Time & Experience Research



The Storytellers

Examples of Non-Linear Narratives

The opening animated sequences shows examples of flashbacks and flash forwards that break up the linear nature of the story. Further into the video we see the bullet return along it’s original path, passing objects it has destroyed, and returning to the beginning setting emphasizing a cyclical nature to the story line. Throughout the video there are scenes of the band playing in a separate room whilst the main part of the story, the bullet’s flight, is happening elsewhere indicating simultaneous events which converge at 2:36 when the bullet comes into contact with the band.

DVD Cover: Pulp Fiction
Film Poster: ‘Pulp Fiction’

In the 1990’s Quentin Tarantino was at the forefront of the rise in non-linear narratives in film. Pulp Fiction features the story of several sets of characters who move through the film independently from each other for the most part, but interact at key moments. The film is also cyclical, ending at the beginning, and not in chronological order, something emphasized by the character Vincent Vega who is killed in the film but appears again later on in the movie.

The opening scene is the beginning of the closing scene.

The film ‘Fight Club’, and the book it is based on written by Chuck Palahniuk are also examples of non-linear narrative. Once again both the film and book use the same initial scene for both the beginning and end, the viewer’s deeper understanding of the story at the end allows the director/author to then advance further and shed light on what was not understood at the beginning of the film/book. The story is then dealt with via a flashback, and even contains flashbacks within the flashback. The jumps in time and chronology simulate the lead characters memory and realisation of the events occurring around him.

This film, ‘Hero’, starring Jet Li has a very interesting narrative. There a three flashbacks in the film that each offer a different series of events that could have led up to the meeting of Jet Li’s character and the Emperor, leaving the viewer to work out which is the truth. The different flashbacks are also separated by different colour tints, so for example one flashback is more red in colour where as another is more blue.

Other Media

Other media such as websites and games can also be non-linear though the term often has a slightly different meaning. In games it usually refers to the style of gameplay and how things can be done and completed in different orders, or to games that have no fixed destination or finish and so allow the player to expand their ‘game world’ in however and in whichever direction thy wish.

+GOOD are a Newcastle based website design agency. Their website is set up as a flow chart that guides you around depending on your answers to simple yes/no questions. Though the website doesn’t have a narrative in the strictest sense, the interaction with the site is altered according to the way you approach it. This is similar to the way non-linear narratives work in computer games. A players decisions at one point in the game may ultimately effect subsequent parts of the game. This can be seen in the popular Grand Theft Auto series where you may choose who to do missions for and so effect who your friends and enemies are.

Another game with non-linear elements is Final Fantasy XII. Although there is a general linear storyline, the player can work through it at their own pace and is able to head off and do side missions in between playing the main part of the game. Some of these side missions are called ‘hunts’ and allow the player to pick from a number of missions and therefore being completely open ended

Final Fantasy XII Box Cover

Other types of non-linear games are ones where there is no rigid storyline and it is left to the player to build their own story. Examples of this are the very popular series The Sims and Theme Park. Also most sports games such as EA’s FIFA SoccerMadden NFL and NBA Live and Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccerhave game modes with almost infinite possible outcomes.


Wikipedia : Location, Setting and Point of View

This stop frame animation makes nice use of a single location. The stop frame technique allows the creator to give the illusion that the illustrations on the wall are moving whilst the character is sat still. The busy setting means that in some frames there is a flash of passersby who got caught in shot as the animation was made, which creates a sense of a super fast paced world moving by. I also like the way the red of the illustration matches that of the location and make them appear to grow from the scenery.

The use of the kitchen setting allows the creator to play around with unusual ‘ingredients’ in the recipe to create humour in this animation. It’s interesting how things are used for purposes that they are not designed for or would otherwise be inappropriate for, for example the rubix cube that is used like garlic. I like the quirkiness of this piece and I like the idea of finding new and unexpected roles for mundane objects.

In this animation by Don Hertzfeldt the location is his drawing room and most of the action takes place on his drawing pad. It is a witty look at movie stereotypes through the use of a single character. I liked the interaction between the ‘artist’ and the ‘character’ which I thought was smooth and also believable. the character, too, was entertaining and had personality.

The idea behind this video is that the creators have put a playful element into a normally mundane setting, i.e. a swing in a bus stop. The sense of subverting a space in such a way is appealing.