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TOPIC 32.

NARRATIVE TEXTS: STRUCTURE AND MAIN FEATURES

1. INTRODUCTION

This topic, topic 32 deals with Narrative Texts and its main purpose is
to offer a broad account of the main features and structure of this type of
texts. In order to do that, a linguistic analysis of this type of texts and its
main characteristics are going to be examined. There will also be a
conclusion in order to overview the present study and its educational
implications.

1.1. The Notion of Text Linguistics: Discourse Analysis and


Text Definition

The analysis of texts and its articulation is drawn from the notion of
Text Linguistics. According to Beaugrande & Dressler (1988), the notion of
text linguistics concerns the study of text as an object of inquiry. This
notion, also called Discourse analysis has its origins in the rhetoric studies
of the Ancient Greece and the Medieval Ages. In the former, this study was
based on the training of orators to deliver messages in public scenarios, but
in the latter, it was devoted to the study of grammar and logic.

On defining text, Halliday (1976) establishes that the notion of text


from a linguistic point of view concerns any passage, oral or written, of
whatever length that does form a unified whole. Therefore, we can say that
the definition of text is related to narration since it may be a short or long
story, narrating a fact. In the approach to text linguistics Beaugrande &
Dressler (1988) claimed that a text, oral or written, is established as a
communicative occurrence that must meet the Seven Standards or
Textuality: cohesion, coherence, intentionality, acceptability, informativity,
situationality and Intertextuality. If these rules are not met, the text does not
achieve its communicative goal or function.

Cohesion is a text-centred concept that is highly related to syntax


and other elements that are found on the text surface. Cohesion is
also related to text ties (anaphora, cataphora and ellipsis), signaling
relations that are essential in a narrative.
Coherence is essential in narrative texts to make sense due to
organization because it consists of a set of relations listed under
subordination, coordination and global patterns.
Intentionality transmits the intentions of the text authors, their
attitude, which mainly concerns the configuration of a cohesive and
coherent text that fulfils the receivers intentions.
Acceptability concerns the receivers attitude towards the text.
Texts should be cohesive, coherent and relevant for the receiver in an
appropriate communicative text.
Informativity refers to the extent to which what happens in the text
appears to be expected, unexpected, known or unknown by means of
content words like verbs, nouns, adverbs or adjectives. Some lexical
elements are essential for dialogic texts such as exclamative and
interrogative sentences, deictic pronouns, affirmative and negative
adverbs in answers, ellipsis, etc.
Situationality deals with the elements which make a text relevant to
a current or recoverable situation (Beaugrande & Dressler, 1988).
Intertextuality concerns the factors which make the use of one text
dependent upon knowledge of one or more previously encountered
texts.

In addition, TEXTUAL FEATURES such as texture and ties give a text


the status of being a text and contribute to its total unity by means of
cohesive relations. Regarding TEXTUALITY, we can say that deals with the
rules governing written discourse. Narratives are an important part of the
set of discourses and they are present in different domains.

2. NARRATIVE TEXTS: STRUCTURE AND MAIN FEATURES

In this section, I will examine narrative texts more in depth regarding


the different features of narrative texts and their structrure. A narrative
text is describe as a type of discourse whose main communicative purpose
is to provide information on actions and facts both real and imaginary.
Narrative texts answer to the question: What happened? and they
represent a recounting of events in distant time and space.

2.1. Main Features.

In general, narrative texts tend to have three main elements:


characters, plot and intention. The term CHARACTER gives coherence to
the story and must undergo transformations. The PLOT refers to a sequence
of event which must be altered so as to change the regular story line.
Finally, the concept of INTENTION provides sense and orientation to the
text and it may be explicit. However, LITERARY TEXTS have five common
elements: narrator, characters, theme, plot and setting.

2.1.1.Narrator

The narrator can be described as the voice that tells a story and
bears some relation to the action, either as an observer or a participant.
Hence, the narrator guides the reader through the action. Regarding who
the narrator is and how much he knows about the story, we can say that the
narrator may be: a MAIN CHARACTER, a SECONDARY CHARACTER or an
INVENTED NARRATOR. The narrator can be OMNISCIENT, if they know all
the aspects of the plot, express the characters feelings and thoughts, and
even may anticipate actions; in contrast, to NON-OMNISCIENT narrators
who are external observers and are objective.

Regarding the POINT OF VIEW of the story, that is, the narrators
relationship with the story, the narration can be in THIRD PERSON
SINGULAR, FIRST PERSON and, not very often, SECOND PERSON
SINGULAR. They can express the internal points of view, driven by the
conscience of a specific character, or the external points of view, placed
outside the conscience of any character.

2.1.2.Characters

Characters are necessary to maintain coherence and consistency in a


story. They are defined as the people (or animals) that perform action in
narrative texts. The characters, also called NARRATIVE SUBJECTS, must
undergo a transformation. They can be divided into MAIN CHARACTERS,
who participate in the plot; SECONDARY CHARACTERS, who act as a
support for the main characters, and JUNCTURE CHARACTERS.

According to their characterization, they can be classified into:


ROUND CHARACTERS, individuals around whom the plot is organized; and
FLAT CHARACTERS, who represent stereotypes, conventional attitudes or
ideas. Characterization may be DIRECT, in which the narrator describes
characters physically and emotionally, and INDIRECT, in which all the
information about characters is drawn from their actions.

2.1.3.Theme and Plot

The THEME is the central idea of the story which can be directly
started or through the elements of the story, namely the characters.

The PLOT is the sequence of events; how the stories are organized,
that may be chronical or reverted. It usually involves a problem or a conflict
which is presented in the story. The structure of a narrative piece would
contain the following components: BEGINNING, which refers to the
initiating event; MIDDLE, which deals with the series of events or setbacks
(the obstacles when the main character attempts to solve the problem); and
the END, last sequence in which the author brings the story to a resolution.

The main SOLUTIONS for the ending of the story can take place
through a TWIST ENDING, an unexpected turn of events or a FLASHBACK,
when the story goes back in time to make the reader understand.

2.1.4.Setting: Space and Time

The SETTING of a story refers to when or where the action takes


place, that is the time and place. With regard to SPACE, stories con be set
in REAL or IMAGINARY PLACES and it may have a symbolic meaning. As
far as time is concerned, the reference to TIME provides another
subclassification: historical, internal and rhythmic. Another important
element is the ATMOSPHERE of the story; the creation of a general effect
or feeling throughout the story.

The INTENTIONALITY of narrative texts needs not to be explicit and


it is usually inferred from the narrative. Its existence motivates the narrator
to tell the facts; it is, therefore, its starting point and it is basic for the
comprehensiveness of the narrative meaning. Some authors have named it
moral, due to the fact that it makes the purpose of the narrative explicit
and gives sense to the story.

2.2. Structure of the Narrative

In order to be able to characterize a text as a narrative, the


succession of events must be altered by some unexpected event that
causes a detour from the ordinary course of events, otherwise the ordinary
process of events would be a description of actions. The STRUCTURE of
narrative texts focuses on the ending of the story. Therefore, actions are
constructed according to the plot. There are three types of narrative
developments. Firstly, we find a linear development which follows a
chronological order from the beginning to the end of the story in order to
know eventually the ending of the story. Secondly, if the focus is not on the
ending but on the circumstances leading to the ending, events may start
at the end of the story and be described, then, in terms of flashbacks in
order to attract the readers attention. Thirdly, if the focus is on both the
beginning and the ending, the telling may start at an intermediate point
within the story for events to be described in terms of backwards and
forwards movements. This technique is to be called IN MEDIAS RES
NARRATION.

2.3. Literary Devices of Narrative Texts

The Literary Devices consist of words which are used to enrich the
general understanding of the story. They may be stated indirectly and reflect
the authors different purposes, thus to entertain, to inform, and to enhance
the readers understanding of characters and events in the story. They use
of words produces the mood and tone of the story; it concerns the intra-
textual relations which are established by linking elements within the text,
connected with an extra-textual reference.

2.3.1.Cohesion

A text is cohesive when its elements are linked together. A text is


coherent when it makes sense. Cohesive devices ensure the global
coherence of a text. Therefore, cohesion and coherence are interrelated.
Cohesive markers are essential for the understanding of narrative texts,
whereas coherence makes interpretation by the reader possible, and this
coherence is achieved by means of the use of markers and clues, and the
previously mentioned Seven Standards of Textuality. Connectors and other
linking devices mark the logical relationships between statements. Such
elements tend to be connected with grammar and vocabulary. So, we may
find GRAMMATICAL COHESION together with LEXICAL COHESION.

Grammatical Cohesion comprises certain elements like ellipsis,


substitution, conjunction and reference. The concept of reference takes into
consideration the notions of anaphora, cataphora and deixis. The notion of
connectors is embedded within the heading of conjunction.
Substitution. It refers to the replacement of one item by another to
avoid repetition; usually it tends to be a pronoun or a synonym.
Ellipsis, on the contrary, refers to the omission of an item. For
example, Do you want a beer? No, I just had one (substitution). Do
you want some milk? Yes, I do. (ellipsis).
Reference: According to Halliday and Hassan (1976), it is referred to
as the case where the information to be retrieved is the referential
meaning, the identity of the particular thing or class of things that is
being referred to; and the cohesion lies in the continuity of reference,
whereby the same thing enters into the discourse a second time.
Anaphora and Cataphora, also considered as theme and rheme,
respectively, always tend to appear in dialogic texts. On the one
hand, the former is a word that refers to a word used earlier in a
sentence and replaces it, as in Jim took my ring. I think he lost it. On
the other hand, the latter refers to the use of a word or phrase that
refers to or stands for a later word or phrase.
Conjunction. It entails the relationship of connectors, which
establish and link ideas within a text. They usually join two sentences
by coordination or subordination (and, or, causal: because;
concessive: although, however; summative: to conclude).

Lexical Cohesion deals with connections based on the words used


and can be accomplished by repetitions, the use of words from the same
family and lexical or contextual synonyms. The set of reference items
includes all the specific deictics (pronouns and determiners), which provide
personal demonstrative or comparative reference. The most frequent
anaphorical elements for reference are relative sentences.

2.3.2.Graphological Devices

With respect to graphological resources, they are visual devices that


deal with the structure and form of different types of texts, such as
orthography (the adequate spelling), punctuation (separation of successive
units and the specification of language function), headings, foot notes,
tables of contents and indexes.

2.3.3.Other Literary Devices

As far as literary devices are concerned, the stream of


consciousness and free indirect style are those means by which the
narrator reports the thoughts and speech of a character. The former is
introduced in an immediate manner and the latter is used as a way to report
the characters thought directly.

3. EDUCATIONAL IMPLICATIONS OF NARRATIVE TEXTS

All in all, the present unit connected with narrative texts becomes
particularly interesting to teach the English subject in Secondary Education.
Narrating facts is a basic function of communication. Therefore, writing,
reading or telling stories enables us to carry out everyday tasks which prove
to be essential in our current society. This is emphasized by the increasing
necessity of learning a foreign language. As language represents a vehicle
for culture, it enables students to get an insight of the history, customs and
values of society.

Therefore, according to the CEFR (2002), narrating is essential for


language learners in order to develop the communicative competence and
foster their knowledge of a foreign language. Comprehending and producing
texts fosters interaction and enriches our students grammatical
competence.