JJ Barnes – Writing Advice

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How To Use Narrative Triplets – SPOILERS – Joker – writing technique advice

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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.

Narrative Triplets 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 extremely satisfying for the audience.

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 blog 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.

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’s explained about his journal and been to collect his drugs, then he’s trudging up this stairway between buildings. It’s a beautifully composed shot and time has been spent setting up the shot to look absolutely stunning.

Then they use the same staircase a second time in the middle of the film. This time it’s after he’s been fired from his job and he’s really struggling with his illness and his life, and walking up those stairs is even harder. He’s hunched and dragging himself and it’s clearly a physical and mental struggle for him to climb those stairs. The effort to get up those stairs a second time demonstration an escalation in his terrible circumstances.

The third time the staircase is used is at the end of the film. This time he is coming down the stairs, dressed in full Joker outfit and make up, and dancing. He is now light, and easily descends the stairs without effort, and the entire shot and look of the scene is brighter than in the previous two. He has killed his mother, he has killed the man who gave him the gun, and he has embraced this darkness inside him. By doing this, he has become free and light and feels so much better, and by flipping the staircase scene around and having him dance down the stairs, that emotional state is represented, and in a way that is incredibly satisfying as you’ve seen it twice previously.

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. If you put 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 during editing. The important thing to remember is that the first two are different to the third, demonstrating a change in your character’s state, and that the second should be an escalation of the first.

If you’re using a three act structure, something I’ll be writing about in future, you put one of the Narrative Triplets into each act. 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 and is light and dancing down.

There are lots of these Narrative Triplets used in fiction, so I’ll be writing about other examples at later times because they more you see them, then more you’ll understand them, and the better you’ll be able to adapt this technique into your own writing.

Taking the time to put the Narrative Triplets in makes the third instance, when you’re demonstrating the emotional state of your character or their new circumstances or the lessons they’ve learned, have a more intense impact on your audience, and rewards them for paying attention. It also makes your work feel composed, and ties the story together in a way that feels far more satisfying which is pleasing for your audience.

You can find more writing advice on our YouTube channel where we’ll be releasing a piece of writing advice every day to help you become a better and more confident writer. If you have any writing questions, comment below and we will try to do a video for every question we get!

Click the picture to find details about all the books written by JJ Barnes and where to buy them.

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2 thoughts on “How To Use Narrative Triplets – SPOILERS – Joker – writing technique advice

Writing Set Up And Pay Off – writing tips – JJ Barnes 27th November 2019 at 4:26 pm

[…] written your end and realised what it is you’ll need, is to go back and insert your Narrative Triplets, forshadowing, and hints and clues about what will be important at the end. Make it significant and […]


How to write Narrative Triplets – referencing Spider-Man Into The Spiderverse – JJ Barnes 3rd December 2019 at 11:19 am

[…] and the more you’ll be able to use it. The first time I wrote about this was referencing the Narrative Triplet in Joker, so check that post out for more useful reading around the […]

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