A narrative or story is an account of a series of related events, experiences, or the like, whether true (episode, vignette, travelogue, memoir, autobiography, biography) or fictitious (fairy tale, fable, story, epic, legend, novel). The word derives from the Latin verb narrare (to tell), which is derived from the adjective gnarus (knowing or skilled). Along with argumentation, description, and exposition, 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.
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, the formation of communal identity and values, as especially studied in anthropology today among traditional indigenous peoples.
The 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, game-play, 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.
The narrative can be organized into 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 recorded performances). Narratives may also be nested within other narratives, such as narratives told by an unreliable narrator (a character) typically found in the genre of noir fiction. An important part of narration is the narrative mode, the set of methods used to communicate the narrative through a process narration (see also "Aesthetics approach" below).
A narrative is a telling of some true or fictitious event or connected sequence of events, recounted by a narrator to a narratee (although there may be more than one of each). Narratives are to be distinguished from descriptions of qualities, states, or situations, and also from dramatic enactments of events (although a dramatic work may also include narrative speeches). A narrative consists of a set of events (the story) recounted in a process of narration (or discourse), in which the events are selected and arranged in a particular order (the plot). The category of narratives includes both the shortest accounts of events (for example, the cat sat on the mat or a brief news item) and the longest historical or biographical works, diaries, travelogues, and so forth, as well as novels, ballads, epics, short stories, and other fictional forms. In the study of fiction, it is usual to divide novels and shorter stories into first-person narratives and third-person narratives. As an adjective, "narrative" means "characterized by or relating to storytelling": thus narrative technique is the method of telling stories, and narrative poetry is the class of poems (including ballads, epics, and verse romances) that tell stories, as distinct from dramatic and lyric poetry. Some theorists of narratology have attempted to isolate the quality or set of properties that distinguish narrative from non-narrative writings: this is called narrativity.
In Pakistan, archaeological evidence of the presence of stories, are found at Indus valley civilization site Lothal. On one large vessel, the artist depicts birds with fish in their beaks, resting in a tree, while a fox-like animal stands below. This scene bears resemblance to the story of The Fox and the Crow in the Panchatantra. On a miniature jar, the story of the thirsty crow and deer is depicted – of how the deer could not drink from the narrow-mouth of the jar, while the crow succeeded by dropping stones in the jar. The features of the animals are clear and graceful.
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 illustrate points. Storytelling was probably one of the earliest forms of entertainment. As noted by Owen Flanagan, a narrative may also refer to psychological processes in self-identity, memory, and meaning-making.
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 analyzed 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 theoretical questions:
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 the literary theoretic approach, the narrative is being narrowly defined as a 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 the 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 the 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 the 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.
The role of literary theory in narrative has been disputed; with some interpretations like Todorov's narrative model that views all narratives in a cyclical manner, and that each narrative is characterized by a three-part structure that allows the narrative to progress. The beginning stage is an establishment of equilibrium—a state of non-conflict, followed by a disruption to this state, caused by an external event, and lastly a restoration or a return to equilibrium—a conclusion that brings the narrative back to a similar space before the events of the narrative unfolded.
Other critiques of literary theory in narrative challenge the very role of literariness in the narrative, as well as the role of narrative in literature. Meaning, narratives and their associated aesthetics, emotions, and values have the ability to operate without the presence of literature and vice versa. According to Didier Costa, the structural model used by Todorov and others is unfairly biased towards a Western interpretation of narrative, and that a more comprehensive and transformative model must be created in order to properly analyze narrative discourse in literature. Framing also plays a pivotal role in the narrative structure; an analysis of the historical and cultural contexts present during the development of a narrative is needed in order to more accurately represent the role of narratology in societies that relied heavily on oral narratives.
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 participate.
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 a 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).