Narrative Form

Narrative form refers to a descriptive writing approach that gives details of an act, event or other phenomenon. The narrative is a structure used to tell a story which is meant to lead the reader to a meaningful realization, important conclusion or life lesson. The narration gives details from a first- or third-person perspective that support the story and typically express vivid details. The definition of narrative is elucidated in works as early as ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, though not explicitly. Rather, he discussed plot, continuity and cause and effect, as well as the role of the narrator.

Many mediums can be used to create a narrative. The most traditional medium is the novel. The narrative in the novel can be presented in many different ways, for example the novel can include fake memoirs and letters as well as narrators who may be intrusive or omniscient. In the classic novel the narrative shows the inner life of the characters and their relationship with their fellow characters and the action, whereas the dramatic novel has a much larger focus on the action.

A narrative can be described as a series of events purposely connected in a causal and temporal way. Narratives include films, plays, comic books, newsreels, novels, diaries and chronicles. Their medium can be spoken, visual, acting or written or any combination of these. This means the term "narrative" is not at all specific and is in fact very broad. In the narrow definition from Aristotle the narrative would have to be defined by the presence of a narrator in the story, which would disqualify many literary genres such as a novel or a joke where there is no narrator within the story. An analysis of the narrative of a story generally looks at the textual production, structure and reception that are part of the narrative. It is also possible to look at the narrative in additional ways such as historically, thematically or stylistically.

The history of narrative theory begins in Aristotle's Poetics. For Aristotle the highest form of narrative was the tragedy, and the plot was the basic structure of the narrative, ranked in importance above characters, diction, thought, song and spectacle. Aristotle described the plot as "the arrangement of incidents" within the story. Moving on several centuries to the Renaissance and the period of the Enlightenment, narrative theory also changed as the thought processes and introspective nature of man began to deepen. Robortello, Scaliger and Castelvetro were the main thinkers of this time as regards narrative, and most of their analysis was based on finding rules within tragedies, poetry and romance which would provide a basis of how to judge and grade other pieces of work. For example, their debates about the three unities of drama assisted their attempts to distill the basic concepts of time in narrative, such as the differences between represented and representational time or the relationship between convention and dramatic illusion.

Although the development of narrative theory was neglected in the 17th and 18th centuries, in the 19th century Victorian theorists returned to this scholarly area. In the Victorian era some of the other forms of narrative like poetry were judged on the ways they expressed the author's feelings, the novel remaining largely mimetic. The Victorians believed that the novel should remain serious and that romance was a separate and lighter form of entertainment that should not be associated with the stoic nature of the novel. Analyses of narrative in this period were based around the following facets: plot, character, setting, theme, moral aim and verisimilitude and this is generally thought of as being influenced by a realist philosophy.

In 2001, Jonathan Culler in The Pursuit of Signs: Semiotics, Literature, Deconstruction proposed a modern description of narratology as strands that are "implicitly united in the recognition that narrative theory requires a distinction between story and a sequence of actions of events conceived as independent of their manifestation in discourse, and 'discourse,' the discursive presentation or narration of events." The modern interpretation looks at the voice, point of view, chronology, frequency and rhythm of the story as the main subjects of narrative form as well as the traditional areas such as plot and character. As study of the author becomes an increasingly important companion to the study of narrative form, novels are frequently looked at less in isolation but as part of the author's larger body of work.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Narratology: An Introduction
Susana Onega; Jose Angel Garcia Landa.
Longman, 1996
Narrative and Ideology
Jeremy Tambling.
Open University Press, 1991
Narrative as Theme: Studies in French Fiction
Gerald Prince.
University of Nebraska Press, 1992
Economies of Change: Form and Transformation in the Nineteenth-Century Novel
Michal Peled Ginsburg.
Stanford University Press, 1996
Ambiguous Discourse: Feminist Narratology & British Women Writers
Kathy Mezei.
University of North Carolina Press, 1996
Who Set You Flowin'? The African-American Migration Narrative
Farah Jasmine Griffin.
Oxford University Press, 1996
Barbarous Dissonance and Images of Voice in Milton's Epics
Elizabeth Sauer.
McGill-Queens University Press, 1996
Beyond Hindu and Muslim: Multiple Indentity in Narratives from Village India
Peter Gottschalk.
Oxford University Press, 2000
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