unexpected action. It establishes characters, suggests narrative possibilities and establishes underlying themes. The cause-and-effect cycle draws the audience into the narrative journey.

The closing sequence ties up all loose ends. Central problems and questions are resolved, signalling the conclusion of the emotional journey for the characters and the audience.

Character development

An audience will only immerse themselves in a story if its characters are well-developed. On-screen characters often possess values deemed important by society. An audience member will engage when their own attitudes are reflected in the values of the fictional or real-life characters.


All visual storytelling forms rely on setting as the location where the action occurs. The filmmaker must convince the audience that events unfolding on-screen and the locations are real. The setting has the power to authenticate a story.

Point of view

Whose story is it? Point of view is usually established through the major protagonist. The audience is positioned to adopt the character’s perspective by the way in which they experience the on-screen events.

Building the narrative through production elements

The components of storytelling are all important. They rarely work in isolation.

Elements of mise en scène, including lighting, setting and staging, provide opportunities to communicate narrative ideas in a visual yet stylistic manner.

Anti-narrative – challenging the conventions of cause-and-effect storytelling

Experimental styles or approaches intentionally work in opposition to dominant cinema conventions.

Often such filmmakers operate independently from mainstream production studios. These films rely on stylistic techniques to produce a deeper, more reflective response from the audience.