Tzvetan Todorov is a Bulgarian-French philosopher, sociologist  but most important from a media point of view a structuralist literary  critic. He is the author of many books and essays, which have had a significant influence in in many fields. Ne is widely quoted but rarely referenced correctly.

“The structural analysis of literature is nothing other than an attempt to transform literary studies into a scientific discipline . . . a coherent body of concepts and methods aiming at the knowledge of underlying laws” (“Structuralism and Literature,” in Seymour Chatman, ed, Approaches to Poetics, New York, Columbia UP, 1973, p. 154).

This is attributed Todorov by I can find no record of the reference which is included for information .

Aristotle is usually credited with the first description of the the ‘three act’ structure of dramatic texts (Lacey, 2000, p. p27).


He is renowned for many insights but  want to concentrate on his narrative theory.

They  are frequently quoted without  direct reference to the original document and are dependant on some form of specific logical change . In brief :

1.Equilibrium – The opening situation introduction of characters and situation

2.Disruption – The problem or obstacle appears intersecting with the main characters

3.Realisation – The problem or obstacle becomes insurmountable .

4.Restoration – Solving the the problem

5.Return of Equilibrium – Returning to normal or a new normality (Todorov, 1973).

In my narrative I have ascribed his theory to my plot where a lifeboat crew member is summoned to the launch of the lifeboat after an accident at sea.

A disruptive event has occurred, the man falling to the floor but no context is offered and together with the running figure the viewer must make inferences. In reality these are “flash forward” events and properly live in the second act .

Scenes 1, 2 ,3 and 4  of Act 2 then act to establish characters and the environment at the same as carrying the narrative forward with the “inciting incident” (bleep) and tension of getting to the boathouse for the launch.

The flashback to 10 years previously is the turning point as the child states their ambition and starts the character (development) arc.

The third act is straightforward in that it resolves the tension of whether the place on the boat will go to the protagonist and whether the casualty will be rescued alive.

However, application of Todorov would be as follows

  1. A state of equilibrium in the shower at home
  2. A disruption of that order by the call out bleeper (indicating there is greater disruption)
  3. A recognition that the disorder has occurred by their verbal response (Oh terrific!)
  4. An attempt to repair the disruption by running for the lifeboat
  5. A  new equilibrium as they get on the boat (and ultimately the casualty is rescued).


The act of narrative can be applied to non fiction Lacey goes on to describe a news story of a new born baby being snatched from the mothers bedside thereby eluding the elaborate security effects (Lacey, 2000, pp. 40–41).


He analyses it thus

1.Equilibrium – mother and baby in hospital

2.Disruption – a woman snatches child

3.Realisation – it is noticed the child is missing

4.Restoration – Police cordon off the area… a helicopter searched overhead and officers with tracker dogs scoured the grounds

5.Return of Equilibrium – the child is found.



There are many narrative theories however I hoping that by following one I will get a deeper understanding. As Bal says in the preface of his book “Once I was able to use a theory, I noticed a progression in the quality of my interpretations as well as my capacity teach”(Bal, 2009). While teaching is a way off I would aspire to this ambition



Bal, M. (2009) Narratology: Introduction to the theory of narrative. 3rd edn. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Lacey, N. (2000) Narrative and genre: Key concepts in media studies. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Todorov, T. (1973) The fantastic: A structural approach to a literary genre. Translated by Richard Howard. Cleveland: Cleveland, Press of Case Western Reserve University, 1973.



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