I. What is a Narrative?
A narrative is a story. The term can be used as a noun or an adjective. As a noun, narrative refers to the story being told. It is the account of events, experiences, and details. It also refers to the story-telling process. As an adjective, it describes the form or style of the story being told.
The adjective use of the word narrative has its roots in the Latin word, narrativus, which means “suited to narration.” The noun usage of the word appeared in the French language in the 15th century and is defined as “a tale, story.”
Narrative is pronounced (năr′ə-tĭv), or “narr, uh, tive”.
II. Examples of Narrative
If you look at narrative when used as a noun, you will find many examples. Most things written in the first-person are narratives. A novel written from the point of view of the main character is a narrative. The essay you wrote, entitled “What I did on my summer vacation”, was a narrative. An article written by a blogger about his/her experience travelling across the United States on a bicycle would most likely be a narrative.
If you look at narrative when used as an adjective, you will find that it complements just about any form of writing or art. There are narrative poems, narrative works of visual art, narrative essays, or narrative dances. If you can make something tell a story, it is narrative.
III. Types of Narrative
Rather than there being “types” of narrative, narrative, itself, functions as an adjective, transforming other things. The narrative voice, or narrative style can be used to transform virtually anything into a story.
- Other forms of art can also be considered narratives. You can choreograph a narrative dance or paint a narrative series of pictures. The important element is that your creation tells a story.
- Autobiographies are, essentially, narrative. They are written in the first-person and describe the events of the story-teller’s life.
- Theatrical monologues are narrative. In a monologue, the character tells an intimate story, often addressing the audience, asking questions and seemingly seeking answers from them. In Hamlet’s famous monologue, that begins “To be or not to be,” he is seeking answers to the great philosophical questions of life and death. He is discussing them with himself and the audience, trying to puzzle them out and inviting the audience to do the same.
- Essays can also be narrative. An essay is a literary composition about a single subject. You have probably written many. A narrative essay is simply an essay written in a style that tells a story. They are often personal, anecdotal, and told from the writer’s point of view.
IV. The Importance of using Narrative
Everyone loves a story! Everyone has a story. Everyone wants to tell a story. Everyone can relate to a story. That is why it is important to use narratives.
Narrative is an engaging writing style. It immediately invites your audience into your world and offers them a chance to participate in the story you are telling. A reader can easily get wrapped up in a narrative. It is also a style that invites discussion and participation. By using it you tell your audience that this story is not over. They can take it home and think about it. They can retell it, add to it and change it.
Narratives are social. They are at the heart of how we communicate as social beings. If you look for definitions, descriptions, and discussions of what narratives are, you will find many references to the natural humanity of narratives. They are a part of who we are and how we share that with others.
Have you ever read an article that just bored you to tears? Maybe you thought it was “dry”. (Maybe you feel that way about this article?) There is a good chance the author did not make good use of narrative, and thus never managed to draw you in.
V. Examples of Narrative in Literature
Narratives can be found everywhere in literature. They appear in every style, form, and genre.
Fiction: Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes is the tale of a man who is determined to be a knight. You may remember references to a madman on horseback fighting windmills? This is that book. It is a standard and classic example of a book written in the narrative voice.
Beloved, by Toni Morrison is the tale of an escaped slave, who remains haunted by things in her past. It is another more modern and ground-breaking narrative work.
The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien, that popular story about Bilbo Baggins, a fantasy creature called a hobbit who travels through Middle Earth and has unexpected adventures, is also a first-person narrative.
Nonfiction: The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas is the autobiography of a man who was a slave, an abolitionist, a writer and a newspaper editor. It is one of our country’s great historical works and it is written in the narrative voice.
VI. Examples of Narrative in Pop Culture
Narratives are everywhere in popular culture. In fact, popular culture is, in itself, an overarching narrative. It is the system of stories that weave in and out of one another to make up the story of the human race. Culture is open-ended and ever evolving, and that is what makes it a narrative. We participate in our own story, along with those around us, and make it up as we go along.
If we want to look at smaller examples, journalism and the news is an excellent form of narrative. Something happens and someone reports on it. Someone else picks up the story, adds a few details and comments, and publishes that. Then, someone else comes along, follows the same pattern, and the narrative continues.
Even more specifically, headlines have become increasingly narrative with the explosive popularity of social media. Writers try and draw in readers by inviting them into the discussion of a topic. In social media, you have just a few words, and maybe a picture, to interest your audience and get them to open your link. In order to do this, there is a trend to write narrative headlines such as these:
He opened the jar of peanut butter and what he saw will blow your mind.
She gave her toddler a crayon and you will never believe what happened next.
Blogs are also excellent examples of narratives as they include first-person accounts of experiences while inviting comment and conversation from readers.
Music is also a wonderful place to find narratives. People have an innate need to turn their stories in to songs. Turn on your stereo and you will find an endless number of narrative. American Pie by Don McLean is one of the great narrative musical creations in our country’s history. It is written in the first person and tells a cryptic story of the history of our music and a fatal plane crash.
A long long time ago
I can still remember how
That music used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And maybe they’d be happy for a while…
VII. Related Terms
Narrator: a person who tells a story or gives an account of something.
Story: a synonym to the word narrative. Some suggest that stories are closed ended with a beginning, middle and end, while narratives are larger open-ended discussions, comprised of stories, with listener participation.