Recently, I read an article for a course in which people much smarter than myself defined the word “narrative” as it applied to their work (I may have read the article recently, but it is most definitely not a recently publication). As I scrolled through the different definitions, I realized I needed one of my own. For all the time I spend talking about how I want to pursue narrative journalism, it would be a shame for me to not have my own definition and code to abide by as a writer. With this in mind, I am not going to try to create my own definition of “narrative” as it applies to my life and my work. I may not agree with this definition in a few years, a few weeks or even tomorrow, but it’s a start. I hope that, for now, it will act as a basic philosophy for me as a writer.
The “simple” definition of narrative according to Merriam-Webester is “a story that is told or written.”
That is not helpful at all.
I mean, yes, technically that is accurate, but it says nothing about what a narrative is comprised of, its purpose or anything else pertinent. Thus begins my attempt.
While I agree that a narrative is most definitely a story, I feel there is also much more to it than that. A narrative is a road map that guides a person through a story, introducing them to characters, settings, conflicts and resolutions along the way. A narrative is a story with drive, moving a reader, listener or viewer from one point to the next on a veritable highway. Narratives do not stop until they reach their endpoint, and, if they are any good, they will make you want to stick with them for the entire ride.
A narrative is a story, but it is not just any story. Narratives aren’t mere anecdotes that we forget almost as soon as we hear them. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are great works of literature either. Narratives fit snugly in between these two ends of the story spectrum because while they have the comfort and approachable nature, they also leave us changed, thinking and feeling things that are either entirely new to us or new in that specific context. Narratives better humanity.
In fact, all of who we are as humans is based on narrative. We are story-craving creatures, thriving on details and gaining knowledge in messages and themes. Without narrative, we as a human race would be tragically disconnected from each other. In some ways, I think the lack of time spent experiencing narrative is already detrimental to my “generation.” It would be wonderful to think that we could begin to appreciate narrative again, and tools like the Moth Radio Hour are very likely going to be the ones who set us on the right path.
Basically what I’m saying is that narrative is everything. It is a story. It is a tool. It is a way of life. I honestly couldn’t tell you if I succeeded in defining narrative, possibly because it is very late or possibly because it is impossible. All I know for sure is that narrative is my passion and my joy, and I hope that I will be able to do it justice now and in the future.