Narrative – Concept, characteristics, genres and characters

We explain what narrative is, its characteristics and narrative genres. In addition, its elements, types of narrator and character.

The narrative presents anecdotes starring characters.

What is the narrative?

The narrative it is one of the great literary genres, present throughout the centuries in different forms, cultures and environments, both orally and in writing, which satisfies one of the typical needs of human civilization: that of telling stories. The presence of a voice that tells the story, called the narrator, is its fundamental feature and that best defines it, distinguishing it from other literary genres.

Narrative encompasses many narrative genres, which tend to change historically. However, they always have in common the presence of a web of anecdotes and stories to tell, a specific narrative voice that enunciates them, and there are characters that star in it and fulfill different roles within it.

From the first founding myths and mythologies, to recent literary, cinematographic and comic productions, the narrative has accompanied humanity and served as a stage to represent and preserve their thought, their values ​​and their ways of seeing the universe.

The term “narrative” is also often used as a loan in other areas of knowledge and social sciences, such as politics, to refer to the set of ideas, values ​​and relationships that are proposed from a conception or model of the country, and that start from a specific relationship with the past and with the future, that is, they propose a story in their own way.

Characteristics of the narrative

The narrative, broadly speaking, is characterized by the following:

  • The presence of a narrator. Every story always and necessarily has a narrator, that is, a voice that carries the story forward and provides the necessary details to recreate it imaginatively. Said narrator may or may not be part of the story (a character) and may use many different resources to tell it.
  • The stories may or may not be fiction. In cases where the anecdote is all the result of the author’s imagination, the term “fiction” is used, although a narrative work is never 100% disconnected from the real references, not even in the case of fantastic stories. Conventionally, “non-fiction” is understood as journalistic, autobiographical or chronic narratives.
  • Prose is used. Although in ancient times it was common to use verse to memorize stories intended for oral enunciation, for a long time prose has been used to write narratives.
  • The stories address a plot. That is, they must always have something to tell, some succession of events, be they real and external to the characters, or imaginary and subjective, internal or psychological.

Narrative genres

narrative narrative genres
The comic strip is a current narrative genre with roots in antiquity.

Narrative genres have changed a lot over time, as they adapt to the expressive needs of humanity in its historical moment. Initially, in Classical Antiquity and the Middle Ages, the epic and the chanting of deeds were known respectively, traditional forms of the epic, in which the deeds of mythological heroes were described in long-standing texts.

It is also important to mention the myth and legend, some of the oldest forms of narration and oral tradition. However, in modern times we consider as narrative genres the following:

  • The modern tale. A typically short story, with few characters and moderate breadth, in which a main character is accompanied from the beginning of a series of events to the end, and in which a transformation, a peak event or an outcome is usually witnessed shocking. It was a widely cultivated genus during the 19th and 20th centuries.
  • The novel. The great narrative genre of the modern world, especially in the last two centuries, is a form of long-term story divided into chapters, in which the reader delves deeply into the motivations and the internal world of the characters. This genre has been reinvented many times and currently entails enormous literary freedom, being able to pass itself off as documents of all kinds, or approach essays, poetry and other genres at will.
  • The chronic. Approaching journalism and on a thin line with respect to reality, the chronicle is a common genre among explorers, journalists, travelers and other narrators of what has been lived. In it, the imagination is put at the service of the author’s subjective truth, that is, it is used to narrate the experience in the most interesting way possible.
  • The newspaper. A very common genre during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, consists of the recording of the author’s daily events in a sequence dated and organized chronologically, in such a way that we can accompany him during the recount of important events in his life, on a trip or in a war, for example.
  • Cartoon. Halfway between illustration and literature, the comic strip genre is a form of contemporary narrative that has roots in Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Sometimes called “sequential art” or “sequential storytelling,” it consists of a set of images and text placed side by side to compose a recognizable story.
  • The cinematography. A modern narrative genre that constitutes an artistic genre in itself, technically related to photography. It uses audiovisual technology (to capture images and sound) to tell a fictional story, using special effects and camera resources to give it verisimilitude.
  • The videogames. Another essentially contemporary form of stories, the result of the rapid development and popularization of computers at the end of the 20th century, which allowed the creation of narrative and interactive audiovisual experiences, in which the user enters fictional worlds to participate (or sometimes control ) the unfolding of the story.

Elements of the narrative

The elements that make up any form of narrative are the following:

  • The narrator. The voice in charge of telling the story from a predetermined point of view and using a specific language.
  • The plot. The set of anecdotes and descriptions that make up the story, that is, what happens to the characters and that the reader wants to discover as they read.
  • Characters. The instances to which the events of the plot occur, whether they star in it or not. The narrator may or may not be one of them.
  • Stage. With more or less presence in the story, it is about the place and time in which the events of the plot occur. It may be a remote future, a specific past epoch, or a diffuse present, to name a few examples.
  • The language or style. It is about the way in which you choose to tell the plot, from a linguistic and poetic point of view, that is, the type of words that are used, the general tone (atmosphere) of the story, and so on.

Types of narrators

The narrators can be of very different types, depending on the way they tell their story, that is, fundamentally, on the point of view they choose and their participation (or not) in the plot. Thus, we can talk about:

  • First person narrators. Those who speak of “I” and tell the story as if they were part of it, that is, they are both a character and a narrator. Therefore, they can be the protagonists of the story (protagonist narrator) or they can be witnesses of what happened (witness narrator).
  • Second person narrators. Those who tell the story to a narrator, that is, who constantly address a second grammatical person (“you”, “you”, “you”, etc.). This narrator is very rare, due to the stylistic and narrative limitations that it implies.
  • Third person narrators. Those who speak of “he” or “she” or “they”, to refer to the characters in the story. This means that they see the events narrated from the outside, without being part of them, and without being a character in themselves. They can also be omniscient narrators, who see and know everything, as if they had God’s perspective; or disembodied witness narrators, whose best equivalent would be the point of view of the cinematographic camera.

Character types

The characters, too, can be classified according to their role within the story told, as follows:

  • Main character. To whom the story happens, that is, the main character, who may or may not be the narrator of it. The narration usually depends on him and accompanies him in his actions, and in the event of his death the story does not usually continue.
  • Antagonistic characters. Those who oppose the protagonist’s wishes or who serve as a counterweight, that is, the “villains” or “baddies” of the story. This does not necessarily mean that they must be evil from a moral point of view, but that they are simply on the opposite side of the protagonist.
  • Secondary characters. Those who accompany the protagonist in the narration told, and who constitute his immediate emotional world, such as family, friends, partners, adventure companions, and so on. They can be dispensed with without the story necessarily having to come to an end.
  • Tertiary characters. Those who populate the possible world of the story, and who do not play any role in it, beyond some specific or circumstantial event. We do not know anything about them, often not even their name, and we do not care, because they are practically part of the setting of the story.