Make Believe

The Joint Faculties of Humanities and Theology | Lund University

Jan-Noël Thon

Narrative Representation across Media. Hypothetical Intentions, Medial Conventions, and the Principle of Charity

One of the prototypical properties of narratives is that they represent a storyworld situated in time and space and populated by individuated existents (see Ryan 1991). However, storyworlds are neither simply “contained in the text” (Schmid 2010: 4, see also Doležel 1998) nor merely individual recipient's imaginations (see e.g. Gerrig 1993 or Herman 2003). Rather, they are better described as intersubjective communicative constructs based on narrative representations that can be distinguished from the mental representations individual recipients construct on their basis (see Eder 2008). Two questions are particularly relevant for the 'subjective' construction of storyworld-related imaginations as well as the 'intersubjective' construction of storyworlds: How do we 'fill in the gaps' of narrative representations? And: What elements of narrative representations do we ignore? While the first question is commonly answered by referring to the 'principle of minimal departure' (Ryan 1991) or the 'reality principle' (Walton 1990), the second question has received considerably less attention.

The proposed paper builds on Walton's (1990) notion of a 'principle of charity' to examine how recipients use narrative representations as cues (or ‘blueprints’) to form storyworlds-related imaginations (and construct storyworlds). Particularly in cases where the assumption of representational correspondence (see e.g. Currie 2010) becomes problematic, recipients may look for alternative explanations related to creator’s intentions and/or medial conventions before trying to imagine 'unnatural' or even 'impossible' situations and/or storyworlds. While occasionally mentioning the role that (assumed) intentions play in storyworlds that are constructed on the basis of narrative representations (see e.g. Kindt/Müller 2006), the present paper mainly focuses on the different limitations and affordances of verbal representation in traditional novels, verbal-visual representation in graphic novels, audiovisual representation in feature films, and interactive representation in computer games.

About Jan-Noël Thon:

Jan-Noël Thon is a research associate at the Department of Media Studies of the University of Tübingen. His academic interests include transmedial narratology, transmedial characters, comics studies, film theory, game studies, and convergent media culture.