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Instead of an Introduction: Defining Narratology

The term narratology (Fr. narratologie) was coined by Tzvetan Todorov to designate what he
called a science of narrative, a theoretical frame that would explain how narrative discourse
fashions stories (mere sequences of events in time) into organised, meaningful structures
(Abrams 1999: 173). Focusing on the shift from the surface-level of the text-based narrative
to the general, logical and structural properties of narrative as a univers de reprsentations
(Todorov in Meister 2011-2014), narratological studies aim at providing concepts and models
that can be used as tools for the analysis (and, why not, the production) of narratives,
proposing, in other words, a grammar of narrative including structures and narrative
formulae that may recur in a wide range of textual forms. Drawing on theories about the
representation of reality in fiction, about core elements that sustain the construction of
narrative(s), that can be traced back to a more or less distant past from the Greek Antiquity
(Plato and Aristotle) to trends in theory and criticism of the first half of the twentieth century
(Neo-Aristotelianism or Russian Formalism) narratology emerged, indeed, within the
framework of French Structuralism, but then has evolved throughout the late decades of the
twentieth century and the early decades of the twenty-first century to the point that it has
grown into a group of theories that could be applied to a wide range of narrative texts (not
only fictional/non-fictional narratives, but also drama, poetry, film, music, the visual and
performing arts, computer games, etc.)

I. Literature and Reality: Mimesis.

Plato (The Republic)
Mimesis/Diegesis = imitation/copy of reality
direct imitation of speech (dialogue)/ vs./ indirect imitation of
reality (summarising narration)

Artistic representations of material objects are too far from reality, being imitations of
imitations. (Kenny 2013: xii)
Copies of reality, mere substitutes for the things themselves may, unfortunately,
be false or illusory substitutes that stir up antisocial emotions (violence or weakness) and
they may represent bad persons and actions, encouraging imitation of evil (Mitchell 1995:

Aristotle (Poetics)
Mimesis related to truth and likelihood (not to truth/ falsehood) Mimesis = a
representational model of reality (not a mere, perfect imitation/copy of reality).
The writers job is not to relate what actually happened, but rather the kind of thing
that would happen, either necessarily or probably. In addition, (s)he tells about truths
that, even if not necessarily in the philosophical sense, are universal in their
application to human nature. Literature is supposed to teach lessons based on necessity
or probability. (Kenny 2013: xxvii, xxviii)
Both indirect narrative and direct representation become varieties of mimesis.
Forms of mimesis distinctions in terms of their medium (epic, drama, painting,
sculpture, dancing and music), their object (people in action), and their mode of
representation (the narrative/epic and the dramatic) (Poetics. I. Various Kinds of
Poetry) the first plot and character typologies.

The understanding of a piece of writing fictional or non-fictional can only be explained in

terms of our existing model(s) of reality that are influenced by:
the structure of fact, explanation, supposition, which draws on our already existing
knowledge ;
the plausibility of the report, i.e. the possibility of making plausible connections
between one act and another. (Leech and Short 1992: 154)

The written text = a representational model which may turn out to be more or less faithful
to the represented reality.

Until the end of the nineteenth century, writers and critics have drawn upon the Aristotelian
theory of mimesis, showing more concern with the extent to which literary works managed to
comply with the constantly debated upon and redefined principle of verisimilitude. There
have been, of course, some who, more or less explicitly, have investigated different aspects of
narrative structure, calling into question the pre-established conventions of novel writing and
challenging the readers expectations. (e.g. Cervantes, Diderot, Sterne, etc.). Nevertheless, it
is only from the nineteenth century on that narrative techniques become the subject of more
systematic analysis and Flaubert or Henry James are among the first to pave the way for the
development of narratology as a well-defined approach to narratives.

II. Early models for the analysis of narrative discourse

II.1. Story and Plot.
E. M. Forster (1927) the distinction between the what and the how = story and plot
(1) The king died and then the queen died.
(2) The king died, and then the queen died of grief.

(3) The queen died, no one knew why, until it was discovered that it was through
grief at the death of the king.

Story: a narrative of events arranged in their time-sequence (1).
Plot: a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality (2); a narrative of events with
more mystery in it, with the time-sequence suspended and capable of further high
development (3). (Forster in Scholes 1966: 221)

II. 2. Wayne Booths Neo-Aristotelian approach to narrative discourse

The Chicago School/ Neo-Aristotelianism: Its theoretical basis is principally derived
from Aristotles concepts of plot, character and genre, as presented in his Rhetoric and
Wayne Booth (The Rhetoric of Fiction, 1961)
basic premises:
All narrative is a form of rhetoric.
The distinction between showing and telling in fiction too simplistic.
distinctions between different instances involved in the communication
process in literature.

Booth does not see the author as the only person involved in creating a work of fiction.
Instead, he sees this creation as comprised of both author and reader with a narrator to
guide the reader through the maze of the text. For Booth, the reader and the author cannot be
separated because of the power both author and reader exert on the text and the power the text
exerts on the author and reader. Booth argues that the author constructs an implied author
and a narrator, both of whom connect to a specific reading community. implied author
(the authors official scribe or second self) whom the reader invents by deduction from
the attitudes articulated in the fiction.
The implied author chooses, consciously or unconsciously, what we read; we infer him
as an ideal, literary, created version of the real man; he is the sum of his own choices in:
style (providing insight into the authors norms);
tone (through which the author implies his judgment of the material presented);
technique (the artistry of the author).
It is only by distinguishing between the author and his implied image that we can avoid
pointless and unverifiable talk about such qualities as sincerity or seriousness in the
author. (Booth 1983: 74-5)
The author also creates an implied/postulated reader whose values and background
represent the ideal reader: The author creates, in short, an image of himself and another image
of his reader; he makes his reader, as he makes his second self, and the most successful reading is
one in which the created selves, author and reader, can find complete agreement. (138)

Narrator typologies (1):
Undramatized narrators (that are not given personal characteristics): In so far as
a novel does not refer directly to this [implied] author, there will be no distinction
between him and the implied, undramatized narrator. (151)
Dramatized narrators: () even the most reticent narrator has been dramatized
as soon as he refers to himself as I. The range of dramatized narrators is usually
wide, from vivid narrator-characters, disguised narrator-characters telling the
audience what it needs to know or seemingly acting out their roles to third-person
centers of consciousness through whom authors have filtered their narratives.
Hence the further distinction between mere observers and narrator-agents (who
produce measurable effect on the course of events). (152-3)

Modes of representation and narrator type (2):

All narrators and observers, whether first or third person, can relay their tales to
us primarily as scene (), primarily as summary () or, most commonly, as a
combination of the two. [] the contrast between scene and summary, between
showing and telling, is likely to be of little use until we specify the kind of narrator
who is providing the scene or the summary. (154-5)
Commentary: (1) merely ornamental, serving a rhetorical purpose,
without being part of the dramatic structure; (2) integral to the dramatic
self-conscious narrators, aware of themselves as writers (Such fiction
shatters any illusion that the narrator is telling something that has actually
happened by revealing to the reader that the narration is a work of fictional art,
or by flaunting the discrepancies between its patent fictionality and the reality
it seems to represent.) /versus/ narrators who rarely, if ever, discuss their
writing chores or who seem unaware that they are
writing/thinking/speaking/reflecting a literary work.

Narrator typologies (3):

reliable narrator: usually in the third person, coming close to the values of the
implied author (he speaks for or acts in accordance with the norms of the work,
which is to say, the implied authors norms);
unreliable narrator: often a character within the story, deviating from the
values of the implied author.
It is true that most of the great reliable narrators indulge in large amounts
of incidental irony, and they are thus unreliable in the sense of being
potentially deceptive. But difficult irony is not sufficient to make a narrator
unreliable. Nor is unreliability ordinarily a matter of lying (). It is most
often a matter of what [Henry] James calls inconscience; the narrator is
mistaken, or he believes himself to have qualities which the author denies
Unreliable narrators thus differ markedly depending on how far and in
what direction they depart from their authors norms; the older term tone,
like the currently fashionable terms irony and distance, covers many
effects that we should distinguish. (158-9)

Abrams, M. H. (1999) A Glossary of Literary Terms, Boston: Heinle & Heinle. Thomson Learning
Aristotle (2013) Poetics, translated with an introduction and notes by Anthony Kenny, Oxford: Oxford
University Press
Booth, Wayne (1983) The Rhetoric of Fiction, Second edition, Chicago: University of Chicago Press
Leech, Geoffrey and Michael Short (1985) Style in Fiction, Longman, London & New York
Lintvelt, Jaap (1994) Punctul de vedere. ncercare de tipologie narativ, Bucureti: Editura Univers
Meister, Jan Christoph (2011-2014) The Living Handbook of Narratology, Hamburg: Hamburg
University Press [online], available from
Mitchell, W. J. T. (1995) Representation. In Lentricchia, Frank and McLaughlin, Thomas
(eds.), Critical Terms for Literary Study, Second edition, Chicago: The University of Chicago
Press, 11-22
Scholes, Robert (1966) Approaches to the Novel. Materials for a Poetics, Scranton, Pennsylvania:
Chandler Publishing Company