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What Is a Narrative Discourse?

By A. Leverkuhn
Updated May 23, 2024
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Narrative discourse is a type of written or verbal communication that involves narration, or in other words, telling a story. This is one of the classic types of discourse that helps people to identify different modes of communication and different kinds of functions for speaking or writing. The narrative discourse is common in certain kinds of media.

There are a few key characteristics and features of narrative discourse. One is that the narrative usually unfolds in chronological order. Narration or storytelling works this way to inform the listener or reader, bringing them through a chain of events sequentially, so that they can naturally build their understanding of the situation or scenario that is being narrated.

Another characteristic of narratives is that they are often written or spoken in the first or third person. Some of these narratives can use the second person viewpoint, but this is unusual. An omniscient narrative uses the third person; for example, someone who says, “the rabbit bounced into the yard,” is building a third person narrative. By contrast, someone who says, “I saw the rabbit bounce into the yard,” is using the first person viewpoint.

In different media, narrative discourse also comes in various forms. In fiction and some other kinds of text media, the narrative often comes in the form of a continuous omniscient and chronological third person narrative. In some forms of visual media, like television and cinema, narration often comes in a first-person monologue, which is sometimes a “voice-over.” In the voice-over, an off-screen voice provides the narrative, superimposed over remote, but often related images.

Analyzing a narrative and identifying narrative discourse helps outsiders to evaluate and analyze written or spoken communications. Students in various academic departments might use the evaluation of narrative to learn more about media and communication. For example, the use of narrative in advertising, where this form of discourse is often mixed with other fundamental forms, can provide a lot of insight into the marketing strategies of the company behind the advertising. Some modern day journalists, pundits, and others involved in social commentary even refer to a “narrative” as the main element of an issue, where parties struggle over control of the narrative to shape the collective perception of events. Understanding the power of narrative is a key part of studying today’s complex media world.

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Discussion Comments
By Niceptosta — On Dec 23, 2013

Modern narrative discourse usually begins with some form of background for the story. Without this background, the reader will have difficulty following the narrative. Some postmodern writers omit any form of background for a story, and instead write in a stream-of-consciousness style that is hard to follow.

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