Study Guide

Narrative Theory Buzzwords

Story

This is the raw material of what you're reading, watching, or experiencing. Sure, stories can be about all sorts of things, but what they have in common is that they involve a series of events. You can't create a narrative if you don't have a basic story to tell in the first place; it's the story that gives you your starting point.

Narrative

Okay, so you've got your story; now it's time to turn it into a narrative. Basically, narrative refers to how the story is put together. Is it chronological? Are there flashbacks? Does the end come first? Which events are described in full, and which ones are kept in the background?

Narrative Voice

There are two main categories of narrative voice. If you've got a narrator who tells you all about his or her experiences firsthand ("I thought," "I said" etc.), then you're dealing with first-person narration. If, however, you've got a disembodied voice telling you all about what's going down ("he thought," "she said"), then you're dealing with a more detached, third-person narrative.

Focalization

While voice refers to who speaks, focalization is about who perceives. If your narrative is told totally through one character's perspective, you've got internal focalization. If your narrator is omniscient, you've got external focalization. (And yep, it does get more complicated than that.) Focalization and narrative voice work together to help create what's often known as a narrative situation.

Diegesis

One of the main things that narratives have in common in that they all create a world within the narrative, and that's known as the narrative's diegesis. This doesn't have to be some fantasy realm: whether we're reading about Middle Earth or a more realistic setting, we're looking in on a world contained within the text.

Diegetic

Diegetic stuff is stuff that happens within the diegesis of a narrative. Basically, it's just the stuff that happens within the fictional world of a text. The word "diegetic" usually has some kind of prefix attached to it. For example, a direct, first-person narrator is known as "homodiegetic," while a third-person narrator is (take a wild guess) "heterodiegetic." You don't need to worry about learning all the varieties right away—just keep in mind that they define different positions in relation to the narrative world.

Fabula

This is a word that the Russian formalists used when discussing the chronological sequence of events in a story—you know, the beginning, middle, and end. Think of it this way: you know how Titanic is about some old dame telling the story of her trip on the ship? The fabula of Titanic would be how that story plays out in real time: girl gets on the ship, the ship sinks, girl gets old, girl talks about it. It's the story of Titanic before any of the fancy juggling with time and perspective happens. Which brings us to…

Syuzhet

The fancy juggling with time and perspective that happens to fabula when you actually make it into a work of art. It's sort of like this: fabula is the basic story, and syuzhet is how the story is actually told.

Chronotope

If you think about it, the whole idea of a narrative centers on movement, and this includes both the passage of time and the physical movements of the characters. In a novel, for example, the passage of time may include days, weeks, even years, and characters probably spend a lot of time walking around, driving, flying places, whatever. The chronotope is the connection between time and space within a text. To go back to Titanic, the chronotope of the main action is a stretch of the North Atlantic ocean over the course of a few days in 1912.

Analepsis and Prolepsis

Though there are plenty of texts that present time as linear (as progresses naturally from point A to point B over the course of a narrative), some play around with the concept of time or interrupt it at certain points. We've all seen movies that have flashbacks or flash-forwards, and the same goes for written texts. Analepsis and prolepsis are terms that you'd think are totally complicated, but they're really just technical names: analepsis=flashback and prolepsis=flash-forward. Five dollar words for the win.