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Narrative

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English Literature

Narrative is a common literary device used in fictional and non-fictional texts and visual platforms such as TV and films.

The meaning of narrative

A narrative story is a story that details a sequence of events. This story could be fictional, such as a novel, or non-fictional, such as a biography.

Narrative in writing is, quite simply, the telling of a story. It is not limited to only fictional stories. Narrative in writing could refer to essays, fairy tales, movies and even jokes.

Narrative structure

Narrative structure refers to the structure of a story being told. So, what is the order of the story? Does the author start with the consequences of the events, or do they start with the causes of the consequences? How is the story told? Important features to consider when thinking about narrative structure are the conflicts, characters and settings. The typical narrative structure features a beginning, middle and end.

The type of narration is also important to consider when thinking about narrative structure. The 3 types of narration are:

First-person

First-person narrative refers to a narrative that has a storyteller recalling events from their point of view. This storyteller uses the first person form of ‘I’, ‘we’, ‘our’.

An example of first-person narrative is Scout Finch in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (1960). Scout recalls the events in her small town when she was growing up, watching her father, Atticus Finch, defend a young black man falsely accused of assaulting a white woman. Scout describes how she witnessed the events from her point of view.

'Remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.' That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it. (chapter 10)- Scout Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird (1960).

Second-person

Second-person narrative refers to a narrative that has a storyteller recalling events as though the reader is involved in the story. It uses the second-person form of ‘you’, ‘your’, speaking directly to the reader. It has the effect of assuming that the narrator personally knows the reader. Second-person is an atypical narrative to use in literature.

Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City (1984) features second-person narrative. It details the life of the narrator, a young writer who navigates the hedonism of New York City in the mid-1980s. Readers feel more immersed in the story, as it feels as though the narrator is addressing them.

At the subway station you wait fifteen minutes on the platform for a train. Finally a local, enervated by graffiti, shuffles into the station. You get a seat and hoist a copy of the New York Post. The Post is the most shameful of your several addictions. (chapter 1) - Bright Lights, Big City (1984).

Third-person

Third-person narrative is a more common narrative style. It has the effect of showcasing an omniscient narrator who knows the intentions, thoughts and feelings of all characters. It also provides a more objective viewpoint as the storyteller is viewing the events from an outside perspective. Third-person narrative uses third-person pronouns like ‘she’, ‘he, ‘they’.

An example of the use of third-person narrative is Little Women (1868) by Louisa May Alcott.

The four young faces on which the firelight shone brightened at the cheerful words, but darkened again as Jo said sadly, "We haven't got Father, and shall not have him for a long time." She didn't say "perhaps never," but each silently added it, thinking of Father far away, where the fighting was. (chapter 1)- Little Women (1868).

Omniscient third-person narrator versus limited narrator

'Omniscient' means 'all-knowing', so this refers to a narrator who knows all the thoughts, feelings, and motivations that characters have. The limited narrator does not know all these things, so the thoughts, feelings and motivations that readers find out are only what that character knows and experiences.

Omniscient third-person narrator: Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (1813)

Mr. Bennet was so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve, and caprice, that the experience of three-and-twenty years had been insufficient to make his wife understand his character. Her mind was less difficult to develop. She was a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper. When she was discontented, she fancied herself nervous. The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news. -Narrator, Chapter 1, Pride and Prejudice (1813)

The third-person narrator here is omniscient as they have an insight into Mr. and Mrs. Bennet's moods and the way they see the world.

Limited Narrator: Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games (2008)

When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping. -Katniss Everdeen, Chapter 1, The Hunger Games (2008)

The narrator, Katniss Everdeen, speaks from the first-person narrative. She only has insight into her own feelings and can only speculate about the feelings of others from their actions.

What are the 4 types of narratives in writing?

We will explore the 4 types of narrative: linear, non-linear, quest, and viewpoint.

Linear narrative

Linear narrative involves chronological storytelling. This has the more typical narrative structure of beginning, middle and end, showing a sequence of events in the order that they happened. The effect of this is that readers are able to follow events at the same time as the characters are living these events.

TOP TIP: ‘Linear’ means a chronological sequence of events that happen one after another.

Suzanne Collins' Catching Fire (2009) is an example of a linear narrative. The novel details how Katniss Everdeen, the protagonist, fares after her first Hunger Games competition. There is a chronological sequence of events in the novel, as readers find out about Katniss' life after her first Hunger Games, then about the challenges she faces during the second Hunger Games, called the Quarter Quell.

Non-linear narrative

Non-linear narrative is the opposite of linear narrative. This type of narrative does not tell a tale in chronological order. It could use literary elements and devices such as flashbacks, epiphanies or a jump in time between events to show the passage of time. One of the main effects of this is that a character could be in an emotionally heightened mindset which reminds them of something important that happened in the past. Readers are then exposed to some of the background events which could affect how that character reacts to the present events.

An example of non-linear narrative is Ted Chiang’s 'Story of Your Life' in Stories of Your Life and Others (1998). The protagonist, Louise, is a linguist who learns the language of aliens that have landed on Earth. Learning this language enables Louise to look through time into her future, and see that her daughter (who she has not yet had) will die of a terminal illness. Despite knowing this, Louise chooses to continue on the path already set out in front of her.

Narrative. Alien standing in a dark tunnel with a bright light shining behind. StudySmarter.Aliens frequent Ted Chiang's 'Story of Your Life;, pixabay

Quest narrative

Quest narrative is exactly what it says on the tin- its structure is based around the developments of a quest. The protagonist is on a quest to obtain whatever goal they believe is at the end, for example, a knight on a journey to save a princess. Challenging obstacles are placed in front of the protagonist and they must overcome them in order to be able to continue with their quest.

A well-known example of the quest narrative is Homer’s The Odyssey (1614). It features warrior and king of Ithica, Odysseus, as he is on a quest to journey home after the Trojan War.

Viewpoint narrative

Viewpoint narrative is the narrative that provides the protagonist’s subjective personal experience. It does so by detailing the protagonist’s thoughts and feelings in reaction to their environment or the situation they are in. Since this narrative is subjective, readers may not receive a reliable, factually accurate account of events, so they may miss out on key information until much later in the novel.

The Color Purple (1982) by Alice Walker is an example of a viewpoint narrative. The narrator, Celie, details her subjective viewpoint of what she is experiencing as she grows up a poor, abused black girl in Georgia, United States, in the early 1900s.

Examples of first-person narrative

Ler's look at two well-known examples of first-person narrative.

The Great Gatsby (1925)- F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby (1925) is narrated by Nick Carraway, a young man who has travelled to New York to obtain wealth and achieve success. The first-person narrative is used as Nick speaks on his experiences around the elite of New York, which include Jay Gatsby, the protagonist in the novel.

Before I could reply that he [Gatsby] was my neighbor dinner was announced; wedging his tense arm imperatively under mine Tom Buchanan compelled me from the room as though he were moving a checker to another square. -Nick Carraway, Chapter 1, The Great Gatsby (1925)

Oranges are not the only Fruit (1985)- Jeanette Winterson

This novel is written in the first-person narrative. It details the experiences of the narrator, Jeanette, as she grows up in the home of her religious fanatic mother and doesn't have many experiences outside of her home or her church community.

Over to the right was the viaduct and behind the viaduct Ellison’s tenement, where we had the fair once a year. I was allowed to go there on condition I brought back a tub of black peas for my mother. Black peas look like rabbit droppings and they come in a thin gravy made of stock and gypsy mush. They taste wonderful. -Jeanette, Chapter 'Genesis', Oranges are not the only Fruit (1985)

Narrative - Key takeaways

  • A narrative story is a story that details a sequence of events. This story could be fictional, such as a novel, or non-fictional, such as a biography.
  • Narrative in writing is the telling of a story.
  • Narrative structure refers to the order of the sequence of events being told, the conflicts, characters and settings.
  • The 3 types of narration are first-person, second-person and third-person.
  • The 4 types of narrative are linear narrative, non-linear narrative, quest narrative, and viewpoint narrative.

Narrative

Narrative structure refers to the order of the sequence of events being told, the conflicts, characters and settings. 

A narrative story is a story that details a sequence of events. This story could be fictional, such as a novel, or non-fictional, such as a biography. 

Examples of a narrative:

  • Oranges are not the only Fruit (1985)- Jeanette Winterson

  • To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)- Harper Lee

  • Little Women (1868)- Louisa May Alcott

  • Pride and Prejudice (1813)- Jane Austen

  • Bright Lights, Big City (1984)- Jay McInerney 

  • The Hunger Games (2008)- Suzanne Collins

  • Catching Fire (2009)- Suzanne Collins

  • 'Half Lives- The First Luisa May Mystery' in Cloud Atlas (2004)- David Mitchell

  • 'Story of Your Life' in Stories of Your Life and Others (1998)- Ted Chiang 

  • The Odyssey (1614)- Homer

  • The Color Purple (1982)- Alice Walker

Narrative in writing is the telling of a story. It is not limited to only fictional stories. Narrative in writing could refer to essays, fairy tales, movies and even jokes.  

The 3 types of narratives are first-person, second-person, third-person. 

Final Narrative Quiz

Question

What is narrative structure?

Show answer

Answer

Narrative structure refers to the order of the sequence of events being told, the conflicts, characters and settings. 

Show question

Question

What is a narrative story? 

Show answer

Answer

A narrative story is a story that details a sequence of events. This story could be fictional, such as a novel, or non-fictional, such as a biography. 

Show question

Question

What is an example of a narrative? 


Show answer

Answer

Examples of a narrative:

  • Oranges are not the only Fruit (1985)- Jeanette Winterson

  • To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)- Harper Lee

  • Little Women (1868)- Louisa May Alcott

  • Pride and Prejudice (1813)- Jane Austen

  • Bright Lights, Big City (1984)- Jay McInerney 

  • The Hunger Games (2008)- Suzanne Collins

  • Catching Fire (2009)- Suzanne Collins

  • 'Half Lives- The First Luisa May Mystery' in Cloud Atlas (2004)- David Mitchell

  • 'Story of Your Life' in Stories of Your Life and Others (1998)- Ted Chiang 

  • The Odyssey (1614)- Homer

  • The Color Purple (1982)- Alice Walker

Show question

Question

What is a narrative in writing? 

Show answer

Answer

Narrative in writing is the telling of a story. It is not limited to only fictional stories. Narrative in writing could refer to essays, fairy tales, movies and even jokes.

Show question

Question

What are the 3 types of narratives?


Show answer

Answer

The 3 types of narratives are first-person, second-person, third-person. 

Show question

Question

What is linear narrative?

Show answer

Answer

Linear narrative involves chronological storytelling. This has the more typical narrative structure of beginning, middle and end, showing a sequence of events in the order that they happened. 

Show question

Question

What is non-linear narrative?

Show answer

Answer

Non-linear narrative is the opposite of linear narrative. This type of narrative does not tell a tale in chronological order and could use flashbacks, epiphanies or time jumps to do so.  

Show question

Question

What is quest narrative?

Show answer

Answer

Quest narrative structure is based on the developments of a quest. Characters have to overcome the obstacles they are confronted with in order to achieve their goal. 

Show question

Question

What is viewpoint narrative?

Show answer

Answer

Viewpoint narrative is the narrative that provides the protagonist’s subjective personal experience. It explores a character's thoughts and feelings.

Show question

Question

Is a narrative always fictional?

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Answer

A narrative is not always fictional. A narrative can also be non-fictional, such as a biography or an essay. 

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