Post apocalyptic woman and boy heroically walking

Action and Enigma Codes

Two Essential Narrative Codes

There are two essential narrative codes you need to know: action and enigma codes. Roland Barthes argued there needed to be a clear sequence of events for the narrative to be successful. These beats of the story should be the “revelation of truth and the coordination of the actions represented”. Although our introduction to Barthes’ narrative codes goes into more detail about how stories are constructed, you really only need to focus on the following two codes for your media studies course.

Enigma Codes

Enigma codes are the “revelation of truth”. The producer of the media text will deliberately create a plot point that raises questions and teases the audience so we read on to resolve the mystery.

Crime dramas are obvious narratives that rely heavily on enigma codes because we are positioned alongside the detective while they try to solve the crime and reveal “whodunit”.

The most annoying examples have to be attention-grabbing and misleading clickbait titles. Or sensationalised headlines in a newspaper that try to shock the reader into buying the publication.

Action Codes

Action codes are significant plot points that drive the narrative forward. Rather than a sense of mystery, action codes help create suspense because we want to see the outcome and consequences of the scene.

Any boss fight in any videogame would serve as an example of an action code. Or the hero of a quest narrative confronts the evil villain and the audience are excited to find out who wins the battle. Of course, action codes do not need to be this climatic. A simple knock on the door can create tension and transform a story.

Further Reading

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