What is Narrative?


I've been reading a creative writing textbook put out by Ignasi Ribó that's called Prose Fiction, An Introduction to the Semiotics of Narrative. While I'm still only in the first chapter, I have to say that the book is pretty good. The pages are filled with details I never knew. Well, never even knew I didn't know. Narrative is one of these details. Apparently, narrative is a pretty big deal and if you want to become any sort of qualified creative writer, I'd say you better know what narrative is.

To define the concept of narrative as best I can, I'll pull from two resources. First I'll use the Prose Fiction book and then I'll use a resource called BeemGee. They've got a really nice post that covers the idea of story vs. narrative.

Okay, first from Prose Fiction. They basically say that narrative is the semiotic representation of events that occur sequentially and meaningfully in a story. They're connection is between time and cause. They go on to explain how there are critical elements that make this definition what it is:

- It's important to understand what the word semiotics means. If you're not into writing or defining cool words, you've probably never heard of this one. Semiotics is the study of how signs are used as a process, as in, how signs are used as a means to come to an understanding of what something calls for. Signs can be a form of activity, conduct, or a process that leads a reader or viewer to understand what's trying to be communicated. When it comes to narrative, semiotics are either written or spoken, can be still or moving images, photographs, or something else that is received by the reader that the reader or viewer must interpret for meaning. I'll use a few easy examples to help you understand. An umpire swinging his arms to call someone playing a baseball game "out," is revealing a sign. The swinging arms. We've all come to learn what those arms mean under those circumstances. Also, a stop sign is a sign. Even if the word "stop" wasn't written on it, we'd still know what it wants us to do or what it calls for.

- Narratives connect things. When it comes to storytelling, the narrative has to connect at least two events in a structured way and organize that structure into something that's comprehensible.

- Narratives keep a story going and connect events in relation to time. They create sequences. They show cause and effect. An example might be: John walked down the road at night. He wore no jacket. His skin formed goosebumps in the chilly winter air.

- Narratives rely on meaning for effectiveness. The person offering the narrative expresses meaning and the receiver of the narrative understands it.

Narratives are three dimensional. That's the best way I can say it. They're composed of ideas that are strung together to make sense. They use time and place to help with understanding. They're the basis for our understanding of our existence. Without narratives, we'd be stuck in a stagnant limbo with no way to look forward or back and without any understanding of how we got here.

A really helpful explanation comes from BeemGee. When narrative is compared and contrasted with a story, it all becomes so much more clear. The difference between narrative and a story is in the way whatever is being communicated is being told. If you wanted to tell someone a story of how you walked home from school a certain day, the narrative you choose to communicate is important. Let's say three events occurred. In one narrative, you first walked through some doors. Then, you got in a fight, and then you continued to walk all the way home to your house. In another narrative, you got in a fight, then you decided to walk through some doors, and continue on home. In the final narrative, you walked all the way home, then walked through some doors, and finally, you got in a fight. Do you see how the sequencing is helpful? The story is the accumulation of events themselves, while the narrative is the intended meaning to be conveyed when expressing those events a certain way. If you merely said to someone, "I walked through doors. I walked home. I got in a fight." They'd likely ask, "What are you talking about? A fight at school or a fight at home? Which doors? The school doors or your house doors?" This is why narrative is important - it organizes the story's events.

Can you define narrative better than I just did? If so, I welcome you to share your definition or understanding of it down below. The more clear, the better. Thanks!