3.6 Narrative arc

The purpose of this exercise was to think about story arc through analysing a narrative.

Key words from the brief:

  • Pick a film, read a book or look at a comic strip
  • Boil the story down to its most basic elements
  • What’s driving this narrative and how is it resolved at the end?
  • What genre is it or is it an amalgam of more than one
  • Extend this by finding another story with the same basic structure but told using a different treatment or genre

Story arc analysis

This work builds directly on exercises from PART 4 Sequence and Narrative that was one of the sections in Illustration Sketchbooks.

4.3 Story structures was a research task that explored the use of different narrative structures. The following table describes the Eight Point Arc which I’ve lifted verbatim from the OCA course textbook. This provides the logical structure that I’ll use to analysis the narrative structures as part of my response to this research task.

No Stage Description
1 Stasis The ‘normal world’ or everyday scenario: Introduce the “everyday” scenario in which the story is set / Introduce your character in their unsuspecting situation
2 Trigger Provide a catalyst to start the story moving away from what is normal and fine towards a problem (something which is often beyond control)
3 Quest Your trigger should result in a quest. This image should define the goal of the story and add some tension
4 A surprise Introduce turns in the story which show the elements which might get in the way of the quest and your character’s response. (These could include pleasant events, obstacles, complications or trouble for your hero)
5 A critical choice The hero makes a crucial or critical decision about how they will respond
6 The climax This image should be a penultimate cliff-hanger before we discover whether the quest has been a success
7 The reversal The goals have changed (the hero has been changed by the experience and has transformed)
8 The resolution A return to a new status quo / everyday scenario

Story analysis

I chose two analyse the narrative story structure of Apocalypse Now. This film was also the subject of a previous exercise 4.2 Storyboarding as part of PART 4 Sequence and narrative, in Illustration 1: Illustration Sketchbooks.

Apocalypse Now was directed by Francis Ford Copploa and starred Martin Sheen and Marlon Brando. This feature film is a Vietnam war movie based on Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness.

The film was released in 1979 four years after the conflict ended and it explores the empty madness of war and equally empty American values.

Boil the story down to its most basic elements

At its most basic level the story is a the plot revolves around a simple quest.

A good guy (Willards) is given a mission to assassinate a-good-guy-turned-bad (Kurtz).

The backdrop is the madness and hypocrisy of the Vietnam War and a boat trip from civilisation (sanity) into the deep remote jungle (madness).

What’s driving this narrative and how is it resolved at the end?

No Stage Description
1 Stasis Army captain and special intelligence agent Benjamin Willard is holed up in a hotel room, heavily intoxicated and desperate to get back into action.
2 Trigger Two officers arrive to escort Willard to Nha Trang, where he meets with two military superiors and a CIA operative.
3 Quest Willard is ordered to find and “terminate” Kurtz, who has become unhinged and committed murder. Kurtz is currently stationed at an outpost in Cambodia.
4 A surprise To reach Kurtz, Willard joins the crew of a Navy river patrol boat.

The crew makes its rendezvous with the Ninth Air Cavalry, who airlift the PBR to the mouth of the river during an attack on a Vietcong held village.

From this point on, Willard and the crew embark on a journey consisting of a number of episodic encounters connected by Willard’s narration.

The boat arrives at where Kurtz is stationed. The natives under Kurtz’s control drag Willard through the mud and grant him an audience with Kurtz, who imprisons Willard in a cramped cage.

5 A critical choice Willard is freed the next day and given freedom to roam Kurtz’s compound. He listens to Kurtz’s philosophising for several days.

He has the choice to kill Kurtz and complete his mission or not.

6 The climax Willard emerges from the river and approaches Kurtz’s quarters. He slaughters Kurtz with a machete. Kurtz’s last words are “the horror, the horror.”
7 The reversal When Willard emerges, the natives acknowledge him as their new leader and god.
8 The resolution He throws down his machete, finds Lance amidst the Montagnard, and returns to the boat. Willard shuts off the radio, and he and Lance pull away from shore as rain begins to fall. Kurtz’s last words are echoed again as the film fades to black.

What genre is it or is it an amalgam of more than one

It’s made in a war movie genre combined with a quest.

Another story with the same basic structure but told using a different treatment or genre

The Hobbit is a fantasy adventure genre based on a quest.


Dawson, Beth (2018) ‘Part 4: Sequence and narrative’ In: Illustration 1: Illustration Sketchbooks. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts. pp.131-158.

SparkNotes Editors. (2004). SparkNote on Apocalypse Now, At: http://www.sparknotes.com/film/apocalypsenow/ (Accessed on: 19.11.19)

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