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Visual Narrative Structure


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Narratives are an integral part of human expression. In the graphic form, they range from cave paintings to Egyptian hieroglyphics, from the Bayeux Tapestry to modern day comic books (Kunzle, 1973; McCloud, 1993). Yet not much research has addressed the structure and comprehension of narrative images, for example, how do people create meaning out of sequential images? This piece helps fill the gap by presenting a theory of Narrative Grammar. We describe the basic narrative categories and their relationship to a canonical narrative arc, followed by a discussion of complex structures that extend beyond the canonical schema. This demands that the canonical arc be reconsidered as a generative schema whereby any narrative category can be expanded into a node in a tree structure. Narrative "pacing" is interpreted as a reflection of various patterns of this embedding: conjunction, left-branching trees, center-embedded constituencies, and others. Following this, diagnostic methods are proposed for testing narrative categories and constituency. Finally, we outline the applicability of this theory beyond sequential images, such as to film and verbal discourse, and compare this theory with previous approaches to narrative and discourse.
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Cohn, Neil. 2013. Visual narrative structure. Cognitive Science 37 (3): 413-452. DOI:
Contents © 2013 Neil Cohn
Visual Narrative Structure
Neil Cohn
Narratives are an integral part of human expression. In the graphic form, they range from
cave paintings to Egyptian hieroglyphics, from the Bayeux Tapestry to modern day comic books
(Kunzle, 1973; McCloud, 1993). Yet not much research has addressed the structure and
comprehension of narrative images, e.g., how do people create meaning out of sequential
images? This piece helps fill the gap by presenting a theory of narrative structure. We describe
the basic narrative categories and their relationship to a canonical narrative arc, followed by a
discussion of complex structures that extend beyond the canonical schema. This demands that
the canonical arc be reconsidered as a generative schema whereby any narrative category can be
expanded into a node in a tree structure. Narrative “pacing” is interpreted as a reflection of
various patterns of this embedding: conjunction, left-branching trees, center-embedded
constituencies, and others. Following this, diagnostic methods are proposed for testing narrative
categories and constituency. Finally, we outline the applicability of this theory beyond sequential
images, such as to film and verbal discourse, and compare this theory with previous approaches
to narrative and discourse.
Keywords: Narrative, Discourse, Visual Language, Comics, Film
Cohn, Neil. 2013. Visual narrative structure. Cognitive Science 37 (3): 413-452.
1. Introduction
Sequential images take many forms and are ubiquitous in society. Beyond the context of
comics, the main subject of the present study, we find sequential images in places as diverse as
airplane safety manuals and the Stations of the Cross in churches (McCloud, 1993). The question
to be addressed here is: What mental representations does a reader construct in the course of
understanding visual narratives, and on the basis of what principles?
On the surface, images in sequence appear simple to understand: images generally look
like objects in the world, and actions in the world are understood perceptually; thus, the
argument would go, understanding sequential images should be just like seeing events. Although
such an explanation appears intuitive, it ignores a great deal of potential complexity. Consider
Figure 1.
Figure 1. Visual narrative
Figure 1 might be interpreted as a man lying awake in bed while a clock ticks away the
passage of time, until he talks on the phone (either calling someone or being called). What
factors involved in this sequence allow us to understand it this way?
First, a reader must be able to comprehend that the drawings mean something. How do
we know that the lines and shapes depicted in panels create objects that have meaning? Physical
light waves hit our retinas, and our brains decode them as meaningful, not just nonsense lines,
curves, and shapes. We decode them in terms of what we will call a graphic structure of lines
and shapes that underlies our recognition of drawn objects in perceptually salient ways. On a
larger level, we also must be able to recognize visually this is not just one image, but a sequence
of images, facilitated by the visual shapes of the panel borders. This already creates a problem:
how do we know which direction the sequence progresses? Left-to-right? Right-to-left? Center
outwards? One aspect of graphic structure must be a navigational component that tells us where
to start the sequence and how to progress through it.
Beyond the visual surface of physical lines and shapes of the panels and sequence, we
must also recognize that the individual images mean something. How do we create meaning out
of visual images? This must involve connecting graphic marks to conceptual structures that
encode meaning in (working and long-term) memory (e.g., Jackendoff, 1983, 1990). For
example, we understand that the first and last panels of this sequence depict a man (indeed, the
same man) with a bed and a phone, the second and fourth panels depict a clock, and the third
panel depicts a window with clouds and the sun. These elements compose the objects and places
involved in the sequence’s meaning.
Additionally, how do we know that these images are not simply flat drawings on a page?
We know that these 2D representations reference 3D objects, and thereby can vary in perspective,
such as between the aerial point of view in the first panel and the lateral angle in the final panel.
Cohn, Neil. 2013. Visual narrative structure. Cognitive Science 37 (3): 413-452.
We know that both depict the same person, despite being from different viewpoints. These are all
aspects of a spatial structure, which combines geometric information with our abstract
knowledge of concepts. We know that the first panels depict a man and a clock because we know
what men and clocks look like (iconic reference), and we retain what this man and this clock
look like as we read. In fact, the same characters appear in different states of a continuous
progression across panels and each image does not depict wholly new people in new scenes.
Other visual narratives use more symbolic aspects of graphic morphology. Things like stars
above the head to indicate pain, hearts in the eyes to show lust, bubbles to show thoughts, and
lines to depict motion are all conventional signs with little or no resemblance to their meaning.
Furthermore, how is it that, despite the fact that the first and second panels show only
individual characters (man, clock), we recognize that they belong to a common overall
environment? We construct this information in our minds through a higher level of spatial
structure. This is the unseen spatial environment that we create mentally. Panels can thus be
thought of as “attention units” that graphically window parts of a mental environment (Cohn,
2007). Within a frame, attention can be guided to the different parts of a depicted graphic space:
the whole scene (man and clock), just individual characters (man or clock), or close-up
representations of parts of an environment or an individual (man’s hands or eyes).
Beyond just objects, how do we understand that these images also show objects engaged
in events and states? For example, the first panel does not just depict a man—it depicts a man
lying awake in bed. The final panel depicts that man talking on the phone. The clock hangs on
the wall at a particular state in time. These concepts are aspects of the event structure for each
panel, and an event might extend across several panels. For example, we may infer that the man
lies in bed until the final panel. This event is not depicted, but we might infer this duration
because we have no contrasting information until the new event in the final panel. We may also
construct an additive meaning for the whole collection of events depicted: a man lies in bed
while the clock ticks until he gets up and talks on the phone. By the end of the sequence, we
understand that all of these things have taken place and they are not just isolated glimpses of
unconnected events.
Finally, how do we understand the pacing and presentation of events? Why does the
sequence start with a state and end with an event? Couldn’t it start with the phone call? Why
bother showing the clocks and the window in the middle panels? What effect do these panels
create? These questions relate to the sequence’s narrative structure, which guides the
presentation of events. We cannot understand this sequence by virtue of the individual events
alone, because there are actually several possible ways to construe it (Cohn, 2003). Under one
interpretation, each panel depicts its own independent time frame. Here, the first and last panels
connect as one progression of events, while the succession of the clocks embeds within that of
the man (as in Figure 2a). A second interpretation might be that the juxtaposed pairs of panels of
the man and the clock depict the same place at the same time. Here, these events occur
simultaneously, despite being depicted linearly. Mentally, one must group panel 1 with 2, and
panel 4 with 5, which are then connected in a singular shift in time (as in Figure 2b).
Cohn, Neil. 2013. Visual narrative structure. Cognitive Science 37 (3): 413-452.
Figure 2. Ambiguity in narrative structure
What role does the third panel play here in the overall meaning of the sequence?
Semantically, it tells the time of day, which is also made explicit from the time on the clocks. It
can be understood as simultaneous with the state of either clock panel, or at its own separate time
between them. However, it also provides an extra unit of pacing that prolongs the action of the
man lying in bed before using the phone. This is not a prolongation of “time” within the event
structure of the character’s actions or the situation. Rather, this is a prolongation in the narrative
pacing: it builds the narrative tension leading to the event in the final panel.
So what overall issues are involved with understanding visual narratives? A graphic
structure gives information about lines and shapes that are linked to meanings about objects and
events at the level of the individual panel. The graphic structure also connects to a spatial
structure that encodes the spatial components of these meanings, from which the reader
constructs an environment in which they are situated. The narrative structure orders this
information into a particular pacing, from which a reader can extract a sequence’s meaning—
both the objects that appear across panels and the events they engage in.
Importantly, this approach keeps narrative and event structures separate: while event
structure is the knowledge of meaning, narrative structure organizes this meaning into
expressible form. Previous approaches to narrative have varied in the extent to which narrative
(presentation) and events (meaning) have been treated as the same or different. Some theories
explicitly separate the underlying events from the narrative that orders them (e.g., Bordwell,
1985; Chatman, 1978; Genette, 1980; Tomashevsky, 1965), while this relationship is vaguer or
not even addressed in other approaches (e.g., Mandler & Johnson, 1977; Rumelhart, 1975; Stein
& Glenn, 1979; Thorndyke, 1977).
The present approach emphasizes the separation of narrative and meaning for sequential
images, and formalizes it in a narrative grammar. First, we establish the foundation for a theory
of narrative structure by describing the basic narrative categories and their relationship to a
canonical narrative arc. Following this, we explore complex structures in narrative that extend
beyond the basic canonical schema. This demands that the canonical arc functions as a
generative schema in which any element can be elaborated into a narrative arc of its own,
recursively. Through this structure, we interpret narrative pacing as a reflection of various
patterns of embedding: right- and left-branching trees, center-embedded constituents, and others.
We propose a series of diagnostics for recognizing these categories and constituencies. Finally,
we sketch how this approach can be applied to verbal discourse and film, and conclude by
discussing the connections of the proposed model with previous approaches to narrative.
Table 1. Commonalities between various theories of narrative
Visual Narrative
Arc, Phases
3-Act Play: Aristotle
Beginning (Protasis)
Middle (Epitasis)
End (Catastrophe)
5-Act Play
(Freytag, 1894)
Set up
Rising Action
Falling action,
Japanese theatre
(Noh, Kabuki,
(Yamazaki, 1984)
Jo (Introduction, Slow
Ha (Change, Speed up)
Kyu (Impact, Rapid ending)
Theory of Japanese
(Hinds, 1976)
Set the stage
Story grammars (Gee
& Kegl, 1983; Mandler
& Johnson, 1977;
Rumelhart, 1975; Stein
& Nezworski, 1978;
Thorndyke, 1977)
of affairs;
of goal,
Attempts at
Reactions to
Discourse theory
(Clark, 1996)
Principles of
Next, Push, Pop,
APA Formatting
(Arijon, 1976;
McCloud, 2006)
Fade out, Wipe,
Push, Iris, etc.
Establishing Shot
Cohn, Neil. 2013. Visual narrative structure. Cognitive Science 37 (3): 413-452.
2. Situating the approach
Prior to addressing the model itself, it is important to situate it in the context of previous
approaches. "Narrative" as a whole involves many things, including the context and
circumstances surrounding a telling, the role of the author and/or narrator and addressee, how a
text constructs a world and immerses a reader into it, the emotive qualities that a text elicits, and
the ordering of events into a coherent sequence which may include inferred events that have not
been overtly specified (Herman, 2009a; Talmy, 1995, 2000a; van den Broek, 1994; Zwaan &
Radvansky, 1998). While all of these topics have important places in the study of (visual)
narrative, this paper focuses on the final facet of this overall picture: the structure of a narrative
The literature is consistent in finding that people prefer a particular type of sequencing in
their narratives (see Table 1). However, the proposed models for the structure of sequential
images vary greatly. The present approach argues that narrative categories organize sequential
images into hierarchic constituents, analogous to the organization of grammatical categories in
the syntax of sentences. This approach allows us to account for many important attributes that
must be describable by a theory of visual narrative, all well highlighted by Figure 1. These
1. Groupings of panels into constituents (e.g., panels 1 and 2 in Fig. 2b)
2. Interactions between the “bottom-up” content of panels and the “top-down” narrative
3. Description of narrative pacing through the structure of embedding (e.g., the effect of
panel 3)
4. Ability to account for long distance dependencies between panels (e.g., the relation of
panels 1 and 5)
5. Ability to account for structural ambiguities
6. Ability to account for how the structure of the representation facilitates inferences
Previous approaches to narrative structure have addressed some—but not all—of these
traits. Notably, these traits are not unique to narrative—similar issues must be addressed in
theories of syntax. The first five traits are concerned mostly with the structure of a narrative, and
will be the primary focus of this paper, largely because of the paucity of research detailing them
in visual narrative. On the other hand, the sixth trait is concerned with how structure interacts
with meaning, and in fact many approaches to visual narrative have focused on the generation of
inferences (e.g., Bordwell, 1985, 2007; Chatman, 1978; Eisenstein, 1942; McCloud, 1993;
Saraceni, 2000). The present article will incorporate some aspects of inferences; further details
will appear in future work.
It is worth clarifying a few important, broad-scale differences between this approach and
other models. First, the “grammatical” approach to narrative here contrasts with approaches
couched in terms of “panel transitions” (McCloud, 1993; Saraceni, 2000; Stainbrook, 2003),
which focus on the semantic relations between adjacent images. The latter approach parallels
theories of discourse that analyze the relations between pairs of sentences, either by categorizing
the relationships of adjacent sentences to each other (Hobbs, 1985; Kehler, 2002; Mann &
Thompson, 1987), by describing principles that combine their meanings (Halliday & Hasan,
1976, 1985; Trabasso & van den Broek, 1985), or by highlighting the types of semantic shifts
that occur between them (Zwaan & Radvansky, 1998). The present approach is closer in spirit to
Cohn, Neil. 2013. Visual narrative structure. Cognitive Science 37 (3): 413-452.
that of Clark (1996) and Hinds (1976), who deal with global structure in extended conversation,
as well as to syntactic theory, which is not just determined by word-to-word transitions: we
examine the role that each unit plays relative to a global whole. Certain juxtapositions are indeed
important for the detection of broader constituency (as will be discussed). However the
transitions between panels themselves are ultimately less important than the roles that panels
play with regard to the whole narrative.
This approach also differs from previous “grammatical” approaches to narrative in story
grammars (e.g., Mandler & Johnson, 1977; Rumelhart, 1975; Stein & Nezworski, 1978;
Thorndyke, 1977), where categories revolve around a protagonist striving for a goal. Not all
narratives involve goal-direction—a story might be about an inanimate object, or it might climax
in random events that interrupt a person’s goals. We would still need to be able to describe such
discourses in a theory of narrative structure. Goal-direction is a feature of characters in a story,
and thereby relates to its meaning (i.e., conceptual/event structures) rather than how the story is
told (i.e., the narrative structure). The present approach is more “form” based: Narrative
categories derive from the depiction of events in panels and from the contextual functions of
their role in the narrative.
Finally, this approach can be viewed as complementary to the agenda of “cognitive
narratology” (for review, see Herman, 2003; Jahn, 2005), which invokes domain-general
cognitive processes like frames, scripts, and schemas to describe narrative understanding (e.g.,
Bordwell, 1985, 2007; Herman, 2009a; Jahn, 1997). This domain-general approach has included
comics in many of its narrative analyses (Herman, 2009a), while applications directly to comics
have at least been sketched out (Bridgeman, 2004, 2005; Lefèvre, 2000). The structural model
proposed here is not opposed to these semantic descriptions, and they could be integrated.
However, the present work takes the view that the best way to capture the richness and
complexity of narrative is through formalizing these schemas explicitly.
This article borrows methodology from linguistic analysis: readers are asked to rely on
their intuitions to assess the felicity of sequences referenced in the text.1 This methodology has
been used for decades in linguistic research, and it is acknowledged that such an approach has
been criticized by some (e.g., Gibson & Fedorenko, 2010) while defended by others (e.g.,
Culicover & Jackendoff, 2010). Ultimately, this research program aims to extend beyond relying
on intuitions. For example, experimental and corpus research is underway that seeks to validate
and clarify the theory (e.g., Cohn, 2011; Cohn, Jackendoff, Holcomb, & Kuperberg, In prep;
Cohn, Jackendoff, Kuperberg, & Holcomb, In prep; Cohn, Paczynski, Jackendoff, Holcomb, &
Kuperberg, 2012).
1 Importantly, intuitions of felicity should not be mistaken for artistry or aesthetics. We should expect narratives in
artistic contexts occasionally to push the limits of felicity. Similarly, in poetry, language that might otherwise be
rejected as infelicitous is judged as acceptable because of the context. The present approach seeks only to describe
the nature of comprehension; it makes no express claims on what is, or should be, considered of artistic or aesthetic
Cohn, Neil. 2013. Visual narrative structure. Cognitive Science 37 (3): 413-452.
3. Narrative Units
Panels make up the basic unit of visual narrative. In comics, they are discrete images
ordered into a sequence with other images (Cohn, 2007; Duncan, 2000; Eisner, 1985; McCloud,
1993). Some research has described the “grammar” of individual images. For example, Kress
and van Leeuwen (1996) propose a “visual grammar” for individual images based on the force
dynamic relationships between depicted elements. Engelhardt (2002, 2007) addresses the
combinatorial processes and semantic elements within images, particularly maps, street signs,
and other graphic displays. These visual grammars describe how composition factors into the
semantics of understanding individual images. These elements no doubt play a role on their
comprehension in a narrative. However, we will be concerned here with how this content relates
to a broader sequence, not to the construction of this content on its own.
Panels serve two major narrative functions. First, panels act as “attention units” to
window conceptual information in an individual image (Cohn, 2007). This is similar to how
syntax windows conceptual structure in sentences (Talmy, 2000b), or how particular clauses
window concepts in discourse (Hoey, 1991; Langacker, 2001; Zwaan, 2004). All of these cases
use form to highlight or omit certain information. Panels do this by depicting varying amounts of
information, ranging from scenes to individual characters and objects, to details of characters and
objects (Cohn, 2007). The degree of content highlighted by panels can have inferential
consequences for graphic sequences. For example, if two panels show different characters at the
same state in time (e.g., the man and the clock in Figure 2b), an inferential process must situate
these elements into a constructed common environment (Cohn, 2003, 2010b). Corpus analysis
has shown that panels between American and Japanese comics vary in the amount of information
they depict (Cohn, 2011), thereby implying that these cultures’ comics make different inferential
demands on their readers (Cohn, 2010a). Thus, the framing of a scene can have ramifications on
This piece will mainly focus on the second major role of panels: as a narrative unit: What
narrative roles can panels play relative to a sequence? And, what features of an image’s event
structure cue this narrative role?
4. Narrative Categories
As discussed at the outset, narrative structure orders the meaningful elements from
conceptual structure. Narrative roles have been analyzed in plotlines and storytelling as far back
as Aristotle’s structure of theatre (Butcher, 1902). More recently, they have appeared in
psycholinguistic theories of conversational discourse (Labov, 1972; Labov & Waletzky, 1967)
and “story grammars” (Mandler & Johnson, 1977; Rumelhart, 1975; Stein & Glenn, 1979;
Thorndyke, 1977). While “storytelling” is certainly a prototypical case, I wish to conceive of
“narrative structures” simply as a method of conveying concepts, and, as such, they should be
applicable beyond just “stories(which may be an “entertaining” context of narrative broadly).
In this context, “stories” are only a prototypical instance of narrative structure, and “good stories”
are only a case of rhetorical skill.
Cohn, Neil. 2013. Visual narrative structure. Cognitive Science 37 (3): 413-452.
4.1 Basic narrative categories
In the present approach, narrative grammar consists of five core categories, each of which
will be discussed in detail. The core categories are:2
Establisher (E) – sets up an interaction without acting upon it
Initial (I) – initiates the tension of the narrative arc
Prolongation (L) – marks a medial state of extension, often the trajectory of a path
Peak (P) – marks the height of narrative tension and point of maximal event structure
Release (R) – releases the tension of the interaction
Together, these categories form phases of constituency, which are coherent pieces of a
structure, as in syntax. Just as phrases belong to a sentence in syntax, phases belong to a “Arc” in
narrative. The canonical constituency structure and linear order for categories within a phase is:
(Establisher) – (Initial (Prolongation)) – Peak – (Release)
This rule states that a phase contains this ordering of narrative categories. The
parentheses indicate optional categories; except for Peaks, they each can be left out of a sequence
with no significant structural consequences. Peaks, and to a lesser degree Initials, are the most
important components to the structure of narrative. In turn, each category can also serve as a
phase. We will address this capacity for expansion in the next section. First we must describe the
properties of these categories in more detail, focusing on the semantic cues that motivate their
categorization. For the sake of simplicity, most examples will come from basic short comic
strips; but as we will see, these structures can be elaborated on to develop far more complex
examples, as in sequences from long form comic books, Japanese manga, or even other instances
of sequential images, such as instruction manuals. As such, this approach extends beyond short
comic strips or isolated visual sequences, though they make for easier examples.
Peaks. While narratives have many parts, one panel often motivates the meaning of the
sequence. Consider Figure 3a, which shows a woman smacking a man in the head. The
penultimate panel constitutes the Peak of the sequence: the location of the primary events of the
sequence or phase.
2 Many of these categories should be reminiscent of notions from other models of narrative or discourse. For
example, the canonical E-I-P-R sequence resembles the classic story structure for 5-act plays proposed by Freytag
(1894): Set up-Rising Action-Climax-Falling Action-Denouement. It also echoes Todorov’s (1968) notion that
narratives move from a state of equilibrium to disruption and back to equilibrium. More specifically, individual
categories share traits with other approaches. For example, Establishers share qualities with discourse topics in
verbal stories (Clark, 1996) or “Settings” in story grammars (e.g., Mandler & Johnson, 1977; Rumelhart, 1975; Stein
& Nezworski, 1978; Thorndyke, 1977). Rather than describe all of the similarities of this approach to others for each
category, a full listing is provided in Table 1.
Cohn, Neil. 2013. Visual narrative structure. Cognitive Science 37 (3): 413-452.
Figure 3. Comic strips with narrative structures glossed
The Peak is where the most important things in a sequence happen, and it motivates the
context for the rest of the sequence. Prototypically, Peaks correspond with the culmination of an
event, or the confluence of numerous events. They are the realization of Todorov’s (1968)
narrative disruption of equilibrium. Because of this, Peaks may show the interruption of events,
which create alterations to the expectations of an event structure. This occurs in Figure 3b: the
soccer players interrupt the dog’s chase. In this regard, Peaks best capture the crucial aspect of
surprise in many narratives (Brewer & Lichtenstein, 1981; Sternberg, 2001). Indeed, a surprise
would be difficult to reveal in a place other than the culmination of a narrative.
When an action involves a trajectory, Peaks prototypically map to the Goal of the Path.
For example, when throwing a punch or cutting with a sword, the event is fulfilled at the
endpoint of the object’s path. The Peak in Figure 3d shows this: the paper airplane’s endpoint is
in the teacher’s hair. Such motion also aligns with the endpoint in a transference of energy, in the
sense of Talmy’s (1988, 2000b) force dynamics.
Similarly, Peaks might contain a change of one state to another, especially in an
interruption or termination of a process (as in Figure 3b). Also, a growing event may culminate
in a Peak. Consider Figure 3c, which shows an older man dancing passively until he breaks loose
Cohn, Neil. 2013. Visual narrative structure. Cognitive Science 37 (3): 413-452.
and starts headbanging. The final panel is the Peak, since it shows the events reach their apex
(him fully rocking out). Notice also that panels 2 and 3 show virtually the same event, but
extending it throughout two panels builds the narrative tension toward the culmination in the
Peak. As will be discussed, this is a function of narrative, not just events.
Initials. Following Peaks, Initials are the second most important part of a phase, because
they set the action or event in motion. They create the disequilibrium in Todorov’s (1968) sense.
Consider the panel just prior to the Peak in Figure 3a. Here, the woman reaches back her arm in
preparation to smack the man. This panel starts her action, but it does not climax until the next
panel. This preparatory event maps to an Initial in narrative structure: it initiates the primary
event of the sequence. Similarly, in Figure 3c the Initial shows the man start to groove to the
music without yet fully rocking out.
Initials can be related to Peaks in several different ways. The prototypical Initial shows
an inception or preparatory action that culminates in the Peak. For example, the woman’s
reaching action in Figure 3a is a preparation smack the man. Since they contain the start of an
action, Initials often mark the Source of a path, as in any event that involves a trajectory (as in
the Initials in Figure 3a and 3d). These properties of Initials derive bottom-up from the panel’s
A second type of Initial relies more on the panel’s context in the narrative than the
depicted event structure. Consider the Initial in Figure 3b. It shows the dog chasing a soccer ball
prior to being interrupted by the soccer players. This Initial does not show a preparatory action—
it shows the dog already chasing the ball. However, this process is interrupted in the Peak. Only
after the Peak has been reached can the previous panel be recognized as an Initial. Thus this type
of Initial is defined more by its contextual relationship to the Peak than by its internal content.
Releases. In Figure 3a, the final panel depicts the woman looking angrily at the man—the
aftermath of the Peak’s action. This panel is a Release for the narrative tension of the Peak, and
gives a “wrap up” for those events, often as an outcome or resolution. Prototypically, this
aftermath involves the coda of an action—such as the retraction after throwing a punch or
swinging a sword. Alternatively, it may show a passive state after an event, such as a person’s
return to standing en garde with their hands or a sword. In the case of Figure 3a, the passive state
is that the smack in the Peak had no effect on the man.
Releases also may involve a reaction to the events in the Peak. For example, the final
panel in Figure 3b shows the dog hiding behind a water-cooler after being assaulted by soccer
players. This panel does not relate directly to the actions of the soccer players: a Release of this
nature might show the dog flattened on the grass. Rather, this Release provides the dog’s
reaction of running and hiding.
Finally, many strips are funny because of the Release. In Figures 3a and 3b, the
culmination occurs in the Peak, but the actual punchline is delivered in the Release. Thus,
Releases provide an important panel for humor, perhaps because they convey an aftermath,
response, or a (relatively) passive follow-up to the climax of the sequence.
Establishers. The first panel in Figure 3a depicts the woman sitting next to the man, not
doing anything in particular except looking at him. They are simply at a state of “being” prior to
the actual actions of the sequence. This Establisher provides referential information (characters,
objects) without engaging them in the actions or events of a narrative (here, interacting with a
Cohn, Neil. 2013. Visual narrative structure. Cognitive Science 37 (3): 413-452.
bike). This most often involves a constant state or process that is changed by the events of the
Consider the first panel of Figure 3b. This Establisher shows the dog watching a soccer
ball bounce in front of him. The ball is in a process of bouncing, while the dog is
surprised/curious. Despite the high degree of “action” in the panel, it functions to set up the
relationship between the dog and the ball. This panel does not just establish the relationship
narratively to the reader, but also semantically in the strip: the dog here discovers the ball, as
opposed to already engaging with it. Bordwell (2007) has noticed that film scenes often open
with characters entering into the shot or moving towards the viewer (as in this panel in 3b). This
allows the character to enter the scene concurrently with the viewer’s entrance into the
narrative—an act of Establishment. (The finale of a film often reverses this, with characters
leaving a shot or moving away from the viewer.)
Establishers give the first glimpse of a scene and thereby set up the characters. This
process can facilitate Gernsbacher’s (1990) notion of “laying the foundation” for the building
blocks of a discourse. Just as the first sentence of a discourse provides new information
(Haviland & Clark, 1974), the Establisher lays the foundation of new information for a sequence.
Establishers can also lay the groundwork for what Herman (2009a) describes as
“storybuilding”—the construction of a fictive environment in which a reader can be immersed.
Establisher and Release panels are often similar (as are Prolongations, discussed next).
Some narratives even make this overt, as in Figure 3a, where the first and last panels are
identical. “Returning to the start” is a common narrative theme. This is what makes Freytag’s
(1894) model of plotlines “triangular” in shape: the ending connects back to the beginning. It
also appears in Todorov’s (1968) notion that narratives return to equilibrium after disruption.
Nevertheless, though the first and last panels of Figure 3a are identical, they play
different functional roles as Establisher and Release. Thus here again top-down contextual
information from the sequence interacts with a panel’s intrinsic content to determine its narrative
role. However, even when a sequence begins and ends with the same panel, the Release appears
more important to the narrative than the Establisher. Deleting the Establisher in Figure 3a would
make little impact on the sequence compared with deleting the Release.
Establishers are parallel to several notions in discourse and narrative, listed fully in Table
1. Clearly, they relate to “establishing shots” in film (Arijon, 1976; Bordwell & Thompson,
1997; Carroll, 1980) and in comics (Madden & Abel, 2008; McCloud, 2006). However, they do
not necessarily require an expansive long-shot viewpoint highlighting the broader environment,
as film and previous comics work suggests. Notions similar to Establishers even appear in
contexts without concepts, such as in the setting of a mood or rhythmic texture at the outset of
musical pieces, including “vamps” in pop songs or the opening “alap” or “alapana” that
establishes the “raga” of Indian music (Jackendoff & Lerdahl, 2006). More commonly,
Establishers function similarly to discourse Topics, framesetters, or storytelling Prefaces (Clark,
1996; Jacobs, 2001; Krifka, 2007). They conform to the general observation that discourse
prefers to describe who is doing an action before describing the action itself (Primus, 1993; Sasse,
Prolongations. Beyond the core narrative roles, a modifying category can be used to
hold off the realization of a Peak. A Prolongation marks a medial state in the course of an action
or event. Prolongations often depict the trajectory between a Source and Goal, sometimes
clarifying the manner of the path. For instance, the third panel of Figure 3d shows a medial state
Cohn, Neil. 2013. Visual narrative structure. Cognitive Science 37 (3): 413-452.
in the trajectory of the paper airplane from the student (Source/Initial) to the teacher’s hair
(Goal/Peak), and could easily be omitted with no semantic consequences for the sequence.
However, narratively, it holds off the Peak for another panel. To this purpose, Prolongations can
function as a narrative “pause” or “beat” for delaying the Peak, adding a sense of atmosphere,
and/or building tension before the Peak (as in the third panel of Figure 3c, or the central panels in
Figure 1). This allows an author to draw out a scene, or perhaps to end a page (or daily episode)
with a Prolongation to leave readers in suspense until its resolution.
4.2 Summary
This section has established the basic categories of this narrative grammar. Peaks, Initials,
and Releases appear to be core categories, while Establishers and Prolongations are more
expendable. These categories fall into a canonical pattern within “phases”:
(Establisher) – (Initial (Prolongation)) – Peak – (Release)
The categories/functional roles are summarized in Table 2.
Table 2. Primary correspondences between narrative categories and conceptual structures,
in order of importance to a narrative Arc
Narrative Category
Conceptual Structure
Introduction of referential relationship
Passive state of being
Preparatory action
Departing a Source of a path
Position on trajectory of a path
Sustainment of a process
Passive state (delaying)
Culmination of event
Termination of a process
Interruption of event or process
Reaching a Goal of a path
Wrap-up of narrative sequence
Outcome of an event
Reaction to an event
Passive state of being
Cohn, Neil. 2013. Visual narrative structure. Cognitive Science 37 (3): 413-452.
5. Combinatorial Structure in Narrative
We have now established several categories that serve as the “parts of speech” or
grammatical functions for this narrative grammar. However, so far, these pieces use only a
variant of the canonical narrative phase. The implication would be that sequences must use this
pattern and could not be more than five panels long. However, consider Figure 4.
Figure 4. Complicated narrative structure
In this example, a man is juggling and then gets hit in the head with his juggling pin. The
Peak of this sequence is the penultimate panel, where he gets hit in the head, followed by a
Release of him stumbling dizzily. But what exactly is happening in the first four panels? These
panels all show roughly the same information: the man juggling. This repetition can be captured
with what will be called Conjunction: all four of these panels are co-Initials of an “Initial Phase”
that sets up the Peak. We can formalize Conjunction as:
A phase uses Conjunction if…
…that phase consists of multiple panels in the same narrative role. Semantically, this
often corresponds with…
1) various facets of an iterative process,
2) various viewpoints of a broader environment or individual, or
3) various images tied through a broader semantic field.
In the case of Figure 4, the Conjunction shows an iterative process. Semantically, all
these panels contain the same information, which could be achieved with fewer units (indeed, the
first panel shows the full event). However, by extending this action across several panels,
narrative tension and pacing builds until a culmination in the Peak. This example again
highlights how narrative structures differ from events: The event structures constitute the
meaning (juggling), while the choice to extend it across four panels involves how the meaning is
conveyed, the narrative structure.
Cohn, Neil. 2013. Visual narrative structure. Cognitive Science 37 (3): 413-452.
Figure 5. Alternation between characters to build tension. Usagi Yojimbo art © 1987 Stan
Conjunction can correspond to semantic content beyond showing iterative events. For
example, in Figure 5, the opening four panels alternate between the characters involved in the
interaction, using pairs of Conjunctive phases. Flipping back and forth between characters builds
the tension of the sequence, which then culminates in the final Peak panel, converging on both
characters. This sense of narrative pacing would be lost if the Establisher and Initial each used
only one panel with both characters together, since all panels would contain the same amount of
information. Dividing the scene into parts allows the narrative rhythm to build until a
culmination in the Peak.
Figure 6. Short narrative sequence
There is a second way to build larger narrative structures. Consider Figure 6. In this
sequence, a man looks at a juggling pin and then throws it away. On its own, this sequence is a
fairly banal narrative with an Initial and Peak. However, if it is added to the end of the sequence
in Figure 4, additional structure appears, as shown in Figure 7.
Cohn, Neil. 2013. Visual narrative structure. Cognitive Science 37 (3): 413-452.
Figure 7. Embedding of phases
By combining these strips, we create a larger narrative structure: the primary events in
the first six panels set up the aftermath in the final two panels. Each grouping forms its own
phase. The first six panels together constitute a Peak—the main component of the overall
narrative—while the final two panels combine as a Release. Each of these phases, which can
stand alone, plays a larger narrative role relative to the other when combined. In this way,
narrative categories apply to sequences of panels as well as individual panels.
The panel that motivates the meaning of a phase can be thought of as the “head” of that
node. Normally, Peaks are the default heads of phases. As notated by double bar lines in Figure 7,
the Peak of the man being hit heads the first Peak phase, while the final Peak panel of him
throwing the pin heads the Release phase. Thus, a Peak provides the key component in its local
phase. The other categories simply support, lead up to, or elaborate upon a phase’s Peak. In other
words, Peaks drive the narrative sequence. Because of this importance, deletion of all non-heads
from a sequence should adequately paraphrase the sequence’s meaning, as in Figure 8.
Figure 8. Paraphrase of Figure 7 with only grammatical heads
We see then that sequential images can be elaborated structurally in two primary ways.
First, constituents can repeat the same category in a Conjunction that shares their narrative
category at the phasal level. Second, a whole phase can take a narrative role in a broader
structure, meaning that phases can also be embedded inside each other. These two strategies
create numerous possibilities for structure.
Cohn, Neil. 2013. Visual narrative structure. Cognitive Science 37 (3): 413-452.
Figure 9. Left-branching visual narrative.
Consider Figure 9, which has a sequence of Peaks after the first panel. Instead of
belonging to a singular Conjunction, they create a left-branching structure where each serves as
an Initial for the next. It begins with “Tarzan” preparing to jump, which as an Initial sets up the
Peak of his leaping for a vine. Together, these panels act as another Initial for a Peak of him
swinging on that vine. These panels then set up a Peak of him reaching for a new vine, which
culminates in the main Peak of the strip, where he slams into a tree. The resulting structure has
recursive embedding, with the left-branching structure here creating the feeling of progressive
building actions and/or increasing narrative tension.
Figure 10. Alternating Initials
Cohn, Neil. 2013. Visual narrative structure. Cognitive Science 37 (3): 413-452.
In contrast to the left-branching structure, consider Figure 10. Here, the first four panels
alternate between sunny and rainy weather over the man in a sweater. Each pair acts as an Initial
phase, and together they form a Conjunction that acts as an Initial for the final Peak, where the
sweater shrinks. We can confirm this Conjunction because either of these Initial phases could be
deleted to little overall effect. In contrast, deleting a whole phase in the left-branching structures
in Figure 9 would drastically alter the reading. The embedding of phases also reflects the
narrative pattern: the “on-off” pattern of panels (sun-rain-sun-rain-sun…) builds until the final
panel, where the pattern is broken (…sun-shrink).
Figure 11. Embedded phase. One Night art © 2006 Tym Godek.
Narrative structure can also use center-embedded phases, as in Figure 11. This strip
shows a man lying in bed. He thinks about getting up and going to the bathroom, but decides not
to get up. His thoughts stand alone as an embedded phase (here a Peak phase) that could be
separated from the rest of the strip. In fact, both the embedded phase and the surrounding “matrix”
phase could constitute their own felicitous sequences.
Figure 12. Re-analysis of Figure 1
We now have enough machinery to adequately analyze Figure 1, the ambiguous sequence
of the man and the clock. The sequence opens with two Initial panels, which both show states
Cohn, Neil. 2013. Visual narrative structure. Cognitive Science 37 (3): 413-452.
that undergo a change in the final two Peak panels. The central panel of the windows is a
Prolongation because it delays the Peak. As was mentioned before, the ambiguity of this
sequence rests on whether or not the panels of the man and the clock belong to the same time
frame. Under one interpretation (12a), the first and last panels form their own phase. The clocks
then form another subordinate phase, which embeds as a Prolongation to delay the final Peak.
This structure implies that all of the panels depict different times. A second interpretation (12b)
conjoins the adjacent Initial and Peak panels. Here, the first two panels belong to a single Initial
phase, while the last two panels belong to a single Peak phase. Each constituent depicts facets of
a broader spatial environment at a single moment in time.3 Thus, the two rules proposed by this
model, for phases and conjunctions, allow us to parse a single ambiguous sequence into multiple
5.1 Summary
This section has explored how narrative categories extend beyond the panel level. We
have described two types of relationships between phases and categories, which vary based on
which category assigns a role to the phase (if no assignment, it becomes an Arc). A phase is an
elaboration of its Peak taking the form of a subordinate narrative Arc, and it plays a narrative
role in the larger structure in which it is embedded. A phase may contain multiple daughters of
the same type, which function as co-heads. This results in only requiring two rules to organize
numerous narrative categories. The system can generate an infinite array of larger patterns: left-
branching trees, center-embedded phases, alternation, etc.
6. Diagnostics for the structure of narrative
Given a novel sequence, how can we test a panel’s category, or where the boundaries of a
constituent lie? In linguistics, various diagnostics have been developed for recognizing the
category of a structure (be it phonemes, words, or phrases), as well as the constituents of that
structure. We will now apply these methodologies to the structures involved with narrative. As
before, the focus here will rely on judgments based on intuitions. However, these judgments can
be tested experimentally as well (Cohn, Jackendoff, Holcomb, et al., In prep; Cohn, Jackendoff,
Kuperberg, et al., In prep).
6.1 Narrative categories
An important issue is determining a panel’s narrative category. One method is to rely on
the semantic cues of its depiction. For example, we might expect any panel showing a
preparatory action to automatically be an Initial. However, this might not always be the case,
since the same unit can play multiple roles depending on its context (Jahn, 1997; Sternberg,
1982). For example, all the Initials in Figure 10 are passive states. Thus, beyond semantic cues,
how can we determine the category of a panel in a given strip?
Linguistics uses various diagnostics to test the syntactic category of a word in a sentence.
These include substitution, alteration, deletion, or reordering of a word or phrase. By analogy,
we can use similar diagnostics to identify narrative categories.
3 The middle panel of a window could potentially group in several different patterns. For simplicity, I leave it
Cohn, Neil. 2013. Visual narrative structure. Cognitive Science 37 (3): 413-452.
Substitution. Just as phrases can be replaced by a pronoun in syntax, some narrative
categories can be replaced with another panel. Consider Figure 13. Its fifth panel is an “action
star” that plays the role of a Peak (here, where the security guard gets hit by the tossed backpack).
Figure 13. Action star in a visual sequence. Grrl Scouts art © 2002 Jim Mahfood.
An action star panel indicates the culmination of an event (characteristic of a Peak), without
revealing what it actually is. Action stars thus allow narrative structure to be retained without
being specific about event structures. They thereby force an inference of a “hidden” event. This
makes an action star almost like a “pro-Peak,” comparable to a pronoun or other pro-forms that
have a grammatical category but minimal semantics. Thus, just as a pro-form can replace its
corresponding grammatical categories, substituting an action star for a panel serves as a
diagnostic test for Peaks.
An action star can replace nearly any Peak panel, especially one that features some sort of
impact, but switching it with any other category is infelicitous. Consider the sequences in Figure
14, which insert action stars into Figure 3b.
Figure 14. Action stars substituting for narrative roles
When the action star replaces the Peak (14a), the sequence reads acceptably. However,
when moved to the Initial (14b), the felicity of the sequence worsens. Nevertheless, in 14a, we
no longer see the soccer players—we only know that some event frightened the dog (perhaps the
ball exploded?). In other words, an action star demands that the reader infer the missing event.
Cohn, Neil. 2013. Visual narrative structure. Cognitive Science 37 (3): 413-452.
Alteration. Some panels can be altered in ways that reveal their narrative categories. For
example, humorous sequences often have punchlines in the Release as a response to the Peak.
This quality can be playfully highlighted by the fact that a word balloon saying “Jeez, what a
jerk!” can be added to the final panel of nearly any comic strip without it losing its felicity
(Sinclair, 2011).4 More specifically, such a balloon can be attached to any Release, not to any
final panel. It works because this phrase is pragmatically a response to an action, and thus only
makes sense in panels that share this context.
Deletion. Deletion can also be used as a diagnostic. For example, as discussed, deletion
of non-Peak panels from a phase results in a narrative Arc with about the same sense. As a result,
a simple diagnostic for Peaks is that they are the only panels in a phase capable of paraphrasing
the meaning of the entire phase, as in the paraphrase of Figure 7 with Figure 8.
Deletion of individual panels offers insight both into the characteristics of those panels
and into the inference created by their omission. First, because Peaks are so important for the
sequence, their deletion creates large inferential demands. Take for example Figure 15.
Figure 15. Sequence requiring a Peak to be inferred. Actions Speak art © 2002 Sergio
The first panel shows a man skating backward past two spectators, which is an
Establisher setting up the scenario. The skater then opens his eyes and notices something in the
second panel, an Initial. The final panel then shows his legs sticking out of a broken window of
an antique store, while a sexy woman looks on. This panel is a Release, showing a prototypical
aftermath of an event. However, the primary action (the Peak) of the sequence is missing: we
never see him crash into the window. We only infer this event by seeing its result in the Release.
Furthermore, depicting the woman in the Release reveals that she distracted the skater in the
Initial. Thus, the final panel demands that the given graphic sequence be reanalyzed and the
unseen information inferred.
In other cases, it is impossible to infer a deleted Peak.
4 The actual contents of the balloon he used was a bit more risqué!
Cohn, Neil. 2013. Visual narrative structure. Cognitive Science 37 (3): 413-452.
Figure 16. Deleted narrative categories
Figure 16a shows a sequence where the Peak has been deleted from Figure 3b. It no
longer makes sense without the Peak. Why is the dog suddenly scared? Inference alone cannot
fill in this information, since the Peak was an unexpected interruption. By and large, deletion of
Peaks damages a sequence’s felicity.
16b deletes the Initial and information is noticeably missing; it jumps from an established
relationship to a culminating event. This is particularly pronounced where the Peak is an
interruption. Studies of verbal narrative echo this feeling: participants report that the deletion of
initiating actions in a discourse create a more “surprising” narrative (Brewer & Lichtenstein,
1981). Like Peaks, deletion of Initials often strains the comprehension of sequences.
In contrast, the deleted Release in 16c renders the events of the sequence fairly complete,
with less indication that something is missing. Nevertheless, the sequence ends abruptly and
leaves the reader expecting that something should come next. Unlike Initials, the aftermath in a
Release may not be inferable from other panels’ contents.
Finally, 16d shows a sequence without its Establisher. This alteration has almost no
impact on the sequences—you can hardly tell that the panel is missing! Studies of film have
shown similar results when establishing shots are deleted—they have almost no effect on the
overall comprehension of the film (Kraft, Cantor, & Gottdiener, 1991). Because Establishers set
up characters and interactions, this information is often redundant with subsequent panels, where
those characters engage in the actions of the sequence. So, deleting Establishers should make
little difference to the sequence’s meaning. However, it can impact the narrative pacing. By
leaving out an Establisher, the actions immediately appear at the first panel. This leaves no “lead
in” time for the reader to be acclimated to the elements involved prior to their events.
Cohn, Neil. 2013. Visual narrative structure. Cognitive Science 37 (3): 413-452.
In sum, deletion can reveal the characteristics of categories and the inferences that
omissions create. The generation of inference is the same across all panels in a sequence, and
greatly depends on the content of what is deleted as well as the surrounding context. That is, the
understanding of inferential processes benefits from detailing the formal properties of a narrative.
Reordering. Categories can also be distinguished through reordering. As mentioned
earlier, a panel that acts as a Release can often also start a sequence as an Establisher, as in
Figure 17a. Here, the dog starts off scared, only then becomes curious about the ball and chases
it. The reverse should be just as good: An Establisher can be reordered to the end of a sequence,
to where it acts as a Release. In Figure 17b, a panel that once introduced the dog and the ball as
an Establisher now shows the dog’s frightened response to an object that earlier led to danger.
In contrast, other reorderings work less well. Bringing a Peak to the front worsens the
sequence, since the culmination then precedes its lead-up. Figure 17c should feel weird because
of this, since the Peak makes no sense out of context. A sequence-final Initial also feels unusual.
In Figure 17d, the dog’s enjoyment in chasing the ball seems odd given the prior context.
Figure 17. Reordering of categories to other places in a sequence
Cohn, Neil. 2013. Visual narrative structure. Cognitive Science 37 (3): 413-452.
Summary. In sum, various techniques can be used to identify the category of a panel
beyond its intrinsic semantics. Substitution, alteration, deletion, and reordering all provide ways
to assess the attributes of different panels. Altogether, several diagnostic questions can be asked
of each narrative category:
EstablishersCan it be deleted with little effect? Can it possibly be reordered to the end
of a sequence and function as a Release?
Initials – Does its deletion affect felicity (though its absence may be inferred by the
content of a Peak)? Is it impossible to reorder it in the sequence without disrupting
Prolongations – Can it be deleted with little effect?
Peaks Can this panel paraphrase a sequence? Can an action star replace it? Does its
deletion make large inferential demands and adversely affect felicity?
Releases When a sequence’s Release is deleted, can it still show a coherent event, yet
be an infelicitous narrative? Does the panel carry a punchline? Can you insert the phrase
“Jeez, what a jerk” as a speech balloon?
6.2 Testing for constituency
Beyond recognizing individual categories, we also need a way to detect the boundaries of
constituents. Like categories, one method may be to rely on semantics. Research on event
structure has long noted that the boundaries of events align with changes in characters, locations,
or causation (Newtson & Engquist, 1976). These semantic cues may aid narrative structure as
well. Take for instance Figure 18. Here, the first phase is about a batter, while the second phase
is about an interaction between a base-runner, a catcher, and an umpire. The boundary between
constituents features a change in characters.
Studies of film support that significant semantic shifts occur at the boundaries of events.
Linear shifts in narrative along dimensions of goals, space, causes, and locations frequently
correlate with the ending of one event and the beginning of the next (Zacks & Magliano, 2011;
Zacks, Speer, & Reynolds, 2009; Zacks, Speer, Swallow, & Maley, 2010). Here we find a
connection between the hierarchic narrative grammar outlined here and approaches that focus on
linear semantic relationships between images (e.g., Magliano, Miller, & Zwaan, 2001; McCloud,
1993): significant semantic changes between juxtaposed images signal the boundaries between
hierarchic constituents.
Cohn, Neil. 2013. Visual narrative structure. Cognitive Science 37 (3): 413-452.
Figure 18. Narrative sequence with two constituents
Nevertheless, semantic shifts might not always indicate the edge of a boundary. For
example, all four opening panels in Figure 5 alternate between two characters, yet they do not all
mark constituent boundaries because they use Conjunction. Thus, while they correlate strongly,
transitions between panels do not map one-to-one with phase boundaries, and cannot be relied on
as the sole indicator of constituents.
As in the previous section, several additional diagnostics can be used to test for the
boundaries of constituents. Like the investigation of phrases in sentences, these techniques
include windowing, deletion, reordering, and alteration.
Windowing. The boundaries of a constituent can be made salient by extracting a
subsequence and seeing if it makes sense. This technique is used in syntactic analysis of phrases.
For example, selecting only three words at a time from the sentence “My lazy roommate watched
the television” can show that “My lazy roommate” and “watched the television” are complete
phrases, but “lazy roommate watched” and “roommate watched the” cannot grammatically stand
alone. We can use a similar technique with visual narratives.
Consider Figure 19, where the sequence from Figure 18 is windowed into three-panel
segments. Figure 18 involves a two-panel phase followed by a four-panel phase. We can confirm
these constituents since segments crossing the phase boundary (as in 19a and 19b) cannot stand
alone as sequences. In contrast, the segments in 19c and 19d can stand alone, since they feature a
complete phase.
Cohn, Neil. 2013. Visual narrative structure. Cognitive Science 37 (3): 413-452.
Figure 19. Windowing of three-panel segments of Figure 18
Reordering. Conjunctions can be tested by reordering panels. Conjunction joins together
panels that are either 1) at the same temporal state, 2) iterative parts of a larger event, or 3)
fragments of a broader semantic field. Rearrangement of panels should not dramatically impact
these phases, because no temporality would be violated. Thus, reordering adjacent panels can test
for Conjunction. If the reordering has little impact on the meaning of the sequence, it is likely a
conjunctive phase. If reordering does change the meaning or temporality of the sequence, then it
is likely not a Conjunction.
For example, Figure 5 features two successive phases that use Conjunction. Figure 20a
reverses the order of panels in the first phase. This changes the alternation of characters in
narrative pacing, but it makes no impact on the sequence’s meaning. In contrast, Figure 20b
exchanges panels from across the constituency boundaries. This change makes the shift between
characters appear strange—panels 1 and 3 in this sequence clearly belong at the same time, yet
they are separated by another action.
Cohn, Neil. 2013. Visual narrative structure. Cognitive Science 37 (3): 413-452.
Figure 20. Reordering within and between conjunctive phases
Summary. Like categories, constituents can be identified through semantic criteria
(transitions between panels signaling phase boundaries) as well as through diagnostic tests.
Regular phases can be tested using windowing and deletion, while Conjunction can be tested
using reordering. These tools allow for sequences to be assessed within this theoretical model.
Cohn, Neil. 2013. Visual narrative structure. Cognitive Science 37 (3): 413-452.
7. Beyond Visual Narrative
Thus far the discussion of narrative has centered on the visual-graphic modality.
However, if narrative structure transcends a single modality, we would expect the same
structures to be used in the comprehension of verbal5 and filmic narratives, an assumption held
across theoretical models (Bordwell & Thompson, 1997; Branigan, 1992; Carroll, 1980) and
empirical experimentation (Gernsbacher, 1985; Gernsbacher, Varner, & Faust, 1990; Magliano,
Dijkstra, & Zwaan, 1996; Magliano, et al., 2001; Zacks & Magliano, 2011). Here I outline how
this approach, designed for sequential images, can be adapted to these other domains.
7.1 Discourse and film
Just as panels in the graphic form window a scene, sentences allow discourse a way to
package semantic information (Hoey, 1991; Langacker, 2001; Zwaan, 2004). Panels and
sentences have been compared in various approaches applying discourse theory to graphic
narrative (Saraceni, 2000, 2001; Stainbrook, 2003). Several sentences and phrases exemplify
prototypical narrative categories: “There once was an X…” is a prototypical Establisher,
providing a frame for referential entities to be established. “And they all lived happily ever after”
is a prototypical Release, a generic aftermath appropriate for all happy endings. These phrases
could be added to the beginning or end of nearly any narrative and retain their felicity, because
of their status as narrative units.
Strings of sentences are used to combine multiple events in the same way that strings of
panels are used in the graphic form. A discourse structure organizes the meanings in individual
sentences with respect to each other. We can apply the present model of narrative grammar to
discourse by verbally translating a comic, as in Figure 21, which is a verbal version of Figure 7.
Figure 21. Verbal discourse structure
This narrative conveys the same meaning as Figure 7, in the same narrative structure: a
series of Initials culminate with the Peak of the juggler being hit in the head. This phase serves as
a Peak, which then resolves in the Release of him looking at the pin and throwing it away. It is
5 Both written and spoken forms will be subsumed here as “verbal.” For completeness, sign languages in the visual-
manual modality should be included here as well.
Cohn, Neil. 2013. Visual narrative structure. Cognitive Science 37 (3): 413-452.
important to note that sometimes a whole sentence can act as a category (as in the Release panel),
but often a subclause alone can serve as a narrative category.
Narratives also appear in the visual modality through film. In film, cameras capture
events as they unfold in time—just as in perception. This ongoing temporal progression records a
single unbounded stream of events from one camera’s viewpoint. Filmmakers then break up this
recording into “shots” in the editing process, which combine with other shots to create a novel
sequence in which a new temporality emerges, dictated by the shots themselves (Block, 2008;
Bordwell & Thompson, 1997; Brown, 2002). Narrative roles are assigned during the process of
recombining shots into a novel sequence. In fact, the filming and editing process often begins
with “storyboarding,” where shots are drawn out in a form similar to the visual language used in
comics. In other words, film uses the same narrative grammar, except the units are not static
panels, but rather moving segments of film. The result is a hybrid: the narrative grammar
organizes captured perceptual events in shots. Because film uses motion, this temporality can
“gloss over” what in the static form would be individuated narrative units. A single shot may
include both a preparatory action and primary event, thereby combining what statically would be
discrete Initials and Peaks. In fact, because a camera can just be left recording, an entire action or
even a full scene could be captured in one continuous shot, thereby concatenating what would be
a whole Arc or more in drawn form. Complicating matters further, not only do the elements
within a film shot move (i.e., characters and objects move around), but the camera itself can
move. Panning and zooming create alterations to a graphic scene that is continuous rather than
These differences create an area of debate: Can non-discrete shots constitute “narrative
categories” or not? Most definitely, a continuous single shot would show an event structure.
However, is narrative dependent upon discrete units that organize those potentially continuous
events, or is a continuous representation merely a variation in “performance” but not
“competence”? Exploring such questions is important for cross-modality understandings of
7.2 Previous approaches
While relatively little work has focused on narrative in sequential images, ample research
has examined narratives in the verbal and filmic domain. Thus, it is worth comparing this
previous research to the theory sketched here.
As mentioned earlier, previous approaches to narrative have differed in their treatment of
the relationship of narrative (presentation) and events (meaning). In early research, the Russian
Formalists quite explicitly separated the underlying events (“fabula”) from their presentation in
narrative (“syuzhet”) (Tomashevsky, 1965). This tradition was maintained by Structuralist
approaches in France (Genette, 1980) and America (Chatman, 1978), and has continued in
theories of cognitive narratology (e.g., Bordwell, 1985; Herman, 2009a). On the other hand,
theories of story grammar (e.g., Mandler & Johnson, 1977; Rumelhart, 1975; Stein & Glenn,
1979; Thorndyke, 1977) blurred the distinction between narrative and events, or neglected it
altogether (with some exceptions, e.g., Brewer & Lichtenstein, 1981). By and large, story
grammar categories described the conveyance of events.
Approaches to narrative also differ in another respect. One line of research has focused
on the semantic relationships between individual discourse units. A second line of research has
used formal models of global schemas to describe narrative sequences. A third line has eschewed
Cohn, Neil. 2013. Visual narrative structure. Cognitive Science 37 (3): 413-452.
formal models, choosing instead to focus on general cognitive principles guided by inference and
schemas. We take them up in turn.
Local theories. Several theories of narrative have focused on the pairwise semantic
relationships between discourse units, adjacent or non-adjacent. In the verbal domain, the issue is
how a sequence of sentences establishes meaningful continuity across a discourse. These theories
either describe the technique used to create connections, such as using an anaphor to refer to
something in a previous sentence (Halliday & Hasan, 1976), or characterize entire sentences’
roles relative to each other, such as one sentence being an “elaboration” of another (Asher &
Lascarides, 2003; Hobbs, 1985; Kehler, 2002; Mann & Thompson, 1987). Other approaches
concentrate on the creation of causal inference throughout a narrative (Black & Bower, 1979;
Trabasso, Secco, & van den Broek, 1984; Trabasso & van den Broek, 1985). These “causal
networksextend beyond just adjacent sentences to characterize relationships between pairs of
sentences throughout a discourse. However, all of these approaches describe only the meaningful
connections of individual sentences and do not establish global structure or constituency.
Similarly, McCloud’s (1993) popular theory of “panel transitions” characterizes the
semantic characteristics between two adjacent panels in terms of temporal change, shifts within
and between characters and scenes, and completely non-sequitur relations. These transitions
operate through an inferential process that fills in the “gap” between images. Similar approaches
have had a longstanding tradition in film theory. For example, Eisenstein’s (1942) theory of
“montage” argued that two film shots can unite to create a third inferred meaning, while Metz’s
(1974) “grande syntagmatique” outlined a taxonomy of relationships between film shots. Like
McCloud’s approach, these theories have largely characterized the semantic relationships
between adjacent visual units.
A more recent theory focuses on the impact of local relationships on the actual processing
of verbal and visual discourse. The event-indexing model (Zwaan, Langston, & Graesser, 1995;
Zwaan & Radvansky, 1998) identifies five domains that readers actively monitor when reading a
text: space, time, entities, motivation (i.e., characters’ intentionality), and causation. If a text
features a change in one of these domains, a “processing shift” marks the demand in
comprehension that readers face as they integrate this new information into their working
memory (Zwaan & Radvansky, 1998). Research has shown that such processing shifts can be
detected in verbal discourse and films. Across several studies, research by Zacks and colleagues
have shown that viewers can consciously identify the changes in characters, spatial location, and
time between individual film shots (Magliano, et al., 2001; Magliano & Zacks, 2011; Zacks, et
al., 2009). They appear to be most sensitive to changes between film shots depicting actions at
one location and shots showing actions at another location (Magliano & Zacks, 2011). These
findings echo McCloud’s panel transitions.
As discussed previously, additional studies of filmed events have found that these types
of shifts often co-occur with the boundaries of actual events. Zacks and colleagues (Zacks, et al.,
2009; Zacks, et al., 2010) have shown that changes in temporal, spatial, and causal coherence
align with the end of one event and the start of another. They hypothesize that these changes are
effective because viewers make predictions about what might occur next. These shifts confound
those expectations by making a change in some semantic domain, thereby signaling the start of a
new structure (Zacks & Magliano, 2011; Zacks, et al., 2009; Zacks, et al., 2010).
How might these theories describe the structures in actual sequences of images? Return
to the example in Figure 1 of the man lying in bed with a clock on the wall. First, how would a
Cohn, Neil. 2013. Visual narrative structure. Cognitive Science 37 (3): 413-452.
linear approach, such as McCloud’s panel transitions, handle such a sequence? If given only the
local relationships between panels, the transitions would all be non-sequiturs, or at best random
transitions through parts of a scene. What relationship does a man lying in bed have to a clock?
The clocks to a window? A later time on a clock to a man making a phone call? Without a global
view of the sequence, there would be no narrative here at all. These panels give no intrinsic cues
about their narrative roles: understanding comes entirely top-down from the global sequence.
This example illustrates the broader problems with theories based on local relationships.
By only describing pairwise relationships between units (whether adjacent or as a network
throughout a discourse), such approaches cannot account for groupings of units into constituents.
However, it has long been shown that people intuitively agree upon where visual and verbal
narratives divide into constituent segments (e.g., Gee & Grosjean, 1984; Gernsbacher, 1985;
Mandler, 1987). Without this notion of structure, locally constrained approaches are unable to
describe the type of embedding that this narrative grammar handles easily. For example, center-
embedded phases require one sequence to stop for an aside and then continue later on, all while
maintaining a relationship to the broader sequence. Any approach that looks only at pairs of units
has no way to express this relationship.
Nevertheless, while these locally constrained approaches cannot adequately describe the
structure of sequential images on their own, they may provide valuable insights for particular
aspects of narrative structure. As mentioned, the boundaries of narrative constituents often
coincide with semantic changes between characters or locations, or the end of one event and the
beginning of the next. These cues align well with McCloud’s (1993) panel transitions and the
event-indexing model’s processing shifts (Zwaan, et al., 1995; Zwaan & Radvansky, 1998). In
this light, certain panel transitions may cue the crossing of narrative boundaries (Speer & Zacks,
2005). This would be analogous to the way that phrasal boundaries in verbal sentences serve as
indicators of constituent structure (Fodor & Bever, 1965). Thus, continued study of these local
relationships can complement—and be studied alongside—the narrative grammar presented here.
Global theories of narrative. Other approaches have focused on how units play roles
related to the broader structure of a narrative sequence. Observations about a global narrative
schema have a longstanding tradition in analyses of plotlines and storytelling, particularly for the
theatre. Over 2,000 years ago, Aristotle described the Beginning-Middle-End schema for plays
(Butcher, 1902), while in the 13th century, Zeami described similar structure for Japanese Noh
drama (Yamazaki, 1984), and in the 19th century, Freytag (1894) outlined the contemporary
notion of a narrative arc for 5-act plays. More recently, a canonical schema emerged as central to
theories of story grammars (Mandler & Johnson, 1977; Rumelhart, 1975; Stein & Glenn, 1979;
Thorndyke, 1977). These theories use narrative categories based around the achievement of a
protagonist’s goals, organized through specific phrase structures. For example, in Mandler and
Johnson’s (1977) well-known model, a canonical story structure involves the following rewrite
rules (among others):
Cohn, Neil. 2013. Visual narrative structure. Cognitive Science 37 (3): 413-452.
The first three rules state that a Story consists of a Setting—characters and environment—and
Event structures. These Events consist of Episodes that use a canonical story structure organized
around the achievement of a goal. These rules provide story grammars with a hierarchic
generative grammar with numerous levels of comprehension.
Several experiments have supported story grammar’s top-down approach to narrative,
particularly with memory paradigms asking participants to recall written stories. Stories
following the canonical story grammar episode structure were remembered with better accuracy
than those with changes in temporal order (Mandler & Johnson, 1977), inversion of sentence
order (Mandler, 1978, 1984; Mandler & DeForest, 1979), or fully scrambled sentences (Mandler,
1984). Recall also worsened in correlation with the degree to which a story rearranged the order
of events (Stein & Nezworski, 1978): the further a structure departed from the canonical order,
the harder it was to comprehend. However, children relied on this canonical structure more than
adults. Adults recalled the surface structure of altered stories more accurately than children, who
were more likely to reconstruct altered stories back into their canonical patterns (Mandler, 1978;
Mandler & DeForest, 1979).
Outside of the theory outlined here, few global theories of static sequential images have
been proposed. However, scholars have described sequences of film shots using grammatical
models. For example, Carroll (1980) and Colin (1995) propose phrase structures to organize
basic constituents of film shots, and Carroll (1980) and Buckland (2000) appeal to
transformational rules to handle more complicated aspects of film sequencing. While there is
some diversity between these models, they differ from story grammars in that their rules do not
detail a canonical narrative arc. Rather, they focus on how films order units of actions directly.
However, in this way they are also like story grammars, since they conflate aspects of meaning
(events) with those of structure, a point to which I return below.
How might a story grammar approach describe Figure 1? The first panel might be
considered some sort of Beginning or even an Initiating Event, while the final panel could
possibly be considered an Outcome. However, such categorization is difficult given that story
grammar categories are motivated by goal-directed events, and the goals in this sequence are
vague. Also, how would the three central panels be described? Clocks and a window do not
factor into the attempted achievement of goals. For a story grammar, these panels would be
irrelevant or difficult to categorize. Thus, despite story grammars being solely based on top-
down schemas, they cannot describe what is happening in Figure 1, which is an example that
requires top-down information to be understood as a narrative.
The issues faced by story grammars with Figure 1 highlight the deeper problems with the
theory. Because story grammars do not distinguish event structure and narrative structure, goal-
driven behavior and meaningful aspects like “setting” and “characters” are folded into the
“narrative” structure. This conflation has led to critiques that these models described semantic
rather than truly structural relationships (Black & Wilensky, 1979; de Beaugrande, 1982).
Subsequently, much psychological research on discourse comprehension has shifted towards
studying the semantic aspects of discourse alone (e.g., Zwaan & Radvansky, 1998).6
6 Story grammars’ methodological use of memory paradigms may have contributed to this conflation. Structure
(syntax/phonology) is lost after comprehension, while only semantic information is retained in memory (van Dijk &
Kintsch, 1983). Thus, if story grammars were based on recall measures, researchers may have unwittingly framed
their experiments to pick up on semantic cues, not structural ones. Notably, after this criticism, some experiments
using parsing techniques (Mandler, 1987), self-paced reading (Mandler & Goodman, 1982) and produced narration
Cohn, Neil. 2013. Visual narrative structure. Cognitive Science 37 (3): 413-452.
However, it is important to mention that one approach concurrent with the story grammar
tradition explicitly divides narrative and event structures. Brewer and colleagues (Brewer, 1985;
Brewer & Lichtenstein, 1981, 1982; Ohtsuka & Brewer, 1992) have emphasized, as does the
narrative grammar discussed here, that the separation of structures allows for different mappings
between narrative and events. This research effectively characterizes how narratives create
affective states based on how much information about event structure is withheld or provided to
a reader. Surprise narratives withhold critical information that is only reinterpreted when the
information is finally revealed. Suspenseful narratives provide an initiating event that causes a
reader to be concerned about the outcome. Finally, narratives that provoke curiosity provide only
enough information to let the reader know that something is missing. Brewer and colleagues do
not formalize the mappings between narrative and events, and their approach does not include a
way to discuss hierarchic structures, but the overall insights of their approach could be well
integrated with the narrative grammar presented here.
Another limitation of the story grammar approach is the reliance on numerous levels of
unique phrase structures instead of a generalizable recursive schema. Critiques of story
grammars argued that these phrase structure rules do not adequately provide constraints to yield
proper sequences (de Beaugrande, 1982), which led to widespread abandonment of hierarchic
approaches altogether (Black & Bower, 1979; Trabasso, et al., 1984; Zwaan & Radvansky,
1998). Furthermore, story grammars also do not allow for modifiers of base categories, as
accomplished here by Prolongations or Conjunction, thereby leaving no room for elaborations on
structure. By comparison, the present approach is flexible and internally recursive, requiring only
a singular fundamental phase structure along with a generalized rule for repeating categories
(Conjunction). Variations in the phase structure simply reflect the relationship between head and
phase, not entirely new phase structures. This abstractness brings the combinatorial properties of
narrative structure close to the “X-bar” schema underlying contemporary understandings of
syntax (Culicover & Jackendoff, 2005; Jackendoff, 1977): the idea that a phrase is a generalized
schema that is “headed” by one of its constituents.
These different views on narrative structure reflect, in part, the differences between
linguistic models of syntax. Story grammars like Mandler and Johnson’s (1977), and film
grammars like Carroll’s (1980), follow early approaches to transformational generative
grammars (such as Chomsky, 1957, 1965) that used specific phrase structure rewrite rules to
generate strings. Syntactic theory has changed dramatically since those times, particularly with
the development of X-bar syntax (Jackendoff, 1977), which allowed for a multiplicity of phrase
structures to be reduced to a single schema. Because story grammars quickly disappeared from
the theoretical landscape due to criticism (Black & Wilensky, 1979; de Beaugrande, 1982;
Garnham, 1983), they likely did not benefit from these historically concurrent advances in
syntactic theory (not to mention subsequent innovations). Thus, in many ways the current
approach picks up where story grammars left off—integrating more contemporary views of
grammar (specifically Culicover & Jackendoff, 2005; Jackendoff, 2002) with those of narrative
Cognitive Narratology. Finally, the growing field of “cognitive narratology” in the
humanities has analyzed narrative using general cognitive processes, such as frames, scripts, and
(Gee & Grosjean, 1984) offered psychological evidence for the story grammar hierarchies. However, these measures
did not test the basic categories that comprised this hierarchy.
Cohn, Neil. 2013. Visual narrative structure. Cognitive Science 37 (3): 413-452.
schemas (for review, see Herman, 2003; Jahn, 2005). This broad approach takes story grammars
as a precedent, but does not propose a specific formulation for narrative sequencing. However,
cognitive frames and scripts have been effectively applied to a wide range of narrative
phenomena, particularly to generate inference. These analyses have included discussions of
comics directly (Bridgeman, 2004, 2005; Herman, 2009a, 2009b, 2010; Lefèvre, 2000). This
cognitive inferential approach for sequential images has owed a great deal to the film studies by
Bordwell (1985, 2007), who has eschewed approaches that compare the structure of visual
narrative to language (e.g., Metz, 1974). Instead, Bordwell focuses on how people draw upon
scripts and schemas to create inferences while watching a movie. This involves a general
conception of schemas described by story grammars, or possibly just the scripts of events (e.g.,
Minsky, 1975; Schank & Abelson, 1977). For example, people naturally must draw upon scripts
about soccer to understand Figure 3b, or about baseball to understand Figure 18. Such a view is
not incompatible with the approach here.
Nevertheless, such general processes alone are not enough. For example, theories of
scripts generally do not factor in the interruptions of events (as in the Peaks of the majority of
strips shown here), though these are important aspects of understanding both events and
narratives. Furthermore, how would inferences alone describe the structural ambiguities in
Figure 1? First, is there a script involved with lying awake in bed before talking on the phone?
Second, as was described, the first and last pairs of panels can be inferentially grouped into
common environments. However, this is only one option—each panel could also depict its own
unique time frame. How can a model without an explicit notion of constituency describe
inferences that require grouping panels (as with the environmental Conjunction)? Also, how can
it differentiate between one interpretation that requires localized inference, and another that
requires a nested temporality? These phenomena require an explicit model of constituency, not
simply general semantic relationships.
In the present model, these semantic principles no doubt motivate inferences and possibly
other facets of narrative. Yet, this knowledge alone is not enough to describe the structure of
visual narratives. These are complementary approaches, which both require rigorous elaboration
as formal systems in order to fully understand them, independently and in combination.
8. Conclusion
This discussion began with the question of “how do people make meaning out of
sequential images?” To answer it, this piece has outlined a theory of narrative structure. In
contrast to most recent approaches to discourse and narrative in the cognitive sciences, this
model has emphasized separate narrative structures (presentation) from semantic structures
(meaning). This separation allows us to describe how the same meaning can be conveyed in
different surface presentations, as well as the opposite: how a single surface presentation can
convey multiple meanings (as in Figure 1). Formally, this model uses several core narrative
categories that map to prototypical features of events or play functional roles related to the
sequence. These categories are organized through a basic canonical phase rule similar to
traditional notions of narrative. This canonical rule allows each category to also expand into its
own phase, making the structure recursive. Along with a Conjunction rule, this recursion allows
for complex narrative structures and pacing. While we have focused on the visual-graphic
domain, these structures permeate across film and verbal discourse as well. Exploring this
permeability can offer us a better understanding of the way that narrative changes to adapt to the
Cohn, Neil. 2013. Visual narrative structure. Cognitive Science 37 (3): 413-452.
unique properties of each modality, as well as the general function and structure of narrative as a
modality general cognitive process.
Throughout, a broad analogy has been made between structure at the narrative level and
syntax at the sentence level. This analogy has allowed us to apply techniques from linguistic
analysis directly to properties of narrative in visual sequences. However, this analogy also raises
concurrent questions about the structure and processing of visual narratives. Can we find
evidence of a separation between structure and meaning in visual narrative processing? Can we
find evidence of constituent structure? Do similar behavioral and neurocognitive responses
appear to manipulations of narrative structure in sequential images as to manipulations of syntax
in sentences?
Just as this analogy allows us to ask such questions, it can also provide a method for
answering them. Guided by this theory, experimentation on structure and processing of
sequential images can emulate paradigms for studying sentences. For example, in a recent study
(Cohn, et al., 2012), we replicated the paradigms of two classic psycholinguistic studies of
sentence processing (Marslen-Wilson & Tyler, 1980; Van Petten & Kutas, 1991) using
analogously constructed visual sequences based on this theory. Future research can draw from
the wealth of previous research on language processing, as well as use the diagnostics outlined
here as experimental manipulations. Thus, not only does the comparison between sentences and
visual narratives provide a guide for theoretical study (as in linguistics), it can also provide
methods for studying processing (as in psycholinguistics).
9. Acknowledgements
This research was made possible by funding from the Tufts Center for Cognitive Studies.
Thanks are given to Ray Jackendoff, Naomi Berlove, Kelly Cooper, Ariel Goldberg, Phillip
Holcomb, Gina Kuperberg, Martin Paczynski, Anita Peti-Stantic, and Eva Wittenberg for their
comments and editing, as well as to Arthur Markman, Jeffrey Zacks, and two other anonymous
reviewers. Dark Horse Comics and Fantagraphics Books are thanked for their contributions to
my research corpus.
10. Graphic References
All images are created and copyright © 2012 Neil Cohn, except those cited throughout the
text. Cited images are copyright their respective owners and used purely for analytical, critical
and scholarly purposes.
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Edited by D. Schutz. Milwaukie: Dark Horse Comics
Sakai, S. 1987. Usagi Yojimbo: Book one. Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics Books
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... Photography can convey the emotions of photographers [36] to the audience by capturing a memorable moment, shooting a meaningful scene, or presenting an impressive portrait. This story-telling aspect [9,11,75] of photographs features guiding feelings of an audience by giving visual clues [19], from which the observer discovers the larger context of photographs and perceives the intended feelings. However, amateur photographers often include distracting visual elements that prevent an audience from capturing intended clues and spoil the story of the photos. ...
Photographs convey the stories of photographers to the audience. However, this story-telling aspect of photography is easily distracted by visual clutter. Informed by a pilot study, we identified the kinds of clutter that amateurs frequently include in their photos. We were thus inspired to develop DeclutterCam, a photographic assistant system that incorporates novel user interactions and AI algorithms for photographic decluttering. Clutter elements are detected by an aesthetic quality evaluation algorithm and are highlighted so that users can interactively identify distracting elements. A GAN-based iterative clutter removal tool enables users to test their photographic ideas in real-time. User studies with 32 photography beginners demonstrate that our system provides flexible interfaces, accurate algorithms, and immediate feedback that allow users to avoid clutter and explore more photographic ideas. Evaluations by photography experts show that users can take higher-quality photos that better convey the intended story using our system.
... Cohn's visual narrative grammar principle [13]. This visual transition technique utilized in printed comics is amplified by manipulating the size of the gutter area thus constructing an even slower pace and a more intense built-up suspense in horror webtoon. ...
The book “Contemporary trends in management and administration vol.01, edited and published by South Florida Publishing, brings together ten chapters that address topics of relevance in the context of management and administration. The works are available in Spanish and English. The book will present research that aims to provide a frame of reference for evaluation in the context of thesocial damage from the anthropological interpretation of the residents of the native community of Mayuriaga, due to the loss of quality of life, five years after the oil spill by the of the company Petroperú took place in the Norperuano pipeline in the area of the Morona river in the district of Morona, province of Daten de Marañón, department of Loreto, Peru. Another study featured in the book is a research that aims to discover how the visual narrative structures of the Indonesian horror webtoon are particularly employed to evoke fear in the minds of readers, examining some representative examples of the popular Indonesian horror webtoon: Creep by Ino Septian and Gloomy Sunday by Fanky Landerson. This analysis is conducted by applying the Zpalanzani-Tabrani and Cohn triangulation analysis model enhanced by the addition of the structural story effect theory developed by Brewer and Lichtenstein and some additional units of analysis such as gutter space and color analyses. Another subject addressed is a study whose general objective was to determine the relationship between intercultural and emotional competencies of students of social sciences and tourism at the Faculty of Education of the José Faustino Sánchez Carrión National University. A census museum was held, comprising 176 students. If you recognize the data for the first variable with the guide of intercultural competencies of the center of intercultural studies UNED- España, con ligeras adaptations; for the second variable, the questionnaire on emotional competencies by Daniel Goleman was used. Research is also portrayed that analyzes the market for importing laboratory products in Peru from a descriptive approach. This market has been operating for over 70 years, supplying mainly the health, agribusiness, mining, fishing, and education sectors, but there is little information. The research aims to describe the functioning of the laboratory products import market in Peru and to know, in general, how it was affected by the pandemic. Thus, we thank all authors for their commitment and dedication to their work and we hope to be able to contribute to the scientific community, in the dissemination and dissemination of knowledge, and in the advancement of science.
... We also had to adapt our controlled vocabulary accordingly: for Lamentation we use the phrase "connecting to" for torso direction as it incorporates the dynamic idea of movement intention across space in the analysis of projections that are actually performed all in the same location throughout the performance. In a way, this solution echoes the solution offered by Cohn (2013Cohn ( , 2020 in terms of cognitive visual processes enacted when reading a comic strip: the cognitive processes enacted when reading comic strips imply the visual flow of narration whereas those enacted when watching a film sequence involve the visual flow. Following his Parallel Interfacing Narrative-Semantics Model (PINS Model), defined as "a theory of sequential image processing characterised by an interaction between two representational levels: semantics and narrative structure" (Cohn, 2013, p. 352), Cohn segments the reading process into panels, the already visually defined units through which a narrative is deployed in comics: "most images in visual narratives are created (i.e., drawn) intentionally to belong to a sequence, and readers in turn are tasked with finding the specific cues relevant for that context" (Cohn, 2013, p. 355). ...
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This article aims to test the applicability and the possibility of adaptation of the Functional Grammar of Dance, which is at the core of the development of the new interdisciplinary research area called Kinesemiotics. As a model of analysis for movement-based communication, the Functional Grammar of Dance has already been used for the analysis of classical ballet choreography, and it is currently employed in a collaborative research project involving the authors of this article and their research group at Loughborough University in the UK, the University of Bremen in Germany, and the English National Ballet. The testing opportunity is provided by the challenging analysis of an iconic choreography of the 20th century: Lamentation, a solo piece created by Martha Graham. The analysis will show the applicability of the theory and the adaptability of the model of analysis, and it will also provide examples of the way a new type of annotation based on this grammar has been created and applied using the ELAN annotation software. The use of ELAN includes the implementation of a specifically compiled controlled vocabulary providing labels for coding the materiality, structure, and semantics of dance discourse systematically.
... Several patterns can do this, each of which functions similarly in the narrative structure of a comic. Visual narrative grammar argues that panels play particular categorical roles, which may group together as a coherent constituents of a sequence (see Cohn, 2013bCohn, , 2020b. Consider the strips in Fig. 1. ...
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The ability to reconstruct a missing event to create a coherent interpretation – bridging inference – is central to understanding both real-world events and visual narratives like comics. Most previous work on visual narrative inferencing has focused on fully omitted events, yet few have compared inference generation when climactic events become replaced with a panel employing numerous inferential techniques (e.g., action stars or onomatopoeia). These techniques implicitly express the unseen event while balancing several underlying features that describe their informativeness. Here, we examine whether processing and inference resolution differ across inferential techniques in two self-paced reading experiments. Experiment 1 directly compared five distinct types, and Experiment 2 explored the effect of combining techniques. In both experiments, differences in processing arise both between inferential techniques themselves, and at subsequent panels allowing the bridging inference to be resolved. Analysis of inferential features suggested that the explicitness of the inferential technique led to greater demand in processing, which later facilitated inference generation and comprehensibility. The findings reinforce the necessity of discussing the diversity of narrative patterns motivating bridging inferences within visual narratives.
... The character's speech is in text within the balloon; the shape and connection of the balloon to the character defines whether the character is speaking or thinking (e.g., "Right now the crowds are with us!...") and can reflect the nature and emotion of the narrative [8], translating into images the character's voice and thoughts as the scene is read. Although comics are presented in a structure of their own, we adopted the concept of their application to communicate the narrative with plot and characters to increase immersion narrative [3], [6], [9], [10]. ...
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A critical factor in immersive educational narratives is identification by students with the characters. In this work-in-progress analyzes the process of rendering characters from textual narratives into visual form by non-artists (i.e., instructors). We tried to match archetypes with their visual representation through the platforms: Pixton, Powtoon (both 2D) and The Sims4 (3D). The limitations of characterization can impact students’ narrative immersion. As future work we intend to test with the target group and observe the improvements needed to increase identification and sense of immersion in the narrative.
... However, such discontinuity may not be the only driving force in comprehension. For example, visual narrative constructions inherently involve discontinuity such as flipping back and forth between characters (Cohn, 2013b), which do not motivate consistent segmentation (Cutting, 2019). In addition, narrative categories and their relationships have actually been shown to be more predictive of sequential segmentation than situational discontinuity (Cohn & Bender, 2017). ...
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Understanding visual narratives requires readers to track dimensions of time, spatial location, and characters across a sequence. Previous work has found situational changes across adjacent panels differ cross-culturally, but few works have examined such situational dimensions across extended sequences. We therefore investigated situational “runs” – uninterrupted sequences of the situational dimensions (time, space, characters) – in a corpus of 300+ annotated comics from the United States, Europe, and Asia. We compared runs’ proportion and average lengths and found that across books, semantic information changed frequently and run length correlated with proportion. Yet, cross-cultural patterns arose, with American and European comics using more continuous runs than Asian comics. American and European comics also used more and longer temporal and character continuity, while Asian comics used more spatial continuity. These findings raise questions about comprehenders’ processing strategies of visual narratives across cultures and how general frameworks of visual narrative comprehension account for variations in situational (dis)continuity.
... In this work we continue this effort by offering the first comparative study of verb use in image description corpora that we have put together in six different languages. McCloud (1993); Cohn (2013); Alikhani and Stone (2018); Cumming et al. (2017); proposed that the intended contributions and inferences in multimodal discourse can be characterized as coherence relations. Our analyses and computational experiments explore the extent to which different grammatical-based distinctions correlate with discourse goals and contextual constraints and how these findings generalize across languages. ...
Typologically diverse languages offer systems of lexical and grammatical aspect that allow speakers to focus on facets of event structure in ways that comport with the specific communicative setting and discourse constraints they face. In this paper, we look specifically at captions of images across Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, German, Russian, and Turkish and describe a computational model for predicting lexical aspects. Despite the heterogeneity of these languages, and the salient invocation of distinctive linguistic resources across their caption corpora, speakers of these languages show surprising similarities in the ways they frame image content. We leverage this observation for zero-shot cross-lingual learning and show that lexical aspects can be predicted for a given language despite not having observed any annotated data for this language at all.
Conference Paper
Area measurement has a high priority in mathematics school education. Nevertheless, many students have problems understanding the concept of area measurement. An AR tool for visualizing square units on objects in the real world is developed to enable teachers to support understanding already in primary school. This work-in-progress paper presents the initial test version and discusses the first teaching experiment results. The students’ feedback and use of the app showed possible adaptations of the AR tool, e.g., that the idea of dynamic geometry could be incorporated in the future.
Technical Report
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abstraction:instance whole:part process:step object:attribute 8It is also anomalous in another way: the widely used pattern of presenting a problem and its solution does not occur in this text The Conditional Schema --- 6; This second use of the Conditional schema is unusual principally because the condition (clause 7) is expressed after the consequence (clause 6) This may make the consequence more prominent or make it seem less uncertain The J u s t i f y S c h e m a --- 9; - The writer has argued his case to a conclusion, and now wants to argue for this unpopular conclusion again To gain acceptance for this tactic, and perhaps to show that a second argument is beginning, he says "Let's be clear " This is an instance of the J u s t i f y schema, shown in Figure 2 - Here the satellite is attempting to make acceptable the act of exoressinq the nuclear conceptual span The Concessive Schema - - 10; - The writer again employs the concessive schema, this time to show that favoring the NFI is consistent with voting against having CCC endorse it In clause 10, the writer concedes that he personally favors the NFI The T h e s i s / A n t i t h e s i s Schema - - 1 1 ; 12 The writer states his position by contrasting two actions: CCC endorsing the NFI, which he does not approve, and CCC acting on matters of process, which he does approve The Mechanisms of Descriptive RST In the preceding example we have seen how rhetorical schemas can be used to describe text This section describes the three basic mechanisms of descriptive RST which have been exemplified above: Schemas Relation Definitions Schema Application Conventions
Narratives are fundamental to our lives: we dream, plan, complain, endorse, entertain, teach, learn, and reminisce through telling stories. They provide hopes, enhance or mitigate disappointments, challenge or support moral order and test out theories of the world at both personal and communal levels. It is because of this deep embedding of narrative in everyday life that its study has become a wide research field including disciplines as diverse as linguistics, literary theory, folklore, clinical psychology, cognitive and developmental psychology, anthropology, sociology, and history. In Telling Stories leading scholars illustrate how narratives build bridges among language, identity, interaction, society, and culture; and they investigate various settings such as therapeutic and medical encounters, educational environments, politics, media, marketing, and public relations. They analyze a variety of topics from the narrative construction of self and identity to the telling of stories in different media and the roles that small and big life stories play in everyday social interactions and institutions. These new reflections on the theory and analysis of narrative offer the latest tools to researchers in the fields of discourse analysis and sociolinguistics. © 2010 Georgetown University Press. All rights reserved. All rights reserved.