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Storytelling: Narrative Archetypes, Forms and Techniques


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 4
  • Convenors: Dr Agnes Woolley, Dr Gillian Woods
  • Assessment: a 1000-word written task and written portfolio (25% each) and 2000-word essay/writing task (50%)

Module description

In this module you will have your first experience of reading and writing critically and creatively here at Birkbeck. We will introduce you to some of literature’s foundational narratives as well as to the fundamental elements of the writer’s craft.

Lectures will promote the close reading and discussion of literary texts and authorial techniques, in which key concepts such as creation and utopia, and foundational literary forms such as epic and oral narratives, will be explored alongside writing skills such as characterisation, point of view, plotting, dialogue and conflict. Small group sessions on alternate weeks will give you the opportunity to produce creative and critical responses to the lecture materials, and to submit your own writing for appraisal and feedback. You will be expected to maintain a notebook to record and develop your ideas, and to complete a finished piece of written work by the end of the module.

Indicative syllabus

  • Introduction: in the beginnings
  • Beginning a story, finding a voice
  • Plots and three-act structures: Aristotle, the dramatic arc, questioning catharsis and completeness
  • Forbidden fruit: the creation of man and woman
  • Epic and the oral tradition
  • Essay writing skills
  • Scene building: scene vs. summary, activity vs. passivity, showing vs. telling
  • Epic, epic scale and the human
  • Points of view: who is telling the story, how and for whom?
  • The idea of Utopia: stories of a better world
  • Cinematic storytelling: reading film
  • Narrative time and tension: the scope and breadth of a story; timelines and story threads

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • identify and discuss key foundational narratives about creation, war, utopia and the future
  • discuss how and why these narratives have been rewritten and reappropriated throughout Western literary and cultural history
  • identify, analyse and make both creative and analytical use of fundamental elements of narrative prose writing, such as characterisation, point of view, plotting, dialogue and conflict
  • structure, plan, edit and revise both critical and creative writing tasks
  • develop ideas stimulated by the study of literary texts into writing projects
  • develop and make use of your own writer’s voice
  • understand some of the histories, conventions and processes of literary and cultural production, transmission and study.