The Great Gatsby...The Kite Runner...Tennyson...Rossetti...
Introduction to Narrative Key Terms
Story = all the various events that are going to be shown
Plot = the chain of causes and circumstances that connect the various events and place them into some sort of relationship with each other
Narrative = involves how the events and causes are shown, and the various methods used to do this showing. Exploring aspects of narrative involves looking at what the writer has chosen to include or not include, and how this choice leads the reader to certain conclusions.
All stories are a form of representation – you are taking part in a constructed process. You are being shown something, being given a version by various narrative methods.
It is the author who controls the characters and events in a story. Characters cannot do or say anything other than what the author makes them do. For this reason, when asked to explore aspects of narrative in the exam, it is vital to keep the authors, and their methods of working, at the heart of what you say.
The word ‘narrative’ has its origins in the Greek word for knowledge. Ultimately, then, looking at narrative involves looking at knowledge.
The building blocks of narrative Scenes and places Where the action is set and its significance beyond just being a place where something happens. Fictional stories, if they are to represent in some ways the real world, need to be set in significant places.
Stories are condensed versions of reality, shaped to present actions and ideas that tell us something about the lives we lead. Stories need to be set in places if they are to persuade us of their connections with our lives, but at the same time these places can be more than just settings where events happen. Scenes and places frequently carry a significance that goes way beyond being where something merely happens. In their use of scenes and places, authors are taking advantage of the possibilities of creating meanings.
In a poem, with its concise narrative, specifics of a place can be given without all the detail of precise location. The absence of any precise location helps us to think that the place could be anywhere, which makes the significance more widely applicable.
In addition to providing the necessary arenas for people and their actions to take place in, locations can also carry greater significance. The places are not only venues where things happen; they throw extra light and significance o9n events, people and relationships.
Time and sequence The order in which events are shown is a key part of how narrative works. While time in the real world is represented by clocks and calendars which tick over at the same regular rate, time in stories is manipulated so that some points in time go slowly, others accelerate and others are missed out altogether.
All stories need to have aspects of time: time covered by the events within the story, and the broader time which surrounds the story, the time in which the story is set. If a story is to appear believable then the author will have to incorporate aspects of the life and attitudes of the time. Timescales can be deliberately manipulated by writers to help them create subtle effects and meanings.
Sequence meanwhile refers to the order in which events are told. Although at a very simple level all narratives involve a movement from a beginning to an end, they are rarely told in strict sequence. How the sequence of events is presented to the reader is of considerable importance.
Chronology, then, is one way in which the writer of a narrative can influence the way a reader responds to it. This can lead to a focus on suspense, where the action and its results are foregrounded, or on character, where feelings and foregrounded, or sometimes both.
Poems by definition tend to be briefer exercises in narrative than novels. Whereas in a novel we expect some detailed establishment, in terms of place, time, people and so on, in poems we tend to be straight in and out of the story with much less detail. Indeed, the effects of the poem are often emphasised by what is not given, by what can be called meaningful absence.
Characters Character in this sense refers not just to the people in the story but, much more importantly, to their character traits and how they are revealed: this is known as characterisation. Characters in fictional texts are usually described early on, as part of the establishment of the text.
In narrative poems a couple of features are often enough to pin down not just what the character looks like, but what the character is like in a broader sense. Just as a name can conjure up ideas about a character’s moral qualities, so can a description of their appearance. Authors can also signal aspects of character by giving their creations distinctive speech manners, or mannerisms. Sometimes these can be used to represent social class.
Voices in the text One way in which we get information in a story is through what we are ‘told’ by characters involved. Voices in stories can help to establish character traits, and so are part of characterisation, but they also enable authors to give information. Voices in texts can be the actual ‘voices’ of the characters who get to speak in the text, and they can also be the thoughts of characters and the voice of the narrator.
Narrative poems too have voices within them that help tell the story. How many voices, and what use is made of voices, can vary though.
Point of view
The perspective from which events are told (eg: third-person or first-person narrative). The term point of view is very important when studying aspects of narrative. Where we, as readers, are ‘placed’ in the telling of the story is vital to the way we interpret it. This does not just refer to your physical position, this also relates to your position in terms of the beliefs you hold, the ideas you have.
Looking at point of view is important because it allows us to analyse narratives technically and also in terms of their ideas and views: how they see the world. Point of view is therefore both the technical description to do with how the text works and an indication of the ideology in a text. (The ideology of a text is the attitudes, values and assumptions that the text contains). By exploring these elements we are able to arrive at a more complete reading of the text.
Another way in which the narrative point of view can be varied is by how close to the action we as readers are allowed to get. Is it viewed from a certain distance or is it viewed close-up? What is our proximity? Perspectives also frequently shift and move within texts.
Although poems sometimes give multiple points of view, more frequently they keep to one or two. Poetry tends to condense narratives, which may in part account for this. If only one point of view is given, then there is the potential for ambiguity – what would the story be like if it were told by another voice which is not heard?
Destination For the storytelling process to have any real purpose, you need to understand that the whole process is designed to make readers think, to make them respond to what is being said, to make them see the point or points. You have been taken on a journey in the story, and when you reach the end, you have reached a destination.
Consider the following things:
What have I seen about the methods used and how does this help me come to an interpretation?
Is there any contextual material worth considering in helping me to come to an interpretation?
Are different interpretations now possible? Is one more convincing than the other?
Glossary of Literary Terms Complete the grid below with your own explanations and examples: