I’ll be writing about the video How to use Narrative Triplets. Contains SPOILERS for Joker. Writing hack for how to write a book from the Writing, Talking, And Dog Walking series I’m doing on YouTube with Jonathan McKinney.
A “Narrative Triplet” is a story tool that you can use to make you story progress and keep it interesting. When a Narrative Triplet is used it makes the story feel carefully constructed, and makes the climax extremely satisfying for the audience. I’ll explain what a Narrative Triplet is, give you examples of one in use, and explain how to replicate the technique in your own writing.
To explain the concept of the Narrative Triplet, I’ll be referencing scenes from the 2019 movie Joker, so if you haven’t seen it this will contain spoilers.
When we saw Joker, we saw this Narrative Triplet coming because it was so beautifully set up, and once you’re aware of them and understand them you’ll start to spot them in stories too. But spotting them doesn’t take away the pleasure. I actually really enjoy it because I appreciate the effort that has gone into the composition.
The Staircase – 1
In Joker, there’s a sequence in the first act of the film where Arthur Fleck is walking up a staircase. in the city after having been to see his therapist. He has explained about his journal and been to collect his drugs, and he is trudging up this stairway between buildings. Its grungy and dark. It feels oppressive.
The character is clearly in a dark place, he is depressed and struggling. The staircase represents the challenge he is facing just to move through his life.
The Staircase – 2
The staircase appears for the second time in the middle of the film. This time he it is right after he has been fired from his job, and he is really struggling with his illness and his life. Walking up those stairs is even harder.
The weight on his shoulders is even harder to cope with. He is hunched and dragging himself. Getting up those stairs is clearly a physical and mental struggle for him.
The effort to get up those stairs a second time is a clear demonstration of the escalation in his terrible circumstances. The first time was hard, the second time is harder.
The Staircase – 3
The third time the staircase is used is at the end of the film. Whereas previously he was moving up the stairs, in the third appearance he is coming down the stairs, dressed in full Joker outfit and make up. This time he is dancing.
He is light, and easily descends the stairs without effort. The scene is brighter than in the previous two, and he has lost the hunched shoulders and haggard expression. It’s the opposite of the previous two appearances.
At this point, he has killed his mother, he has killed the man who gave him the gun, and he has embraced this darkness inside him. This has freed him.
Flipping the staircase scene around from the previous two instances, and having him dance down the stairs, demonstrates the change in his emotional state. It makes for a very satisfying visual contrast.
How to Write a Narrative Triplet
If you want to use the technique of the Narrative Triplet in your story, the best way to do it is to start at the end and back edit. If you write something in at the end of your story that makes a beautiful representation of your character’s new state, you can go in and insert the previous two instances into the first and second act.
The important thing to remember is that the first two are different to the third, demonstrating a change in your character’s state. The first instance sets the tone, the second is an escalation of the first. The third then reverts it to show the change.
So, in Joker, the first act shows his state, he’s depressed and tired. In the second act he’s struggling more, it’s harder and more painful for him. In the third act he has been freed. He is light and dancing down.
Why Use a Narrative Triplet
Taking the time to put the Narrative Triplets in makes the third instance extremely satisfying. You are able to demonstrate the emotional state of your character, their new circumstances or the lessons they’ve learned. It makes for a really satisfying ending and rewards your audience for paying attention.
Whilst each instance would work alone, and tell you something about your character and what’s happening in their life, the Narrative Triplet ties a bow on your story. It makes the story feel composed, and the climax a better experience.
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