Narrative Devices for HSC

Protagonist/ Antagonist

Main character/ Opposing character.  Antagonists can range from faceless corporations to charismatic individuals. In the Odyssey for example, Odysseus is the protagonist but he is often described by other characters who forward the plot. His antagonists are namely the Poseidon whose children he had slain, but he never confronts the God himself, but rather obstacles and antagonists send by the God.


A form of personification that is applied to animals. Narratives that use this function typically symbolize animals as human characters, with stereotypes for different traits- the pigs are greedy, the wolf is cunning, the fox is smart, the rabbits are docile, the sheep are dumb, and so forth. Good examples include the Three Little Pigs, and the must read Animal Farm by George Orwell.

Foreshadowing and Repetitive Designation (Chekhov’s Gun)

The insertion of what appears to be an irrelevant ‘segment’ at the prior to the climax, only later revealed to be significant. For example, an action film may show a wayward gun that slides and lands behind a chair. Later in a sequence a character finds, retrieves the gun, and shots the antagonist. Another example would be to provide a shot of an Olmypic medalist trophy to justify a character utilising that specific skill later.

Cliff Hanger

The narrative ends without resolving as to draw the audience back for a future episode or chapter. One of the finest modern examples of this style of writing is Mathew Reilly, whose Ice Station/Seven Ancient Wonders novels end every chapter with a character about to fall to their death, is apparently dead, or about to engage an impossible task.

Deus Ex Machina

One of the worst narrative devices employable. This resolves any and all conflicts within the story with an intervention of God. Typically found in Greek drama, as a student you should avoid this style of ending like the plague. Examples of this form of ending are: I woke up and it was a dream – then God saw that it was good, and made peace between the tribes – He wondered if such a thing was possible, but chose not to look a miracle in the mouth.


A sudden revelation. Different to a twist as the epiphany typically occurs without warning or foreshadowing. In a narrative framework the epiphany should contain some form of symbolic role. Examples are Decard’s realization of his own identity in Blade Runner, or Bruce Willis’ revelation in Sixth Sense, or the final revelation in Book of Eli. (Watch these to find out!)

Epistolary Narrative

Narrative by Episode – this style was popularized by famous works such as Dracula by Bram Stoker and Dangerous Liasons by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. The story is told through letters, diary entries, or a journal of events. Typically told through communication between two or more recipients. For the HSC, Letters to Alice is one such text. Each chapter contains a self forming narrative that pushes the overall plot forward while carefully examining the psychological development of the characters. A good style for conveying the perspective of individual protagonists.

Incluing / Infodumping

The gradual exposure of the reader to the narrative context and background of the story world. This is employed as a device to create a sense of discovery and tension within a story. A good example is Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. The reader chapter by chapter finds out about the setting, the time, the culture, the mentality, the people and finally the struggle of the protagonist. Opposite to this is the clumsy and verbose technique of infodumping where all context is trusted like a ham before the reader. Example of infodumping is prevalent in any and all George Lucas productions – Star Wars being a chief example (long scrolling text into space)

Flash Back/ Flash Forward

A Flash Back is typically a black and white shot in time of events that happened before the current timeline of the narrative. A Flash Forward (also called Prolepsis) is an interjected scene that jumps the narrative forward in time. Both texts reveal significant parts of the story to build narrative and dramatic irony. Run Lola Run by Tim Twyker is a good example of how both techniques are used to convey past, future, time, and determinate theory. The series Lost also makes extended use of both these devices.

In Medias Ras

Starting the story in the middle of the narrative. This again is used in many texts but ancient and modern. Odyssey by Homer starts with Odysseus returning, then flashing back to his adventures, then carrying on to his final task of killing the suitors to save his wife. The TV series Lost begins with the newest plane crash members who discover the past while foraying into the future. Similarly the show Heroes also extensively uses this technique, with the majority of the series spent either in the future flash forward or the discovery of the past through flashback.


Irony is a situation in which there is an incongruity that goes strikingly beyond the most simple and evident meaning of words or actions. “Expect the Unexpected” is a good way of generalizing the dynamic of irony. Irony in the HSC can be split into Narrative Irony, Dramatic Irony and Verbal Irony.

  1. Dramatic Irony
    Dramatic irony is when circumstance unknown to a character is known to the audience – the expectation and tension created in observing the oblivious character walk into the situation is ironic. Dramatic irony has three stages – installation, exploitation and resolution (often also called preparation, suspension and resolution) – producing dramatic conflict in what one character relies or appears to rely upon, thecontrary of which is known by observers (especially the audience; sometimes to other characters within the drama) to be true.
    Eg: Othello – Othello thinks Desdemona is unfaithful but audience knows its false, further audience knows Iago is plotting Othello’s downfall. The transparency in plot knowledge of audience vs players; and the tension it creates is dramatic irony.
  2. Verbal Irony
    What is spoken by the speaker is sharply different from the meaning that is ostensibly expressed. The ironic statement usually involves the explicit expression of one attitude or evaluation, but with indications in the overall speech-situation that the speaker intends a very different, and often opposite, attitude or evaluation. Not to be confused with sarcasm, which is caustic and direct. Irony is subtle and often requires “getting the joke”.
    Eg:  Dave – “Hey Claire did you know Africa has the most appalling security of all nations?” Claire – “Don’t be ridiculous Dave, that’s not even a country.” or Me – “Knowing Judo is one thing buddy, but you shouldn’t use it on people.” Response – “Its an Olympic sport! Don’t speak badly of it!” – Other examples include wordplay witticisms such as “Illiterate Journalist” or “The KIA was wearing a helmet that said ‘born to kill’.”
  3. Narrative Irony
    This is a relatively modern use of the term, and describes a discrepancy between the expected result and actual results that is developed and perpetuated by the narrator.
    Eg: At the start of American Beauty, Lester foretold the famous lines “My name is Lester Burnham. This is my neighborhood; this is my street; this is my life. I am 42 years old; in less than a year I will be dead. Of course I don’t know that yet, and in a way, I am dead already.” The line both utilizes irony, foreshadowing, as well as forming a metaphorical exposition of his life prior to his epiphany.


Using two themes, characters, phrases, words, or situations together for comparison, contrast for rhetoric effect. Some examples of this can be found in many everyday adverts. Our brand of washing powder is four times more powerful in cleaning grease! In Literature this is most famously find in the introduction of Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…

Narrative Hook (Story Hook)

A specific event, sequence, or opening that ‘snags’ the readers into continuing to read. Typically found in detective novels where the first chapter is often the murder – the audience then must continue to read to discover why the victim has been murdered.


An incongruous imitation of the original created for humor or ridicule. Typically employed by comics (political) and latter appropriated by spoof films (Scary Movie). Parody is an advanced technique that confronts, challenges and twists perception and truth to create rhetorical effect. Some good examples of Parody are Michael Moore’s Documentaries that satirize and parody Government administration. Shriek the 3D Animations, that parody fairy tales, or indeed the graphic novel Fable, that retells the classic fables from a more adult perspective.


Plot device based on an argument that an agreement’s intended meaning holds no legal value, and that only the exact, literal words agreed on apply. For example, William Shakespeare used a quibble in The Merchant of Venice: Portia saves Antonio in a court of law by pointing out that the agreement called for a pound of flesh, but no blood, so Shylock can collect only if he sheds no blood. Another example would be in To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee; when Atticus proves in court that Tom Robinson could not be guilty because he has a lame left hand while Bob Ewell indeed was a lefty.

Self-fulfilling Prophesy

A plot where the entire narrative is driven by a premise given at the beginning of the novel. This is atypically used in Epics and Fantasy. Examples include Harry Potter, where the defeat of Vordemort drives the entire plot. Other examples include Belgariad by David Edding, where the main character’s ascension to become King of the West drives all five volumes of the novel series.

Diegesis Narrative Vs Non Diegesis Narrative

Diegesis is Greek, meaning ‘to narrate’. Hence the normal narrative process of a story being told to the audience through first, second and third person is called digetic narrative. Non-diegesis narrative (diegetic) however, is a series of information pieces that while having nothing to do with developing the plot, adds depth and scope to the core narrative itself. Examples include TV series such as Lost where seemingly unrelated flash backs provide red herrings and scope into the development of events on the island. Literary examples include any Austen and Bronte novels where setting and context are often expressed in great detail that may or may not be relevant to the plot direction.

Didactic Narrative

A narrative created to teach a set of social rules or religious forms. These stories typically were religious and moral tales that taught the readers to behave in certain ways or shaped their thinking specifically to the author’s intention. The Koran/Bible for example is a kind of didactic narrative, with life lessons and psalms as well as religious ritual rites. In HSC texts, Austen’s novels and Letters to Alice is considered to be a didactic narrative.

Stream of Consciousness

Technique where the author writes down their thoughts as fast as they come, typically to create an internal monologue characterized by leaps in syntax and punctuation that trace a character’s fragmentary thoughts and sensory feelings. Examples of novels of this style are The Road by Cormac McCarthy, or the reading poems by Australian poet Pie-O (symbol for the mathematical Pie)


Motif is a recurring object or thing within a narrative that is closely tied to the thematic structure of the text. A crime genre has a motif of blood, bodies, or a specific object left behind by the criminal while following the themes of mystery, murder, poetic justice. A romance genre would likely have motifs of flowers, rings, or a significant object cherished by the leading characters. For example in the masterpiece Citizen Kane, the snow sled is a motif for the theme of childhood that Kane was denied – its initial scenes and subsequent burning reflect the death of that childhood at least – filled with loneliness and regret.

Pathetic Fallacy

Reflecting a character’s mood in the atmosphere or inanimate objects—for example, the storm in King Lear he is lashed by rain and storms when his kingdom is forfeit to his ungrateful children – mirroring Lear’s mental deterioration. In extension I, the Romanticism module deals extensively with this form of narrative. In Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff arrives in storm and sleet, and almost any dramatic development is prefaced by a change in weather.

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