Narrative theory

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The narrative theory or narrative research is an interdisciplinary method of the humanities , cultural studies and social sciences , which aims at a systematic description of the form of representation of a narrative text. The English name is “ narratology ”, the French “ narratology ”. That is why the term narratology also appears in German . The term “narratives”, however, has not become generally accepted.

The subject of narrative theory is any type of narrative text : from narrative literature ( epic ) to historiography to interviews , newspaper articles , films , photos or jokes . Subjects in which narrative theory plays an important role are literary studies , media studies , history and sociology .

The more recent narrative theory was developed from 1915 onwards by the Russian formalism and further elaborated by structuralism since the 1950s. The structuralist approach - with later additions - is still relevant today. Important theorists in narratology are Gérard Genette , Claude Lévi-Strauss , Roland Barthes , Roman Jakobson , Juri Lotman , Tzvetan Todorov and Paul Ricœur . The narratology is partly supplemented by semiotics . The post-structuralism criticizes the narrative theory, but he has also significantly expanded.

Recent directions in narratology

In 2005, James Phelan and Peter J. Rabinowitz took the view that there are two ways to practice narrative theory: on the one hand, you try to determine basic principles of narration, then you work in structuralist or classical narrative theory. This is considered old-fashioned, especially by the advocates of post-structuralist approaches, because it looks at the works in a too lifeless way. But this direction is still alive and interesting works are still being produced. The other type provides movement in the field of narrative theory. Phelan and Rabinowitz, for example, used the term theorypractice ” to describe a procedure in which certain theoretical hypotheses are measured against what comes out when their interpretative consequences are used to test the hypotheses. In addition, the theorizing of narration has been expanded to more and more fields over the years and now includes historical, political and ethical questions.

In 2009 Ansgar Nünning compiled a list of 16 contextualistic and culturalistic directions in narratology, provided they were used in Literary and Cultural Studies , and assigned the names of individual representatives, some of them to several of these directions, such as Monika Fludernik and himself.

In their introduction in 2011, the four editors of the volume Strange voices in narrative fiction pointed out that, on the one hand, expanding the field of narratological studies is valuable, but on the other hand there is a risk that specific literary qualities will not be given enough attention. They state as a fact that literary narrative methods " excel in the construction of and playing with the strangeness of the written, narrating voice " (German for example: " excel in the construction of and playing with the strangeness of the written, narrative voice ”).

Analysis categories according to Genette

The structuralist narrative theory according to Genette was developed on literary texts. Your analysis categories are therefore mainly related to the epic . A narrative text can be analyzed according to the following categories: time , mode of narration , voice of the narrator .


According to Genette, the time level of a narrative can be analyzed in three categories: order , duration and frequency .


In many narrative texts, the chronological order of the narrated events ( time of the story ) is not identical to the linguistic sequence of the narrative itself ( time of the narration ). There are, for example, cases in which the actual end of the action is right at the beginning of the text (that would be a prolepse ) or where at the end there is a flashback to a dramatic situation ( analepse ). In general, one speaks of anachrony in all cases . There are different forms of anachronies:

  • Analepse is a flashback, a time leap into the past, for Genette even every subsequent mention of a past event (including retrospection )
    • is deliberately faded out or something left aside, one speaks of a paralipse (lateral omission )
  • Prolepse : foresight, time leap into the future (also anticipation )
    • if it does not overlap with the narrated time, it is an external prolapse
    • If it remains within the narrated time, one speaks of an internal prolapse
    • if it fills a gap in advance, it is a complete prolapse
    • if the same event is told again later, it is a repetitive prolapse ("anticipation")
  • Achronia is an extreme case of anachrony ; the chronological order cannot be reconstructed (also Syllepse ).
  • An ellipse is an omission of events in the narrative. It is not an anachrony, but an acceleration of the narrative pace.


The duration refers to the ratio between the amount of time that the narration in relation to the narrative takes, ie the ratio of narrative time and narrated time . The description of a lightning bolt that lasts only a fraction of a second can take up several pages in a narrative. One then speaks of a time- stretching narrative style, since the process here takes much longer than the narrated event. Conversely, centuries can be dealt with in a narrative in brief words. This would be a case of strong time lapse .

If the events and the narration take up about the same period of time, one speaks of time-covering narration (isochrony). This is often the case with dialogues , for example ; one also speaks of a scene .

Extreme shapes are the ellipse and the break . In the case of the ellipse - mostly unimportant things - are left out in the narration: the narration stands still while the action continues, so that the impression of a "leap in time" arises. The pause, on the other hand, denotes the standstill of the plot while the narration continues, for example by making digressions or considerations that are not relevant to the plot.


  • Singulative : What happens once is told exactly once.
  • Repetitive : What happens once is told several times. For example, when an event is shown from the perspective of different figures or when it is repeated.
  • Iterative : What happens several times is told once. E.g. "As every morning at six he stood in the shower ..."


The degree of mediation and the perspective of the narrated.

Distance / Indirectness

  • Narrative : With distance (indirect, haple diegesis , telling )
    • Narrated speech (awareness report, narrated speech)
  • Transposed speech : stands between dramatic and narrative speech in terms of the degree of distance or indirectness. The transposed speech includes the indirect speech and the experienced speech .
  • Dramatic : Without distance (immediate, mimesis , showing )
    • direct autonomous figure speech (without verbum dicendi )
    • direct figure speech (with verbum dicendi , e.g. "he said ...")
    • Stream of Consciousness
    • Thought quotation (with verbum credendi , e.g. "I thought ...")
    • Inner monologue

Focalization (according to Genette)

  • Zero focus : the narrator knows more than the character. (Narrator> character)
  • Internal focus : the narrator knows as much as the character. (Narrator = character)
  • External focus : the narrator knows less than the character. (Narrator <character)

Voice / narrator

Question: Who is actually speaking?

Time of narration

under the "perspective of the relational time position" (the narrative) a distinction is made as follows:

  • later narration: the classic position of the narrative in the past tense
  • Earlier narration: predictive narration, generally in the future tense, but can also be presented in the present tense
  • Simultaneous narration: narration in the present tense, accompanies the action simultaneously
  • inserted narration: inserted between the moments of the action

Person (homodiegetic / heterodiegetic)

The 'Person' category describes the narrator's positioning relative to the narrated world. (Author ≠ narrator!)

  • Homodiegetic : the narrator is part of diegesis (the narrated world). (Newer narrative theories assume that the narrator conveys the narrated world only with the help of the perception of a character in the narrated world ; he does not merge with this person.)
  • Heterodiegetic : the narrator is not part of diegesis. (Newer narrative theories assume that the narrator is basically the intermediary between the narrative text (including the narrated world) and the recipient of the text. He is only presented explicitly or implicitly.)
  • Autodiegetic : The (homodiegetic) narrator is also the main character, the narrator tells his own story, so to speak. (Analogous to the theory of the homodiegetic narrator, the more recent narrative theory assumes that narrator and character cannot merge because they have two different levels of awareness of the existence of the narrative text: the characters do not know that they are part of a narrative. The narrator can never be the protagonist of his / her own story. When a character tells his / her own story in retrospect, he / she as the narrator has at least one different attitude towards the narrated actions than he / she had at the moment of the action. )

Level (die table / extra die table)

The extradiegetic narrator is the narrator who tells the outermost plot (frame narration, if there is an internal narration; diegetic or intradiegetic narration in Genette).

If a narrator appears again in this narrative, then it is an intradiegetic narrator , what he tells is a metadiegetic narration (internal narration ). A metadiegetic narrator tells a metametadiegetic narrative , etc.

Example: An (intradiegetic) narrator describes how a family makes itself comfortable by the fireplace to listen to grandma's stories. The old lady begins to tell of the love of her youth (internal narration). Grandma remembers a conversation with her first lover. He says that he has had an eye on her for a long time and describes (metadiegetically) his first encounter with her.

Further approaches

There are several other approaches to narrative theory that form more or less self-contained models.

Further approaches result from a combination of classical narratology with other disciplines, media and genres, as well as the influence of post-structuralist ideas. Examples are feminist narratology, cognitive narratology or linguistic narratology. The new approaches are only partially well developed, but offer a wide field for further theories.

Narrative scheme

The narrative scheme is generally understood to mean the structure of the linear sequence (or sequential structure ) of the elements of a narrative on the level of events and actions ( histoire ). In addition to the histoire level, there is the discours level , which is the concrete linguistic design of the text (e.g. through rhetorical stylistic devices ). It is not taken into account when analyzing the narrative scheme.

When analyzing a narrative scheme, here is how you proceed. First, one examines the order in which the events are told in the narrative ( histoire ) and arranges them linearly abstracted from there to form a scheme:

A murder happens - the police are investigating the case and are faced with a riddle - the detective is hired - the main suspect flirts with the detective - another suspect is questioned - etc.

This sequence can be further abstracted:

Crime - Finding the culprit - (multiple failures) - Arrest.

This gives you - a very simple scheme of the crime novel .

If, for example, one compares several stories by an author (or several authors), one can determine whether the structure of the story is always the same at the level of the histoire, whether the sequence varies, etc. In literature, certain narrative schemes are so successful that they are of many authors are adopted, e.g. B. the Bildungsroman , the short story , the novella . Of course, there are again deviations from the scheme in individual cases, or new schemes are developed.

The most conventional scheme of a narrative text is taught in school lessons: it consists of an exposition in which the characters are presented, a main part in which the plot is developed and which ends with a dramatic climax ( climax , punch line in comic narratives ), followed by an ending . The schema actually comes from the analysis of the drama, goes back in part to Aristotle and is only formulated in Gustav Freytag (1863).

Space model according to Juri M. Lotman

Fictionality / factuality

It is difficult to find a clear distinction between fictional and factual texts. On the one hand, techniques are used in many factual types of text that are considered characteristic of fictional literature (e.g. in reports, historiography). On the other hand, most fictional texts refer to places, times and facts of reality, i. H. the fiction consists almost exclusively of the fictionalized real.

Fictional signals are all characteristics that indicate the fictionality of a work, i.e. all characteristics through which fictional texts can be recognized as such. The use of fictional signals is subject to historical change and is conditioned by conventions (contract of the staged discourse).

Formal fictional signals describe the reader's knowledge of the background to the genesis of the narrative, the reception and the communication situation; they are therefore contextual. By specifying the genre (e.g. novel), a fictional contract can arise with the reader.

Fiction signals internal to the text concern the internal order and organization of the text, for example time, narrative situation, the relationship ANP (author - narrator / narrator - protagonist).

In the autobiography there is a specific agreement between the author and the reader, the autobiographical pact (after Philippe Lejeune). The identity of author, narrator and protagonist (A = N = P) guarantees the reader the factual status of the text. The author vouches with his personal name, not for accuracy, but for sincere efforts (“Please believe me!”).

Socio-cultural function of storytelling

In biosociology , a branch of sociology , some researchers argue that human history begins with the invention of storytelling. There is no way to prove this hypothesis empirically ; Rather, it means that being human is defined centrally by the ability to tell stories (see anthropology ).

In sociology, it is assumed that in many primitive peoples - as well as in some tribes still existing today that do not know any script - the narrator has an important social function. A narrator orally carries on the myths , genealogies , fairy tales and legends of a people. In this way he forms the social memory of his tribe.

Criticism of narratology

In 1990, Christine Brooke-Rose came to the conclusion that narratology itself is little more than storytelling - like everything wanting to be named - even if it should be viewed as a good story. Narratology becomes trivial, however, if it relies on trying to collect laws of universal validity. It is interesting, however, when analytical interest turns away from text as an object (with inherent structures) and towards the reader, who is assumed to have internalized these structures and learned to recognize them. Narratological researchers would give the impression, however, that they themselves urgently need to experience what happens when they do not understand a text without obstacles. Narratology was very useful to determine individual mechanisms of language and text more precisely, but discussions about narratological phenomena got stuck in self-referentiality, similar to the "postmodern" novel . Brooke-Rose sums up each phase with the rhetoric it deserves.

See also



Oldest first

Recent introductions

  • Christoph Bode : The novel. An introduction. (= UTB. 2580). Francke, Tübingen / Basel 2005, ISBN 3-8252-2580-1 .
  • Sönke Finnern: Narratology and Biblical Exegesis . Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2010, ISBN 978-3-16-150381-8 . (Interdisciplinary, very comprehensive presentation)
  • Sönke Finnern, Jan Rüggemeier: Methods of New Testament Exegesis. A textbook and workbook. (= UTB 4212). Tübingen 2016, ISBN 978-3-8252-4212-1 . (Didactically sophisticated, offers an integrative overall model of text interpretation)
  • Monika Fludernik : Narrative Theory. An introduction . WBG, Darmstadt 2006. (3rd edition. 2010, ISBN 978-3-534-16330-4 ).
  • Tilmann Köppe, Tom Kindt: Narrative Theory. An introduction. Reclam, Stuttgart 2014, ISBN 978-3-15-017683-2 .
  • Albrecht Koschorke : Truth and Invention. Basics of a general narrative theory. S. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 2013, ISBN 978-3-10-038911-4 .
  • Florian Kragl / Eva von Contzen (eds.): Narratology and medieval storytelling. Author, narrator, perspective, time and space. (Series: The Middle Ages. Perspectives of Medieval Research. Supplements 7). De Gruyter, Berlin 2018, ISBN 978-3-11-056547-8 .
  • Silke Lahn, Jan Christoph Meister: Introduction to narrative text analysis . JB Metzler, Stuttgart 2008; 2., updated Edition 2013, ISBN 978-3-476-02478-7 .
  • Matías Martínez , Michael Scheffel : Introduction to narrative theory . CH Beck, Munich 1999; 10th update u. revised Edition 2016, ISBN 978-3-406-63860-2 . (Good to read)
  • Nicole Mahne: Transmedia narrative theory. An introduction. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2007, ISBN 978-3-8252-2913-9 . (Cross-media approach)
  • Michael Metzeltin : Theoretical and applied semantics. From concept to text . Praesens Verlag, Vienna 2007, ISBN 978-3-7069-0548-0 .
  • Wolf Schmid : Elements of Narratology . Walter de Gruyter, Berlin 2008; 3rd, exp. u. revised 2014 edition, ISBN 978-3-11-020264-9 ; russ. 2005.
  • Peter Wenzel (ed.): Introduction to narrative text analysis. Categories, models, problems. Knowledge Verlag Trier, Trier 2004, ISBN 3-88476-700-3 . (With key questions for the specific text analysis)

reference books

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. James Phelan, Peter J. Rabinowitz: Introduction: Tradition and Innovation in Contemporary Narrative Theory. In: James Phelan, Peter J. Rabinowitz (Eds.): A Companion to Narrative Theory. Blackwell Publishing, Malden / Mass. / Oxford 2005, pp. 1-16.
  2. ^ Ansgar Nünning: Surveying Contextualist and Cultural Narratologies: Towards an Outline of Approaches, Concepts and Potentials. In: Sandra Heinen, Roy Sommer (Eds.): Narratology in the Age of Cross-disciplinary Narrative Research. de Gruyter, Berlin 2009, ISBN 978-3-11-022243-2 , pp. 48-70, pp. 54-55.
  3. Per Krogh Hansen, Stefan Iversen, Henrik Skov Nielsen, Rolf Reitan (eds.): Strange voices in narrative fiction . De Gruyter, Berlin 2011, ISBN 978-3-11-026857-7 , pp. 1–11, p. 4.
  4. Christine Brooke-Rose: Whatever happened to narratology? In: Poetics Today. 11 1990, pp. 283-293, later in: Stories, theories and things. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1991, ISBN 0-521-39181-4 , pp. 16-27.