My daughter is making a short (6min) dance movie for her final school project, and she's having trouble figuring out what the formal narrative structure would be, and isn't getting much help from her teacher.

The film opens with a 30 second shot of two characters looking at each other, with some jumpy editing cuts showing flashbacks and flash-forwards - the purpose of which (though you don't realise at the time) is that they're deciding whether or not to run away together. Then the main section starts and we sort of jump into their minds, to see a representation of their thoughts/state of mind (via dance). It then ends back where it started, with them looking at each other, and coming to the conclusion (based on the main section's 'deliberation') that they're going to run away, and then doing that.

We've been told by her teacher that this would be considered a linear narrative, just with a prologue and epilogue, but from what we've read online this doesn't quite seem to fit. It's not technically a flashback, or bookend, or anything else that i can find online, and while i'm sure there have been films organised like this i can't for the life of me think of an example, other than something like The Wizard of Oz's 'it was all a dream' technique, though it's not quite the same thing.

Sorry if i didn't explain that clearly, please let me know if there's anything that needs further clarification.

If anyone has any answers/ideas i'd really love to hear your thoughts!

  • 1
    I mean... if you ignore the black and white sections of The Wizard of Oz, it is a linear narrative. Is there a reason you don't think that fits?
    – Catija
    Commented Mar 17, 2019 at 0:54
  • No i think it does, if you ignore those bits, but the problem is in our case we need to explain my daughter's film as a whole, including the beginning and ending sections. The middle (main) section definitely does follow a linear narrative, but i was trying to figure out what to call the beginning/ending - like are they actually prologue/epilogue pieces? Or would they be called something else (because they don't really function as prologue/epilogue, as i understand the terms)? (Thanks for your comment :)
    – Kate
    Commented Mar 19, 2019 at 0:35

1 Answer 1


For the technique of beginning and ending with one story while telling different stories in the middle, I would refer to the outer story as a "framing device", or "frame story". The collective work as a whole could be called a "nested narrative", or "story within a story".

It sounds like you have 2 stories in your example: one telling the events leading up to a decision and one that shows the decision being made and carried out. The latter story is split up and shown in parts at the beginning and end to "frame" the other more complex story. Prologue and epilogue tend to imply sub-stories with events occuring before and after the main story chronologically, but I would defer to the teacher if he/she/they disagree with that implication.

"In storytelling, this is known as a framing device: a story told within the context of another story. Framing devices can be very simple, or very complex.... In every case, the framing device is a gateway that sets the stage for a deeper journey into story."

Framing Devices and Nested Narratives: Stories (Within Stories (Within Stories)) Brad Kane. Wed Dec 4, 2013 https://www.tor.com/2013/12/04/story-worlds-frame-stories/

Whether or not any part of the work can be called a linear narrative depends on how and when the flashbacks and flashforwards are incorporated. If the "main section" is indeed shown entirely in chronological order (ie. in a straight timeline), then the teacher would be correct insofar as that part of the story is a linear narrative.

"As the name suggests, linear narratives follow a straight line — starting at the beginning, moving to the middle and proceeding to the end of the story. In contrast, a non-linear narrative often starts at the middle of a story or the height of a conflict and then double-backs to the beginning. Another, albeit more challenging, non-linear narrative form employs flashbacks and 'flashforwards' to keep the reader on his toes as the writer tells the full story."

What Is a Linear Narrative? M.T. Wroblewski. Updated January 10, 2019 https://penandthepad.com/linear-narrative-1805.html

  • Thank you so much, this was such a helpful response! Heaps of great information for her to read through, and links for further reading - much appreciated :)
    – Kate
    Commented Apr 23, 2019 at 22:00

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