Use of structure in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Structure is how the writer chooses to order the events of the story they want to tell. Does it follow a traditional beginning, middle and end structure or does it change things around?

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is written in two parts. The first part details Christopher's investigation into the murder of Wellington, whilst the second part deals with his journey to London to find his mother.

This makes it seem very simple on the surface but the structure of the play is complex and interesting:

  • it is a play within a play
  • it has multiple narrators
  • it plays with time and space

Play within a play

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a play within a play because the audience is actually watching the play that Christopher has written to be performed in his school. Towards the end of the play Christopher is directing the actors in the play.

It was Mother who gave me the milkshake.....You need to shout more loudly at him. Christopher speaking to his mother and Mr Shears, Part Two.

What is the effect of this?

This means that the play the audience is watching can be very creative with narrative voice, use of time and use of space and reality. As this is a play and not 'reality' anything can happen. This gives Stephens and the director of the play lots of creative freedom.

Multiple narrators

Christopher's story is narrated by a number of different voices - his own, Siobhan, who is reading his book and at points, the Ensemble.

What is the effect of this?

This helps to give the audience a sense of how chaotic and detailed the world can seem in Christopher’s mind. One minute the audience can be hearing about an event from Christopher's perspective - then Siobhan can enter the scene to take over narration. When Christopher looks out of the train window, five voices from the Ensemble tell the audience about details he notices. A person without Christopher's mind might only notice one of those things. It helps the audience understand him better.

Time and space

Often in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, the chronology of events is mixed up. The action leaps from the present to the past regularly, and without warning. The same can be said of space or location. Christopher can go from a train, to outside a flat, to outer space, at any point.

What is the effect of this?

This makes the events of the play seem fluid and unreal. This again helps the audience get a grasp of what life must be like for Christopher. Interactions with people are confusing to him and when the action jumps around in space and time the audience appreciate this more.