Narrative Text – Concept, function, structure and characteristics

We explain what a narrative text is, its function, structure, types and other characteristics.

What is a narrative text?

A narrative text is any text, story or narration that tells a specific anecdote, that is, a succession of shares in a limited period of time. It can have literary or merely communicative purposes. Furthermore, narrative texts can take many forms and can be on different supports, both oral and written.

The ability and desire to narrate, as it seems, is characteristic of the human and we have put it into practice since ancient times. For example, the cave paintings of the Altamira Cave are a way of telling, that is, of capturing everyday or extraordinary situations in a specific language, so that future generations can know what happened.

Thus, myths, foundational stories, historical anecdotes and even entire mythologies have been transmitted over time. This shows the possible diversity of the narrative texts that the human being is capable of creating.

Many theorists and language scholars have studied the narrative text. Some of them, like the formalist theorist Tzvetan Todorov (1939-2017), proposed entire areas of study dedicated to narration, that is, the “science of narration”. In the case of Todorov, this discipline got the name of narratology.

Characteristics of narrative texts

Narrative texts are usually characterized by:

  • Tell an anecdote, that is, a set of actions and situations spread over a period of time and in a certain place, and that can be real or fictitious.
  • Consist of characters (protagonists, antagonists, primary, secondary, etc.) that interact with each other through dialogues and actions.
  • Own a storyteller, which is the voice that tells the anecdote from a specific point of view and using a specific language.

The function of a narrative text

The purpose of every story is always one and the same: to make the receiver to imagine the actions narrated as they are told to you, and make you live the experience narrated as your own.

This is easy to observe in a literary narration, such as a novel or a story, but it is also what is behind much more everyday and common forms of narration, such as jokes, anecdotes or memories.

According to many theorists of the subject, it is our ability to narrate one of the traits that make us human, since it allows us to put ourselves in the shoes of the other and foster a whole sense of empathy, equality and society, which cannot be seen in animals.

Structure of a narrative text

Any narrative text is made up of three clearly differentiated phases, according to what was previously proposed by the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BC):

  • Approach, where the reader is introduced to the situation, the characters and everything they need to know to start the story.
  • ComplicationAlso called “knot”, it is where the actions begin to develop some type of problem that afflicts the characters and that generates tension, anguish or restlessness in itself.
  • The outcome, the final moment in which complications are resolved, in one way or another, and a new state of stillness prevails in the story.

To this structure, Todorov adds two more items, which are:

  • Feedback or evaluation, located after the complication, occurs when the events are valued or judged by the characters or by the narrator.
  • Final status, after the outcome, shows the new state of stillness or stability that arises as a consequence of the actions of the story’s outcome.

Types of narrative text

Narrative texts can be of different types, depending on whether they have a literary intention or rather of a different nature. Thus, we have:

Literary narrations. Those who pursue an aesthetic purpose, that is, to move through the stories told, and to do so use all possible poetic resources to beautify themselves. Depending on their composition rules, they can belong to different genres, which are:

  • Novels, great fictions with many characters and a long narration time, divided into chapters and more or less long reading.
  • Stories, short and intense stories, that are read in one sitting and that involve a fictional world much more limited than that of the novel.
  • Chronicles, narratives that are not very fictional or closer to reality, characteristics of cultural journalism and that usually have the purpose of illustrating some real event.
  • Micro stories, or very short stories, with few words and that, tend to the aphoristic, leaving much to the work of the imagination.

Non-literary narratives. These are those that do not pursue aesthetic purposes, but practical or of another nature, not always easily distinguishable, as is the case with intimate diaries, jokes, anecdotes and memories.