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Narrative Form

Narrative is the description of an event or series of events, essentially telling a story. The story does not need to be fictional, it could be a magazine article or short story. There are many forms of narrative, many ways to tell a story. But what is narrative form? Read on to find out!

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Narrative Form

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Narrative is the description of an event or series of events, essentially telling a story. The story does not need to be fictional, it could be a magazine article or short story. There are many forms of narrative, many ways to tell a story. But what is narrative form? Read on to find out!

Narrative form definition

Narrative form is how a writer or speaker chooses to tell their story.

Narrative is a description of a series of events that are connected. These form a story.

Narrative form is the combination of techniques used to tell a story and how it is presented.

When looking at narrative form we look at the structure of telling a story. There are many ways to structure a story. From changing the point of view in which it's told, or the order the events are presented. The choice of narration and the presentation of plot structure can greatly alter how readers enjoy a story.

Here we will look at the different ways narrative form is used to suit the story told.

Narrative form: narration

One of the first things we may notice in a story is narration. A story's narration can give readers a hint of its viewpoint. There are three types of narration in storytelling; first person, second person and third person. Sometimes the form of narrative that a writer would use determines its narration. A memoir is almost always told in the first person. A non-fiction article or book would normally be written in the third person. Let's look at the three types of narration.

First-person

First-person is when the story's narrator is involved in the narrative and presenting their point of view. The narrator would use the pronouns 'I' or 'we' and is telling the reader their accounts of events. Memoirs and autobiographies are always told in the first person, and often novels and short stories will too. In fiction, the first-person narration allows the writer the opportunity to withhold information from the reader.

Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre (1847) is a novel that uses first-person narration.

Second-person

The second person is a rarely used type of narration. In the second person, the reader is directly addressed by the narrator. This has the effect of involving the reader in the events of the story. The second person would refer to the reader as 'you'. It is a form of narration that is not used often in literature.

Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City (1984) is a novel that uses second-person narration.

Third-person

The narrator in the third-person is outside of the events in a story. They would use the pronouns, 'he', 'she' and 'they'. There are two types of third-person narration, omniscient and limited. In the third-person omniscient the narrator knows every characters' thoughts, feelings and actions. Omniscient means 'all knowing'. Third-person omniscient gives writers the opportunity to explore relationships between multiple characters.

Third-person limited narration is still outside of the story, but the thoughts and actions of the all characters are not known. In the Harry Potter books, the reader knows everything that Harry is thinking and feeling. But the reader only knows what Harry is thinking. The thoughts of secondary characters are withheld from the audience.

An example of third-person omniscient is Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace (1869).

Cloud Atlas (2004) is a novel that uses a third-person limited narration.

Narrative form: types of narrative

Although there are many ways to tell a story, there are only four types of narrative. These types are dependent on what order a writer would present the events or the viewpoint taken. Here we will look at the different types of narratives.

Linear narrative

In a linear narrative, the story is told in chronological order. That is to say that the events in the story are presented in the order they occurred. Linear narrative can be told in any form of narration, first, second or third. Telling a narrative in a linear way gives the impression of the story unfolding before the reader's eyes.

Pride and Prejudice (1813) is a story told in a linear narrative.

Non-linear narrative

The non-linear narrative is when the story's events are presented outside their chronological order. The timeline of the story is distorted, sometimes using the techniques of flashback or flash-forward. Information is withheld and the reader may know where a character ends up, but not how they got there. Non-linear narratives can be used to add an element of mystery to a story.

Homer's epic poem 'The Odyssey' is a famous example of a non-linear narrative.

Narrative Form, a clock showing ten minutes to one, StudySmarterLinear and non-linear narratives determine how time is presented in a story.

Viewpoint narrative

A viewpoint narrative presents the often subjective point of view of one or more of the characters. If the story is told in the first person we read of the protagonist's thoughts and sensory experiences. If told in the third person the narrator could present the reader with the thoughts and feelings of multiple characters, often switching points of view throughout the story. Using a viewpoint narrative allows the opportunity to present an unreliable narrator. An unreliable narrator would offer untrustworthy ideas.

Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita (1955) uses an unreliable narrator

Quest narrative

When a story's plot is driven by the desire to reach a common goal it is often called a quest narrative. These narratives often span long distances and their protagonists go through many obstacles to achieve their aims.

J.R.R Tolkien's Lord of the Rings (1954-1955) is a series of novels that uses the quest narrative.

Narrative form: examples

There are so many forms of narrative that it would be impossible to go through all of them. Here we will look at some of the more common forms.

Allegory

A narrative device that tells one story to symbolise another idea. This idea would not be explicitly mentioned in the plot. Allegory can also include fables and parables. First used in the classical world by writers such as Plato and Cicero, allegory became particularly popular in the middle ages. John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress is an early example. A more contemporary example would be Animal Farm by George Orwell. Orwell uses a story of farmyard animals to criticise the Soviet Union.

Memoir

A form of biography based on the author's personal experience. These events are normally accepted as fact although normally subjective. Could be confused with autobiography but differs slightly. Autobiography concerns itself with the author's life, in memoirs the author is normally a part of a larger event. One of the first examples is Edmund Ludlow's memoirs of the English Civil War. Another example is Goodbye To All That (1929) by Robert Graves.

Folklore

Sometimes known as oral tradition, folklore is the collective term for stories that were passed on by word of mouth. Folklore is the oldest form of literature, often from preliterate cultures. It would include all forms of storytelling, from prose and song to myth and poetry. Almost all cultures have a history of folklore. 'Jack and the Beanstalk' is a famous example of folklore.

Short Fiction

Short fiction is any story that is shorter than a novel. The short story gained popularity in the 19th century. Short fiction gave writers an opportunity to explore ideas that may not be possible in the novel. Writers such as John Cheever and H.H Munro (Saki) were successful short fiction authors.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (1981) is a famous short story collection from the writer Raymond Carver. James Joyce's Dubliners (1914) is another prominent short story collection.

Other notable forms of narrative

The effect of narrative form

How a writer chooses to present their story greatly affects our enjoyment of them. A reader can watch the action unfurl before them or enjoy the mystery of flashbacks and flash-forwards. Narrative form can alter our reaction to the stories we read. It can make us sympathetic to characters we normally wouldn't relate to, or recoil at the thoughts of someone seemingly normal.

From screenplays to biographies, novels to epic poetry, there is bound to be a narrative form to suit anyone's taste. Writers will continue to find ways for people to enjoy stories.

Narrative Form - Key takeaways

  • Narrative is the description of a series of events that create a story.
  • Narrative form is the combination of techniques used to tell a story.
  • There are three types of narration: first, second and third person.
  • Linear narrative is the telling of a story in chronological order, where each event occurs in the timeline of the story.
  • Quest narrative is a story where the character or characters have one common goal.

Frequently Asked Questions about Narrative Form

Narrative is the description of an event or series of events and is essentially a story.

The four types of narrative are: Linear, Non-linear, quest and viewpoint

Different types of narrative technique are changing the point of view, distorting time with flashbacks or a story's narration.

The four main categories are linear, non-linear, viewpoint and quest.

To write in narrative form you must describe a series of events that form a story.

Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

Multiple choice (more than one answer may be correct):  Limited narrative is very useful for 

Multiple choice:The main elements of the novel are:

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What is an example of an allegory?

  • John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress (1678) explores the allegory of the pilgrim that protagonist, Christian, takes from his hometown , 'City of Destruction', which represents the human world, to another city, 'Celectial City', which represents heaven.
  • George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945) depicts animals, who can speak, and their experience on the farm, as an allegory for the events and people of the Russian Revolution of 1917. 
  • The Somonyng of Everyman (1510)- Unknown author: The character, Everyman, represents humans as they come face to face with death and final judgement, and also personifies abstract qualities of Beauty, Good Deeds and Knowledge. Everyman is used to express these abstract concepts. 
  • The Faerie Queene (1590)- Edmund Spenser: The characters in this epic poem, specifically the Arthurian knights, are used as an allegory to explore vices and virtues. For example, the Red Cross Knight represents Holiness. 

What is the difference between allegory and symbolism?

Symbolism is when an object, occurrence or action represents something beyond itself. Symbolism specifically uses symbols to do this, for example, a crown representing a monarch An allegory is different from symbolism because it makes extensive use of symbolism through characters to express a broader meaning.  

How do symbols function within an allegory?


Symbols can be used as a tool when creating an allegory. An object, occurrence or action can be used to represent an abstract meaning or idea. For example, a book representing knowledge, or a crown representing a monarch. An allegory constructs a broad narrative that can be consistent throughout the text.  

What could you write an allegory about?


You could write an allegory about a moral theme or idea or a historical event. 

What is the difference between allegory and metaphor?


 A metaphor compares two seemingly unrelated things to express an idea. An allegory uses a broader narrative, often in the form of a character, to express an idea or teach a lesson. 

What is an example of the use of allegory in Plato’s The Allegory of the Cave in Republic (Book 7) (~380 BCE)?


The allegory represents how people live in the world and perception of reality in contrast to one’s interpretation of reality.

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