A narrative or story is a report of connected events, real or
imaginary, presented in a sequence of written or spoken words, or
still or moving images, or both. The word derives from the Latin
verb narrare, "to tell", which is derived from the adjective gnarus,
"knowing" or "skilled".
Narrative can be organized in a number of thematic or formal
categories: non-fiction (such as definitively including creative
non-fiction, biography, journalism, transcript poetry, and
historiography); fictionalization of historical events (such as
anecdote, myth, legend, and historical fiction); and fiction proper
(such as literature in prose and sometimes poetry, such as short
stories, novels, and narrative poems and songs, and imaginary
narratives as portrayed in other textual forms, games, or live or
Narrative is found in all forms of human creativity, art, and
entertainment, including speech, literature, theatre, music and song,
comics, journalism, film, television and video, video games, radio,
gameplay, unstructured recreation, and performance in general, as well
as some painting, sculpture, drawing, photography, and other visual
arts, as long as a sequence of events is presented. Several art
movements, such as modern art, refuse the narrative in favor of the
abstract and conceptual.
Oral storytelling is the earliest method for sharing narratives.
During most people's childhoods, narratives are used to guide them on
proper behavior, cultural history, formation of a communal identity,
and values, as especially studied in anthropology today among
traditional indigenous peoples.
Narratives may also be nested within other narratives, such as
narratives told by an unreliable narrator (a character) typically
found in noir fiction genre. An important part of narration is the
narrative mode, the set of methods used to communicate the narrative
through a process narration (see also "
Narrative Aesthetics" below).
Along with exposition, argumentation, and description, narration,
broadly defined, is one of four rhetorical modes of discourse. More
narrowly defined, it is the fiction-writing mode in which the narrator
communicates directly to the reader.
1 Human nature
2 Literary theory
3 Types of narrators and their modes
4 Aesthetics approach
5 Psychological approach
Social sciences approaches
6.1 Inquiry approach
6.2 Mathematical sociology approach
7 In music
8 In cultural storytelling
11 Other specific applications
12 See also
15 Further reading
16 External links
Owen Flanagan of Duke University, a leading consciousness researcher,
writes, "Evidence strongly suggests that humans in all cultures come
to cast their own identity in some sort of narrative form. We are
inveterate storytellers." Stories are an important aspect of
culture. Many works of art and most works of literature tell stories;
indeed, most of the humanities involve stories. Stories are of
ancient origin, existing in ancient Egyptian, ancient Greek, Chinese
and Indian cultures and their myths. Stories are also a ubiquitous
component of human communication, used as parables and examples to
Storytelling was probably one of the earliest forms
of entertainment. As noted by Owen Flanagan, narrative may also refer
to psychological processes in self-identity, memory and
Semiotics begins with the individual building blocks of meaning called
signs; and semantics, the way in which signs are combined into codes
to transmit messages. This is part of a general communication system
using both verbal and non-verbal elements, and creating a discourse
with different modalities and forms.
In On Realism in Art
Roman Jakobson argues that literature exists as a
separate entity. He and many other semioticians prefer the view that
all texts, whether spoken or written, are the same, except that some
authors encode their texts with distinctive literary qualities that
distinguish them from other forms of discourse. Nevertheless, there is
a clear trend to address literary narrative forms as separable from
other forms. This is first seen in
Russian Formalism through Victor
Shklovsky's analysis of the relationship between composition and
style, and in the work of Vladimir Propp, who analysed the plots used
in traditional folk-tales and identified 31 distinct functional
components. This trend (or these trends) continued in the work of
the Prague School and of French scholars such as Claude Lévi-Strauss
and Roland Barthes. It leads to a structural analysis of narrative and
an increasingly influential body of modern work that raises important
What is text?
What is its role (culture)?
How is it manifested as art, cinema, theater, or literature?
Why is narrative divided into different genres, such as poetry, short
stories, and novels?
In literary theoretic approach, narrative is being narrowly defined as
fiction-writing mode in which the narrator is communicating directly
to the reader. Until the late 19th century, literary criticism as an
academic exercise dealt solely with poetry (including epic poems like
Iliad and Paradise Lost, and poetic drama like Shakespeare). Most
poems did not have a narrator distinct from the author.
But novels, lending a number of voices to several characters in
addition to narrator's, created a possibility of narrator's views
differing significantly from the author's views. With the rise of the
novel in the 18th century, the concept of the narrator (as opposed to
"author") made the question of narrator a prominent one for literary
theory. It has been proposed that perspective and interpretive
knowledge are the essential characteristics, while focalization and
structure are lateral characteristics of the narrator.[according to
Types of narrators and their modes
A writer's choice in the narrator is crucial for the way a work of
fiction is perceived by the reader. There is a distinction between
first-person and third-person narrative, which
Gérard Genette refers
to as intradiegetic and extradiegetic narrative, respectively.
Intradiagetic narrators are of two types: a homodiegetic narrator
participates as a character in the story. Such a narrator cannot know
more about other characters than what their actions reveal. A
heterodiegetic narrator, in contrast, describes the experiences of the
characters that appear in the story in which he or she does not
Most narrators present their story from one of the following
perspectives (called narrative modes): first-person, or third-person
limited or omniscient. Generally, a first-person narrator brings
greater focus on the feelings, opinions, and perceptions of a
particular character in a story, and on how the character views the
world and the views of other characters. If the writer's intention is
to get inside the world of a character, then it is a good choice,
although a third-person limited narrator is an alternative that does
not require the writer to reveal all that a first-person character
would know. By contrast, a third-person omniscient narrator gives a
panoramic view of the world of the story, looking into many characters
and into the broader background of a story. A third-person omniscient
narrator can be an animal or an object, or it can be a more abstract
instance that does not refer to itself. For stories in which the
context and the views of many characters are important, a third-person
narrator is a better choice. However, a third-person narrator does not
need to be an omnipresent guide, but instead may merely be the
protagonist referring to himself in the third person (also known as
third person limited narrator).
Main article: Multiperspectivity
A writer may choose to let several narrators tell the story from
different points of view. Then it is up to the reader to decide which
narrator seems most reliable for each part of the story. It may refer
to the style of the writer in which he/she expresses the paragraph
written. See for instance the works of Louise Erdrich. William
Faulkner's As I Lay Dying is a prime example of the use of multiple
narrators. Faulkner employs stream of consciousness to narrate the
story from various perspectives.
In Indigenous American communities, narratives and storytelling are
often told by a number of elders in the community. In this way, the
stories are never static because they are shaped by the relationship
between narrator and audience. Thus, each individual story may have
countless variations. Narrators often incorporate minor changes in the
story in order to tailor the story to different audiences.
Narrative is a highly aesthetic art. Thoughtfully composed stories
have a number of aesthetic elements. Such elements include the idea of
narrative structure, with identifiable beginnings, middles and ends,
or exposition-development-climax-denouement, with coherent plot lines;
a strong focus on temporality including retention of the past,
attention to present action and protention/future anticipation; a
substantial focus on character and characterization, "arguably the
most important single component of the novel" (David Lodge The Art of
Fiction 67); different voices interacting, "the sound of the human
voice, or many voices, speaking in a variety of accents, rhythms and
registers" (Lodge The Art of
Fiction 97; see also the theory of
Mikhail Bakhtin for expansion of this idea); a narrator or
narrator-like voice, which "addresses" and "interacts with" reading
Reader Response theory); communicates with a Wayne
Booth-esque rhetorical thrust, a dialectic process of interpretation,
which is at times beneath the surface, forming a plotted narrative,
and at other times much more visible, "arguing" for and against
various positions; relies substantially on the use of literary tropes
(see Hayden White, Metahistory for expansion of this idea); is often
intertextual with other literatures; and commonly demonstrates an
effort toward bildungsroman, a description of identity development
with an effort to evince becoming in character and community.[jargon]
Within philosophy of mind, the social sciences and various clinical
fields including medicine, narrative can refer to aspects of human
psychology. A personal narrative process is involved in a person's
sense of personal or cultural identity, and in the creation and
construction of memories; it is thought by some to be the fundamental
nature of the self. The breakdown of a coherent or positive
narrative has been implicated in the development of psychosis and
mental disorder, and its repair said to play an important role in
journeys of recovery.
Narrative Therapy is a school of (family)
Illness narratives are a way for a person affected by an illness to
make sense of his or her experiences. They typically follow one of
several set patterns: restitution, chaos, or quest narratives. In the
restitution narrative, the person sees the illness as a temporary
detour. The primary goal is to return permanently to normal life and
normal health. These may also be called cure narratives. In the chaos
narrative, the person sees the illness as a permanent state that will
inexorably get worse, with no redeeming virtues. This is typical of
diseases like Alzheimer's disease: the patient gets worse and worse,
and there is no hope of returning to normal life. The third major
type, the quest narrative, positions the illness experience as an
opportunity to transform oneself into a better person through
overcoming adversity and re-learning what is most important in life;
the physical outcome of the illness is less important than the
spiritual and psychological transformation. This is typical of the
triumphant view of cancer survivorship in the breast cancer
Personality traits, more specifically the Big Five personality traits,
appear to be associated with the type of language or patterns of word
use found in an individual's self-narrative. In other words,
language use in self-narratives accurately reflects human personality.
The linguistic correlates of each Big Five trait are as follows:
Extraversion - positively correlated with words referring to humans,
social processes and family;
Agreeableness - positively correlated with family, inclusiveness and
certainty; negatively correlated with anger and body (i.e., few
negative comments about health/body);
Conscientiousness - positively correlated with achievement and work;
negatively related to body, death, anger and exclusiveness;
Neuroticism - positively correlated with sadness, negative emotion,
body, anger, home and anxiety; negatively correlated with work;
Openness - positively correlated with perceptual processes, hearing
Social sciences approaches
Human beings often claim to understand events when they manage to
formulate a coherent story or narrative explaining how they believe
the event was generated. Narratives thus lie at foundations of our
cognitive procedures and also provide an explanatory framework for the
social sciences, particularly when it is difficult to assemble enough
cases to permit statistical analysis.
Narrative is often used in case
study research in the social sciences. Here it has been found that the
dense, contextual, and interpenetrating nature of social forces
uncovered by detailed narratives is often more interesting and useful
for both social theory and social policy than other forms of social
Sociologists Jaber F. Gubrium and James A. Holstein have contributed
to the formation of a constructionist approach to narrative in
sociology. From their book The
Self We Live By:
Narrative Identity in
a Postmodern World (2000), to more recent texts such as Analyzing
Narrative Reality (2009)and Varieties of
Narrative Analysis (2012),
they have developed an analytic framework for researching stories and
storytelling that is centered on the interplay of institutional
discourses (big stories) on the one hand, and everyday accounts
(little stories) on the other. The goal is the sociological
understanding of formal and lived texts of experience, featuring the
production, practices, and communication of accounts.
In order to avoid "hardened stories," or "narratives that become
context-free, portable and ready to be used anywhere and anytime for
illustrative purposes" and are being used as conceptual metaphors as
defined by linguist George Lakoff, an approach called narrative
inquiry was proposed, resting on the epistemological assumption that
human beings make sense of random or complex multicausal experience by
the imposition of story structures." Human propensity to
simplify data through a predilection for narratives over complex data
sets typically leads to narrative fallacy. It is easier for the human
mind to remember and make decisions on the basis of stories with
meaning, than to remember strings of data. This is one reason why
narratives are so powerful and why many of the classics in the
humanities and social sciences are written in the narrative format.
But humans read meaning into data and compose stories, even where this
is unwarranted. In narrative inquiry, the way to avoid the narrative
fallacy is no different from the way to avoid other error in scholarly
research, i.e., by applying the usual methodical checks for validity
and reliability in how data are collected, analyzed, and
presented. Several criteria for assessing the
validity of narrative research was proposed, including the objective
aspect, the emotional aspect, the social/moral aspect, and the clarity
of the story.
Mathematical sociology approach
In mathematical sociology, the theory of comparative narratives was
devised in order to describe and compare the structures (expressed as
"and" in a directed graph where multiple causal links incident into a
node are conjoined) of action-driven sequential events.
Narratives so conceived comprise the following ingredients:
A finite set of state descriptions of the world S, the components of
which are weakly ordered in time;
A finite set of actors/agents (individual or collective), P;
A finite set of actions A;
A mapping of P onto A;
The structure (directed graph) is generated by letting the nodes stand
for the states and the directed edges represent how the states are
changed by specified actions. The action skeleton can then be
abstracted, comprising a further digraph where the actions are
depicted as nodes and edges take the form "action a co-determined (in
context of other actions) action b".
Narratives can be both abstracted and generalised by imposing an
algebra upon their structures and thence defining homomorphism between
the algebras. The insertion of action-driven causal links in a
narrative can be achieved using the method of Bayesian narratives.
Developed by Peter Abell, the theory of Comparative Narratives
conceives a narrative as a directed graph comprising multiple causal
links (social interactions) of the general form: "action a causes
action b in a specified context". In the absence of sufficient
comparative cases to enable statistical treatment of the causal links,
items of evidence in support and against a particular causal link are
assembled and used to compute the Bayesian likelihood ratio of the
link. Subjective causal statements of the form "I/she did b because of
a" and subjective counterfactuals "if it had not been for a I/she
would not have done b" are notable items of evidence.
Linearity is one of several narrative qualities that can be found in a
musical composition. As noted by American musicologist, Edward
Cone, narrative terms are also present in the analytical language
about music. The different components of a fugue — subject,
answer, exposition, discussion and summary — can be cited as an
example. However, there are several views on the concept of
narrative in music and the role it plays. One theory is that of
Theodore Adorno, who has suggested that ‘music recites itself, is
its own context, narrates without narrative’. Another, is that
of Carolyn Abbate, who has suggested that ‘certain gestures
experienced in music constitute a narrating voice’. Still others
have argued that narrative is a semiotic enterprise that can enrich
musical analysis. The French musicologist Jean-Jacques Nattiez
contends that ‘the narrative, strictly speaking, is not in the
music, but in the plot imagined and constructed by the
listeners’. He argues that discussing music in terms of
narrativity is simply metaphorical and that the ‘imagined plot’
may be influenced by the work's title or other programmatic
information provided by the composer. However, Abbate has revealed
numerous examples of musical devices that function as narrative
voices, by limiting music’s ability to narrate to rare ‘moments
that can be identified by their bizarre and disruptive effect’.
Various theorists share this view of narrative appearing in disruptive
rather than normative moments in music. The final word is yet to be
said, regarding narratives in music, as there is still much to be
In cultural storytelling
A narrative can take on the shape of a story, which gives listeners an
entertaining and collaborative avenue for acquiring knowledge. Many
cultures use storytelling as a way to record histories, myths, and
values. These stories can be seen as living entities of narrative
among cultural communities, as they carry the shared experience and
history of the culture within them. Stories are often used within
indigenous cultures in order to share knowledge to the younger
generation. Due to indigenous narratives leaving room for
open-ended interpretation, native stories often engage children in the
storytelling process so that they can make their own meaning and
explanations within the story. This promotes holistic thinking among
native children, which works towards merging an individual and world
identity. Such an identity upholds native epistemology and gives
children a sense of belonging as their cultural identity develops
through the sharing and passing on of stories.
For example, a number of indigenous stories are used to illustrate a
value or lesson. In the
Western Apache tribe, stories can be used to
warn of the misfortune that befalls people when they do not follow
acceptable behavior. One story speaks to the offense of a mother's
meddling in her married son's life. In the story, the Western Apache
tribe is under attack from a neighboring tribe, the Pimas. The Apache
mother hears a scream. Thinking it is her son's wife screaming, she
tries to intervene by yelling at him. This alerts the Pima tribe to
her location, and she is promptly killed due to intervening in her
Indigenous American cultures use storytelling to teach children the
values and lessons of life. Although storytelling provides
entertainment, its primary purpose is to educate. Alaskan
Indigenous Natives state that narratives teach children where they fit
in, what their society expects of them, how to create a peaceful
living environment, and to be responsible, worthy members of their
communities. In the Mexican culture, many adult figures tell their
children stories in order to teach children values such as
individuality, obedience, honesty, trust, and compassion. For
example, one of the versions of
La Llorona is used to teach children
to make safe decisions at night and to maintain the morals of the
Narratives are considered by the Canadian Métis community, to help
children understand that the world around them is interconnected to
their lives and communities. For example, the Métis community
share the “Humorous Horse Story” to children, which portrays that
horses stumble throughout life just like humans do.
also use dead animals as metaphors by showing that all things have
purpose. Lastly, elders from Alaskan Native communities claim that
the use of animals as metaphors allow children to form their own
perspectives while at the same time self-reflecting on their own
American Indian elders also state that storytelling invites the
listeners, especially children, to draw their own conclusions and
perspectives while self-reflecting upon their lives. Furthermore,
they insist that narratives help children grasp and obtain a wide
range of perspectives that help them interpret their lives in the
context of the story. American Indian community members emphasize to
children that the method of obtaining knowledge can be found in
stories passed down through each generation. Moreover, community
members also let the children interpret and build a different
perspective of each story.
In historiography, according to Lawrence Stone, narrative has
traditionally been the main rhetorical device used by historians. In
1979, at a time when the new
Social History was demanding a
social-science model of analysis, Stone detected a move back toward
the narrative. Stone defined narrative as organized chronologically;
focused on a single coherent story; descriptive rather than
analytical; concerned with people not abstract circumstances; and
dealing with the particular and specific rather than the collective
and statistical. He reported that, "More and more of the 'new
historians' are now trying to discover what was going on inside
people's heads in the past, and what it was like to live in the past,
questions which inevitably lead back to the use of narrative."
Some philosophers identify narratives with a type of explanation. Mark
Bevir argues, for example, that narratives explain actions by
appealing to the beliefs and desires of actors and by locating webs of
beliefs in the context of historical traditions.
Narrative is an
alternative form of explanation to that associated with natural
Historians committed to a social science approach, however, have
criticized the narrowness of narrative and its preference for anecdote
over analysis, and clever examples rather than statistical
Storytelling rights may be broadly defined as the ethics of sharing
narratives (including—but not limited to—firsthand, secondhand and
imagined stories). In
Storytelling Rights: The uses of oral and
written texts by urban adolescents, author Amy Shuman offers the
following definition of storytelling rights: “the important and
precarious relationship between narrative and event and, specifically,
between the participants in an event and the reporters who claim the
right to talk about what happened."
The ethics of retelling other people’s stories may be explored
through a number of questions: whose story is being told and how, what
is the story’s purpose or aim, what does the story promise (for
instance: empathy, redemption, authenticity, clarification)--and at
Storytelling rights also implicates questions of
consent, empathy, and accurate representation. While
storytelling—and retelling—can function as a powerful tool for
agency and advocacy, it can also lead to misunderstanding and
Storytelling rights is notably important in the genre of personal
experience narrative. Academic disciplines such as performance,
folklore, literature, anthropology, Cultural Studies and other social
sciences may involve the study of storytelling rights, often hinging
Other specific applications
Narrative environment is a contested term  that has been used for
techniques of architectural or exhibition design in which 'stories are
told in space' and also for the virtual environments in which computer
games are played and which are invented by the computer game authors.
Narrative film usually uses images and sounds on film (or, more
recently, on analogue or digital video media) to convey a story.
Narrative film is usually thought of in terms of fiction but it may
also assemble stories from filmed reality, as in some documentary
film, but narrative film may also use animation.
Narrative history is a genre of factual historical writing that uses
chronology as its framework (as opposed to a thematic treatment of a
Narrative poetry is poetry that tells a story.
Metanarrative, sometimes also known as master- or grand narrative, is
a higher-level cultural narrative schema which orders and explains
knowledge and experience you've had in life.
Narrative photography is photography used to tell stories or in
conjunction with stories.
Narreme as the basic unit of narrative structure
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Manfred Jahn. Narratology: A Guide to the Theory of Narrative
 Interdisciplinary Research Institute
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New cinema chair studies "narrative IEDs" SF State News. 09/29/11
Deus ex machina
In medias res
Figure of speech
Suspension of disbelief
Types of fiction with multiple endings
List of writing genres
Stream of consciousness
Stream of unconsciousness