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Narrative criticism focuses on the stories a speaker or a writer tells to understand how they help us make meaning out of our daily human experiences. Narrative theory is a means by which we can comprehend how we impose order on our experiences and actions by giving them a narrative form. According to Walter Fisher,[1] narratives are fundamental to communication and provide structure for human experience and influence people to share common explanations and understandings (58). Fisher defines narratives as “symbolic actions-words and/or deeds that have sequence and meaning for those who live, create, or interpret them.” Study of narrative criticism, therefore, includes form (fiction or non-fiction, prose or poetry), genre (myth, history, legend, etc.), structure (including plot, theme, irony, foreshadowing, etc.) characterization, and communicator’s perspective.

Characteristics of a narrative were defined as early as Aristotle in his Poetics under plot.[2] He called plot as the “first principle” or the “soul of a tragedy.” According to him, plot is the arrangement of incidents that imitate the action with a beginning, middle, and end . Plot includes introduction of characters, rising action and introduction of complication, development of complication, climax (narrative), and final resolution. As described by White (1981)[3] and Martin (1986),[4] plot involves a structure of action. However, not all narratives contain a plot. Fragmentation occurs as the traditional plot disappears, narratives become less linear, and the burden of meaning making gets shifted from the narrator to the reader.[5]

Narratives can be found in a range of practices such as novels, short stories, plays, films, histories, documentaries, gossip, biographies, television and scholarly books.[6] All of these artifacts make excellent objects for narrative criticism. When performing a narrative criticism, critics should focus on the features of the narrative that allow them to say something meaningful about the artifact. Sample questions from Sonja K. Foss [7] offer a guide for analysis:

  • Setting – How does the setting relate to the plot and characters? How is the particular setting created? Is the setting textually prominent – highly developed and detailed – or negligible?
  • Characters (Persona)– Are some of the characters non-human or inanimate phenomena, described as thinking and speaking beings? In what actions do the characters engage? Are the characters round (possess a variety of traits, some of them conflicting or contradictory) or flat (one or a few dominant traits making the character predictable)?
  • Narrator – Is the narrative presented directly to the audience, or is it mediated by a narrator? What makes the narrator intrusive or not? What kind of person is the narrator (examine his or her ethos)?
  • Events – What are the major and minor events? How are the events presented? Are the events active (expressing action) or stative (expressing a state or condition)?
  • Temporal relations – Do events occur in a brief period of time or over many years? What is the relationship between the natural order of the events as they occurred and the order of their presentation in the telling of a narrative? Is the story in past or present tense?
  • Causal relations – What cause-and-effect relationships are established in the narrative? Are events caused largely by human action, accident, or forces of nature? In how much detail are the causes and effects described?
  • Audience – Is the audience a participant in the events recounted? What can be inferred about the audience’s attitudes, knowledge, or situation from the narrative? What seems to be the narrator’s evaluation of the audience’s knowledge, personality, and abilities?
  • Theme – What is the major theme (general idea illustrated by the narrative) of the narrative? How is the theme articulated? How obvious and clear is the theme?
  • Limitations: Traditional narrative criticism focuses primarily on the narrative and does not take the socioeconomic and political background into consideration; however, it is not opposed to New-Historicism theory. In addition, it does not take the narrator's motivations into consideration as it focuses on the narrative to generate the analysis. Also, as the critic looks at the overall unity of the narrative, the theory is not conducive to deconstruction techniques (19-20).[8]


  1. ^ Fisher, Walter. Human Communication as Narration: Toward a Philosophy of Reason, Value, and Action. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 1987.
  2. ^ Aristotle, Poetics. Part VI-VII
  3. ^ White, H. “The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Culture.” On Narrative. Ed. W.J.T. Mitchell. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1981.
  4. ^ Martin, W. Recent Theories of Narrative. Ithaca, NY: Cornell U P, 1986.
  5. ^ Michael Calvin McGee and John S. Nelson and Michael Sizemore (1990) in “Narrative Reason in Public Argument.”
  6. ^ James Jasinski: Sourcebook on Rhetoric. California: Sage Publications, 2001.
  7. ^ Sonja K. Foss. Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice. Illinois: Waveland Press, 2004.
  8. ^ Yee, Gale. Judges and Method: New Approaches in Biblical Studies. Minneapolis, Fortress, 2007.

External links[edit]

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Game Informer

Game Informer
Wed, 03 Dec 2014 08:52:30 -0800

The Dark Below aims to respond to some of the narrative criticism received by the initial launch of the game, and offer a more interconnected approach to storytelling than before. I experienced the nature of this story firsthand, and the resulting ...
American Thinker (blog)
Mon, 09 Jun 2014 23:17:43 -0700

... Secretary of State and the presumptive 2016 presidential nominee of the party, all opposed releasing the Taliban Five does not fit his narrative. Criticism based on the merits of the case must be depicted as a fringe conspiracy to "embarrass" the ...
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Thu, 17 Oct 2013 18:33:04 -0700

It is a mixture of narrative criticism, reader-response criticism, and historical-criticism. If meaning is located in the “fusion” of author, text, and reader, then we need to bring in the readers (implied, ideal, fictitious real, and reception-history ...
Sat, 21 Apr 2012 13:08:48 -0700

Colson's public commitment to his faith drew initial skepticism from those who wondered whether he was attempting to profit from a conversion narrative. Criticism faded over time with his 30-plus years of commitment to prison ministry. "The most ...
Huffington Post (blog)
Wed, 11 Jan 2012 09:18:24 -0800

And so far, nobody has come up with a credible argument in favor of quantitative rating (of which the 100 point system is most prevalent and influential) being in any way superior to a clearly subjective system of narrative criticism. The arguments in ...
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Sat, 14 Sep 2013 03:00:18 -0700

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Tue, 16 Apr 2013 18:18:45 -0700

My only other narrative criticism is the game finishes far too abruptly. Relying wholly on previous knowledge, Judgment's ending unfortunately lacks any context or finesse. The finely tuned gameplay of the Gears series returns, albeit more polished ...
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Sat, 14 Sep 2013 23:45:00 -0700

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