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Media Narrative

In Storytelling and Media: Narrative Models from Aristotle to Augmented Reality (Isbouts & Ohler, 2013), the narrative arc reflects a combination of the both the three act play (or film), and the story zigzag from Mckee’s book. The primary reason it fits so well in these two molds is that media and storytelling every so often redefine how we understand and perceive the world (The Day The Universe Changed, Episode One: The Way We Are?). Each time this happens, the story begins again.

Act One sees the characters in their everyday lives at a particular point in time. All is well in the world. Until some major incident happens (the inciting incident) and turns the current version of the world upside down. Burke, in The Day the Universe Changed, said it well, “The universe changes every time we redefine a big enough bit of it. Not necessarily discovery, just the invention of another version of how things are.” And storytelling is one way of helping us to understand and define ourselves (Isbouts & Ohler, 2012). “Storytelling… is as old as the human condition itself.” In this act, humans still rely on oral storytelling as the foremost method. Since stories are not merely relegated to providing information, but also imparting meaning, how these stories were communicated mattered. Then they are hit with the inciting incident – the rotary printing press.

Act Two sees the characters in a dilemma wherein they must overcome the inciting incident – the conflict. The characters need something, usually to meet some goal, and the conflict and tension rise as the characters face one obstacle after another. This can be seen, for example, as we went from orality to literacy (Ibouts & Ohler, 2013). As humans approached the 19th century, more people would become literate thanks to the invention of the rotary printing press around 1843, along with great improvements in the system of education. This ultimately led to the novel’s growth as the foremost method of storytelling. How might this impact the imparting of meaning? Likely, quite profoundly, because now the servant and working classes were accessible for political ideologies or movements, and novels and novelist rose to a respectable and prominent status as well. As the characters continue through act two, they are usually forced to make some critical choice that again points the story in a different direction. This takes us to act three.

In Act Three, we reach the climax of the story. The characters usually are changed or transformed in some way. In the case of literacy, the characters such as the social elites who were already enjoying higher literacy rates, and the characters such as servants and the working class, were beginning to enjoy literacy. The later group may not have been aware of how much their views were, “being subtly challenged and manipulated” (Isbouts & Ohler, 2013). How did this story of resolve itself? Burke might say that since we can only deal with one way of seeing at a given time. The reality of the day or version of things is the only correct and real one. Burke suggests we always needed conformity to the current view. The narrative model changed with the rotary printing press, and it would eventually change again with a new inciting incident – radio!

With the advent of the radio, the model of storytelling would again change. This would start a whole new three-act play. This was to be followed by film, Web 2.0, Web 3.0 and eventually, Web 5.0. This is why I say that From Aristotle to Augmented Reality also takes on the story zigzag arc.

The end of the film finds the characters in their new everyday life. Burke posits that our view of the world dictates what we do at every level of investigation. He further contends that we of necessity have to have some version of reality to begin with, and which is our framework that everything fits into. Given this new or revised framework, we begin the next film in the series. The narrative arc is liken unto a made for television (or cable, or internet) mini series with each series not only encompassing a complete narrative arc, but also leading into the next episode – only this mini series cannot not be numbered.


Isbouts, J., Ohler, J. (2013). In Storytelling and Media: Narrative Models from Aristotle to Augmented Reality. In K. Dill. (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of Media Psychology (13-42). Oxford. Oxford University Press.

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