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Narrative Discourse

Most readers of books or works of fiction choose their books based on the story - is this a story they would enjoy? Does the plot interest them? However, literary critics, scholars and experts are not only concerned with the contents of the fictional text but also with how these contents are delivered to the reader. In other words, they…

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Narrative Discourse

Narrative Discourse

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Most readers of books or works of fiction choose their books based on the story - is this a story they would enjoy? Does the plot interest them? However, literary critics, scholars and experts are not only concerned with the contents of the fictional text but also with how these contents are delivered to the reader. In other words, they investigate the narrative discourse of the text.

Narrative discourse: meaning

Narrative discourse refers to the way in which stories or narratives are conveyed through written or spoken language. It encompasses the elements of storytelling such as plot, characters, events, and themes, as well as the structure, style, and language used to convey the narrative. Narrative discourse involves the presentation and organisation of story elements in a coherent and meaningful manner, allowing the audience to follow and interpret the story being told.

Narrative Discourse, Meaning and definition of Narrative discourse, VaiaFig. 1 - Narrative discourse refers to the various forms of storytelling or narrative expression, both written and oral, that convey events, characters, and plot elements in a sequential and meaningful manner.

The difference between story and narrative discourse

When you read a comic or a graphic novel, you may see a panel with action, where a superhero punches a villain. This panel may feature a giant speech bubble that says 'POW!' or 'KABOOM!' This language may be commonplace in comics but is odd when found in a novel. That does not mean that novels don't feature superheroes and villains, but they convey action differently, perhaps by describing the movements of the characters and their interaction with each other and the setting.

You are probably wondering what this has to do with the difference between story and narrative discourse. Let's break it down:

The story refers to the contents of the work of fiction. This includes setting, characters, series of events, plot etc. In a nutshell, the story answers what the work of fiction is about.

Narrative discourse is concerned with the manner of delivery of the contents of a work of fiction. Narrative discourse answers how the story is conveyed to the reader. This includes techniques such as flashback, unreliable narrator, framed narrative etc.

As a way to distinguish between story and narrative discourse, think of Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones' Diary (1996). The story is about a 30-something year old single woman, who is on a mission of self-improvement. The events that occur to the main character, her thoughts and her interactions with other characters are recorded by her in a diary. The reader of the novel, essentially, reads these 'diary entries' and learns of the happenings in the life of Bridget Jones. Therefore, the fictional diary entries of the fictional character contribute to the narrative discourse.

Narrative discourse: summary

Narrative discourse is inherent to a structuralist examination of a work of fiction. Structuralism is a literary theory, wherein structuralists aim to unpack the structure of a story. A story is typically constructed with the use of certain elements, such as characters, narration, time, place, setting, plot etc. Think of these as the building blocks of a story. One of these blocks is the narrative discourse, which is the means by which the story is communicated to the reader.

Elements of narrative discourse

The elements of narrative discourse include narrative voice, point of view and records of thought. These are discussed in detail below:

  • Narrative voice - The narrator communicates the story to the reader, but in doing so, adds their own perspective to the story. The narrator's opinions, biases, and knowledge influences the way they perceive the events, characters and places in the story, thus also influencing how the readers will regard the tale. There may be fictional narrators that also are characters in the story or narrators that are outside the story. Also, a story may lack a distinct narrator, which would mean that it is understood by the reader that the author of the tale is the one narrating it.

  • Point of view - The narrator's communication of the story is also coloured by their point of view. A story may be in the first-person point of view, where the reader is privy to the thoughts, emotions and expressions of the character, or in the third-person point of view, where the narrator is a proverbial fly-on-the-wall, narrating everything that they witness. The point of view techniques employed by the author may reveal or conceal information from the reader.

  • Records of thought - The degree to which the reader is aware of the events and their influence on characters' thoughts and actions is determined by how their thoughts are recorded and then how these records are delivered to the reader. For example, in works featuring stream-of-consciousness, there is often a disconnect between the actions of a character and their unfiltered yet disjointed line of thought.

Examples of narrative discourse

A narrative is relayed to the reader in many ways. Some examples of narrative discourse are a stage play, personal accounts, myths, folktales etc.

Narrative Discourse Examples
1. Novels
2. Short stories
3. Folktales
4. Legends
5. Myths
6. Fairy tales
7. Fables
8. Autobiographies
9. Biographies
10. Historical accounts

Please note that this table is not exhaustive and there may be other forms of narrative discourse not included in this list. Let's have a look at some more in-depth examples.

Stage play

A stage play or a theatre production features elements that certainly manipulate the way the viewers perceive the story. For example, a magical spell cast in the story may be conveyed with flashes of light, nonsensical chants or quirky music. This too forms part of the narrative discourse. The stage play may also make use of literary devices such as a soliloquy or asides that lie within the scope of narrative discourse. For example, in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar (1599), Anthony's soliloquy reveals his true loyalty and love towards Caesar, thus influencing the audiences' perception of his actions and his motivations.

Personal accounts

Personal accounts may take the form of biographies or fictional accounts that are semi-autobiographical. They may also appear as travel logs or diaries. A good example of a personal account as a narrative discourse is the novel The Boy Next Door (2004) by Meg Cabot, wherein the protagonist exchanges emails with her love interest. The reader is not privy to the internal emotions and thoughts of the protagonist as they only read the emails she sends to the character she likes.

Myths

Myths are typically narratives wherein the story is conveyed in a way to deliver information about a belief system or the practices and ideals of a particular group of people. For example, you could call the story of Hades and Persephone a love story, or even a story featuring a kidnapping. However, in most iterations, the story of Hades and Persephone is conveyed as a myth that ancient Greeks told one another to explain the change in seasons.

Purpose of narrative discourse

The purpose of narrative discourse is manifold. The following three purposes of discourse in literature can coexist and overlap in various works, and they contribute to the overall meaning, style, and impact of a literary text. The choice of discourse purpose depends on the author's intention, the genre of literature, and the desired effect on the reader. The most important aspects include the following:

Narrative purpose:

This purpose involves telling a story or recounting events, usually with a chronological sequence of events and characters who engage in actions and experiences. Narrative discourse aims to entertain, engage, and transport readers or listeners into a fictional world through vivid descriptions, compelling characters, and an engaging plot.

Examples of narrative discourse in literature include novels, short stories, epics, and folktales.

Descriptive purpose

This purpose focuses on creating a sensory and vivid portrayal of people, places, objects, or scenes through rich and detailed language. Descriptive discourse aims to evoke the reader's imagination and senses, allowing them to visualize and experience the depicted elements. Descriptive discourse is often used to create mood, atmosphere, or setting in literature.

Examples of descriptive discourse in literature include vivid descriptions of landscapes, characters, or objects in novels, poems, and plays.

Expressive purpose

This purpose involves expressing the writer's emotions, thoughts, beliefs, or opinions through subjective and personal language. Expressive discourse aims to convey the writer's inner world and perspective, often using figurative language, metaphors, and other literary devices. Expressive discourse is often used to communicate the writer's unique voice and perspective.

Examples of expressive discourse in literature include poems, personal essays, memoirs, and diaries.

Further purposes of narrative discourse

Other purposes of narrative discourse include:

  1. The author employs certain aspects of narrative discourse to manipulate the reader's feelings and perspective as they read the story.

  2. Once the narrative discourse is analysed, one may be able to perceive the same event from different perspectives. For example, you may see a robbery told from the perspective of the policeman investigating it, but later through the robber's perspective, understand their motivations behind it and sympathise with them.

  3. Narrative discourse plays a significant role as the author may evoke a certain response from the reader or audience.

Narrative Discourse - Key takeaways

  • Narrative discourse is concerned with the manner of delivery of the contents of a work of fiction.
  • Narrative discourse answers how the story is conveyed to the reader. This includes techniques such as flashback, unreliable narrator, framed narrative etc.
  • Elements of narrative discourse include narrative voice, point of view and records of thought.
  • A narrative is relayed to the reader in many ways, for example as a stage play, personal accounts, myths, folktales etc.
  • Narrative discourse plays a significant role as the author may evoke a certain response from the reader or audience.

Frequently Asked Questions about Narrative Discourse

Narrative discourse is concerned with the manner of delivery of the contents of a work of fiction. Narrative discourse answers how the story is conveyed to the reader. 

The purpose of narrative discourse is manifold. The most important aspects include the author manipulating the reader's feelings and perspective, the reader perceiving the same event from different perspectives, and the author evoking a certain responce form the reader.

Narrative refers to the contents of a work of fiction while narrative discourse answers how the story is conveyed to the reader. 

The 4 types of dicourse are descriptive, narrative, expository and argumentative.

The elements of narrative discourse include narrative voice, point of view and records of thought.

Final Narrative Discourse Quiz

Narrative Discourse Quiz - Teste dein Wissen

Question

Narrative discourse is concerned with which of the following?

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Answer

Contents of a text.

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Question

Narrative discourse is inherent to which of the following literary theories?

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Answer

Psychoanalysis.

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Question

The elements of narrative discourse include which of the following?

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Answer

Characters.

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Question

True or false: A first-person point of view makes the reader privy to the narrator or character's thoughts

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Answer

True.

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Question

True or False: Stream of consciousness is an example of point of view

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Answer

True.

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Question

True or False: a personal account may be written in the form of letters to a character

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Answer

True.

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Question

Which of the following is an example of a myth?

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Answer

Hades and Persephone.

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Question

True or False: the type of narrative discourse has no effect on the reader

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Answer

True.

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Question

Which of the following is not an example of narrative discourse?

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Answer

Stage play.

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Question

The author shapes the narrative discourse of a text to _________ the reader's emotions.

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Answer

suppress.

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Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

Narrative discourse is concerned with which of the following?

Narrative discourse is inherent to which of the following literary theories?

The elements of narrative discourse include which of the following?

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