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Chapter 2 - Defining narrative

H. Porter Abbott
Affiliation:
University of California, Santa Barbara
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Summary

The bare minimum

Simply put, narrative is the representation of an event or a series of events. “Event” is the key word here, though some people prefer the word “action.” Without an event or an action, you may have a “description,” an “exposition,” an “argument,” a “lyric,” some combination of these or something else altogether, but you won't have a narrative. “My dog has fleas” is a description of my dog, but it is not a narrative because nothing happens. “My dog was bitten by a flea” is a narrative. It tells of an event. The event is a very small one – the bite of a flea – but that is enough to make it a narrative.

Few, if any, scholars would dispute the necessity of at least one event for there to be narrative, but there are a number who require more than this. Some require at least two events, one after the other (Barthes, Rimmon-Kenan). And more than a few go even further, requiring that the events be causally related (Bal, Bordwell, Richardson). To both of these camps, my examples of narrative above would appear too impoverished to qualify. In my own view and that of still others (Genette, Smith), the field of narrative is so rich that it would be a mistake to become invested in a more restrictive definition that requires either more than one event or the sense of causal connection between events.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2008
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  • Defining narrative
  • H. Porter Abbott, University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Book: The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative
  • Online publication: 05 June 2014
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511816932.004
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  • Defining narrative
  • H. Porter Abbott, University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Book: The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative
  • Online publication: 05 June 2014
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511816932.004
Available formats
×

Send book to Google Drive

To send content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

  • Defining narrative
  • H. Porter Abbott, University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Book: The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative
  • Online publication: 05 June 2014
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511816932.004
Available formats
×