Guide: Understanding Narrative Definition
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 9 min read


  1. What is narrative?
  2. Types of narrative
  3. Elements of narrative
  4. Narrative structure
  5. Examples of narrative
  6. The role of narrative in literature
  7. How to write a narrative
  8. Narrative tips

Let's take a journey into the world of stories and tales, where we'll uncover the "definition of narrative." Why is it that we feel so connected to some stories, while others just don't strike a chord? That's the magic of a well-structured narrative. Now, let's break it down together, so you can understand and master the art of creating compelling narratives.

What is narrative?

A narrative is like the backbone of a story—it gives it structure and purpose. When we look at the definition of narrative, it is essentially a written or spoken account of interconnected events. Think of it like a chain, where each link is an event or episode, and together, they form a complete story.

A narrative is not just about what happens in a story, but also about how those events unfold. It's like baking a cake—the ingredients (events) are important, but the method (narrative) you use to mix them together is what makes the cake (story) delicious (interesting).

When you're listening to a friend share their weekend exploits or reading your favorite book, you're engaging with a narrative. It's all around us—in books, movies, music, and even in the anecdotes we tell each other.

Some narratives can be factual, such as biographies, documentaries, or news reports. Others can be fictional, like novels, short stories, or films. But the key element in both is a sequence of events that have some sort of connection.

Let's say you're telling someone about your trip to the Grand Canyon. You wouldn't just describe the Canyon—you'd talk about how you got there, what you did, the people you met, and how you felt seeing the sunrise over the Canyon. That's your narrative—it's more than just a description, it's a journey that you're inviting others to share with you.

So, understanding the definition of narrative isn't just about learning a term—it's about learning how to share your experiences, ideas, and imagination in a way that engages others. And that's a skill that can be incredibly powerful.

Types of narrative

Now that you've got the basic definition of narrative under your belt, let's explore the different types of narratives. Just like there are different breeds of dogs, ranging from the tiny Chihuahua to the large Great Dane, there are also various forms of narratives. Let's take a look at some of the most common ones:

Linear Narrative: This is the most traditional form of narrative. The events unfold in a chronological order, meaning the story moves from the beginning to the middle and then to the end. Think of classic novels like "To Kill a Mockingbird" or "The Great Gatsby" where the story follows a straightforward timeline.

Non-linear Narrative: In contrast to a linear narrative, a non-linear narrative doesn't follow a straight timeline. The story might begin in the middle, jump back to the past, then leap forward into the future. An example of non-linear narrative is the movie "Inception," where the story jumps between different levels of dreams and reality.

Quest Narrative: This type of narrative involves a protagonist who embarks on a journey or quest and faces challenges along the way. "The Lord of the Rings" series is a classic example of quest narratives.

Viewpoint Narrative: This narrative is all about perspective. The story is told from the viewpoint of one or more characters, offering a subjective view of the events. A great example of this is "The Catcher in the Rye," where the story is told entirely from the perspective of the main character, Holden Caulfield.

Understanding the types of narratives can help you choose the right style for your own storytelling. Remember, not every story will fit neatly into one type, and that's okay. The beauty of narratives is that they can be as unique and varied as the people who create them. So, don't be afraid to mix and match or even create your own type. After all, it's your story!

Elements of narrative

Alright, so you now know the definition of narrative and its types. But, what exactly makes a narrative tick? What are the nuts and bolts that hold it together? Well, just like a tasty pizza has key ingredients like dough, cheese, and sauce, a narrative has certain elements too. Let's break it down:

Characters: Characters are the people (or animals, or even inanimate objects!) who carry out the actions in the story. They're the ones we root for, laugh with, or perhaps even cry over. They're like the cheese on our pizza, adding flavor and depth.

Setting: This is where and when the story takes place — it could be a bustling city in the present day, a quiet village in the past, or even a distant planet in the future! The setting is like the crust of our pizza, providing the base on which everything else is built.

Plot: The plot is the sequence of events that happen in the story. It's the problem, the conflict, and the resolution. It's the sauce of our pizza, tying all the other ingredients together.

Theme: The theme is the underlying message or lesson that the story conveys. It might be about love, friendship, courage, or any other concept. It's like the secret spice mix that makes our pizza truly unique.

There you go! Those are the basic elements that make up the definition of narrative. Each one plays a crucial role in bringing a story to life. So next time you're reading a book or watching a movie, try to identify these elements. You'll find that it adds a whole new layer to your understanding and enjoyment of the narrative.

Narrative structure

Now that we've understood the elements of a narrative, let's move onto the structure. Just like a sturdy house needs a solid structure, a good narrative too relies on a well-defined structure. Think of it as the blueprint of your story. It's the 'how' in the definition of narrative.

Narratives typically follow a three-part structure:

1. Beginning: This is where you introduce your characters and setting. Here's where the groundwork is laid, and the audience gets a sense of what the story is about. It's like the first few minutes of a movie when you're getting to know the characters and their world.

2. Middle: This is where the main action takes place. The conflict is introduced, challenges are faced, and the suspense builds up. It's like the thrilling chase scene in a movie, where you're on the edge of your seat, wondering what will happen next.

3. End: This is where the conflict is resolved, and the story comes to a close. This part provides a sense of closure and wraps up the narrative. It's like the final scene in a movie where all loose ends are tied up, and you leave the theater feeling satisfied.

So, that's the basic structure of a narrative. Of course, some narratives may play around with this structure for creative effect — but at its core, this is the structure most narratives follow. Understanding this can really help you appreciate the intricacies of a good narrative.

Examples of Narrative

Nothing beats learning through examples, right? Let's look at some examples of narratives to understand better how the elements and structure we discussed come together to form a compelling story. Remember, the definition of narrative is not just about theory, but also about how this theory translates into practice.

Example 1: Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling: One of the most beloved narratives of our time, the Harry Potter series introduces us to a magical world with its own unique setting. Harry, our protagonist, faces the conflict of battling the dark wizard Voldemort. The narrative follows the classic structure, with a detailed beginning, action-packed middle, and a climactic end.

Example 2: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: This narrative takes us back to the 1930s in Southern America. It’s a coming-of-age story where the protagonist, Scout Finch, navigates through the societal norms of her time. The narrative beautifully captures the trials and tribulations of her journey.

Example 3: The Lion King: This animated film is a great narrative example, not just for kids, but for adults too. The Lion King's narrative structure is impeccable, with a clear beginning (Simba's birth), middle (Simba's exile and return), and end (Simba's victory over Scar).

So you see, narratives are everywhere — in books, movies, even in the stories we tell each other. And understanding the definition of narrative can help us appreciate them even more.

The Role of Narrative in Literature

Now that we've seen some examples, let's dive into the role narratives play in literature. Narratives are like the backbone of any story - they give it shape, structure, and direction. But why is that important?

Well, imagine trying to build a house without a blueprint. Sounds pretty hard, doesn't it? That's what it would be like to write a story without a narrative. The narrative gives you a clear plan, and it helps guide your reader through the story you're telling. That's why understanding the definition of narrative is so important for any writer.

But narratives aren't just useful for writers - they're also essential for readers. Narratives help us make sense of the story. They guide us through the twists and turns, help us understand the characters' motivations, and lead us to the climax. Without a clear narrative, a story can feel confusing or disjointed.

So, when we talk about the role of narrative in literature, we're talking about the essential function it performs in shaping and delivering the story. It's the narrative that takes a bunch of random events and turns them into a tale worth telling. In other words, it's the narrative that makes a story, a story. Now that's a powerful role, isn't it?

How to Write a Narrative

Let's make things practical now. You know the definition of narrative and why it's important, but how do you actually go about writing one? Don't worry—we've got you covered. Follow these steps, and you'll be crafting compelling narratives in no time.

Step 1: Plan Your Narrative

Start by planning out your narrative. What's the story you want to tell? Where does it start, and where does it end? What are the key events that happen along the way? It might help to jot these down in a rough outline.

Step 2: Create Your Characters

Next, think about your characters. Who are they? What are their goals and fears? How do they change over the course of the story? Remember, characters are the heart of any narrative, so take your time with this step.

Step 3: Set the Scene

Now you need to set the scene. Where and when does your story take place? Is it a modern-day city, a medieval kingdom, a distant planet? The setting can add a lot of depth to your narrative, so don't overlook it.

Step 4: Write the Narrative

With your plan, characters, and setting in place, it's finally time to write the narrative. Don't worry about getting it perfect the first time around—just focus on getting your ideas down on paper. You can always revise and polish later.

Step 5: Revise and Edit

Once you've written your narrative, it's time to revise and edit. Look for any parts that feel confusing or out of place and try to improve them. Don't be afraid to make big changes if you think they'll improve the story.

And there you have it! By following these steps, you'll be well on your way to writing a compelling narrative. Remember, the most important thing is to tell a story that you're passionate about—that's what will really draw your readers in.

Narrative Tips

Writing a narrative is an art, no doubt about it. But, as with any art, there are techniques and tips that can help you improve. Here are a few of those tips, specially tailored for anyone working to master the definition of narrative.

Tip 1: Show, Don't Tell

This is a classic piece of advice you've probably heard before, but it's worth repeating. Instead of telling your readers what's happening, try to show them through your characters' actions and dialogue. This can make your narrative much more engaging.

Tip 2: Make Use of Conflict

Conflict is the engine that drives a narrative. Whether it's a character battling their own fears or two nations at war, conflict keeps readers hooked. So don't shy away from it—embrace it.

Tip 3: Vary Your Sentence Structure

Varying your sentence structure can make your writing more interesting to read. Mix up short sentences with longer ones, and don't be afraid to play around with different structures. You might be surprised at how much this can improve your narrative.

Tip 4: Use Vivid Descriptions

Good narratives often have vivid, engaging descriptions that pull readers into the story. Try to use all five senses when describing your setting, characters, and events. This can help your readers feel like they're right there with your characters.

Tip 5: Revise, Revise, Revise

Finally, don't underestimate the power of revision. Even the best writers rarely get everything right the first time. Don't be afraid to revise your narrative until it's just the way you want it.

Remember, writing is a skill that improves with practice. So don't get discouraged if your first few narratives aren't perfect. Keep writing, keep learning, and keep improving. You've got this!

If you found this guide on narrative definition helpful and want to apply these concepts to your photography, check out Laurence Philomene's workshop 'Narrative Storytelling For Photographers.' This workshop will help you develop your storytelling skills within the realm of photography, making your work more engaging and captivating.