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Understanding and Using Narrative Time

Content Material

Student Directions:
Complete the following steps to learn a little about the control of time in narrative—which is called narrative time or temporal duration.

  1. With your instructor or on your own, preview the resources on, specifically the "Carl Comics."
  2. Choose three different "expansions" of the Carl Comics Original Recipe and then write the three prose versions of the resulting stories. Contain your stories just to that which is conveyed in each of the comic frames. In other words, your story should feel like an act of translation from visual to verbal, without taking liberties but rather attempting to stay true to the original text.
  3. When you have completed writing the three different stories, follow your instructor's directions to either write a brief reflective piece or to engage in group discussion, considering what is different about the three versions of the story you wrote. Answer these questions as you write/discuss:
    • How is each story different?
    • How does time work exactly in each story? In other words, how have you controlled the passing of time in each story?
    • How does the story or narrative time you use in each story compare to real time?
    • Does one version of the story seem better than another? If so, why?
  4. Listen/read the explanations and examples your instructor gives you on narrative time. Write definitions of each of the following for yourself and for later reference:
    • summary
    • scene
    • gap
    • pause
    • stretch

    [Steps 5 through 7 wll be done as homework.]

  5. Now, pick any combination of Carl frames (at least 6). You can choose from the "Original Recipe" strip or from "Choose Your Own Carl" (this contains additional frames). Or, if you have a hard time choosing and your instructor approves it, you might try the "One Armed Carl" which randomly selects 6 frames. As you select your frames, keep the concept of narrative time in mind, working to make deliberate choices about the control of time in the comic strip story.
  6. Once you choose you own Carl, so to speak, and have at least 6 frames, write the story (again being true to the visual story you assembled--frame by frame, scene by scene).
  7. As a final step when you have completed your story, reflect in writing on the choices you made regarding narrative time and its effects on the text and the reader. Try to answer these questions:
    • What choices did you make to control time in your story?
    • Why did you make these choices?
    • What effect do they have on the story and its reader?
  8. Now, bring all your work together. Assemble a "mini-portfolio" of work that includes the following:
    • the three initial stories from step 2
    • any reflective writing from step 3
    • definitions of each use of narrative time from step
    • the longer story from step 6
    • the reflection from step 7

Referenced URLs:
All of the following are either from or inspired by and approved by Scott McCloud.