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I’ve been using the two terms ‘Story’ and ‘Narrative’ very frequently on this blog. As I look back, I realize that I may not have done a very good job defining them, or more importantly, the difference between the two.

The goal here is to explain these concepts and how they relate to each other to someone completely unfamiliar with literary theory.

Story

A ‘story’ is, in simplest terms, a sequence of events. So when thinking of a story it is A then B then C then D, the set of relevant events in chronological order.

Let’s go spelling bee and use these two terms in somewhat defining sentences.

The story of Bob’s Monday begins when he wakes up in the morning. He brushes his teeth, gets dressed, gets in his car, drives to work, parks, sits at his desk, goes to lunch, flirts with his coworkers, goes back to his desk, does more work, drives home, eats dinner and then he goes to sleep at night.

Story is the entire sequence of events (though even that paragraph simplifies some).

Plot

Plot describes a set of events as they relate to each other. The term is concerned with how to sequence and select the events of a story as a structure for its telling and how that telling can find maximum effect.

The plot usually concerns itself with specific points of the story and the pattern of their relation. If we go with Freytag on this, plot breaks down a story into events dealing with exposition, the rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.

The plot of Bob’s Monday begins when he wakes up in the morning. The most interesting part of the day is at lunch, when he flirts with his coworkers. The plot ends when he goes to sleep at night.

Narrative

The concept of narrative deals more with how the events are told. Narrative is the ordering of events into a consumable format.

If you don’t mind using the previous words in this one’s definition, narrative is the method and means by which you construct the events of a story into a plot. It concerns itself with the sequence of the events, the medium on which they are told and the way these events are put together into one coherent unit. 

Narratives may involve a reordering of the events of a story. The story’s events can be set out of chronological order; be combined with elements from outside of the story to better tell the consumer what is going on; or to build dramatic effect. Sometimes a narrative may draw attention to things or events the story lacks, because the contrast is interesting.

The narrative comes from the events of the story in order to create a dramatic effect through the structure of the plot.

The narrative of Bob’s Monday: Bob wakes up in the morning, skipping breakfast so he can go straight to work. Though most of Bob’s day is boring, he enjoys lunch, when he frequently flirts with his coworkers. After work he goes straight home to get enough sleep to go to work the next day.

If you’ve been confused by how I use these different terms, hopefully this helps you better understand them. If not, please tell me down in the comments and I can elaborate further.

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  1. Susan on Thursday 8, 2011

    Am looking at the effect of mise en scene on the plot. but still i cannot tell the diffrence between the plot and the narrative. can they be used interchagerbly

  2. kebman on Thursday 8, 2011

    Your explanation is very confusing to me. I’ve learned that the plot is simply what really happened, i.e. the whole story. Simple as that! :) It is out of this plot that the narrative is spun, for instance as seen trough the eyes of a certain character, or by hiding certain plot points to excite the reader or viewer. However I might of course be completely wrong.

  3. Phoebe on Thursday 8, 2011

    Soooooo useful to my literature course!

  4. ameya on Thursday 8, 2011

    loved it. i came with my own example after reading this which i think makes this article the easiest explanation on the matter.

    thanks

  5. Moses on Thursday 8, 2011

    i liked the way he broke it down to defuse confusion that exists among Story, Plot and narrative.

  6. Graciela on Thursday 8, 2011

    If I record a person telling me what happened in a movie and concluding with her view of it, is that a narrative? or a story?

  7. Graciela on Thursday 8, 2011

    If I record a person telling me what happened in a movie and concluding with her view of it, is that a narrative?

  8. […] the difference between story and narrative? A story is a sequence of events whilst a narrative is how the story is […]


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