A Guide to All Types of Narration, With Examples

Leo Tolstoy
Russian author Leo Tolstoy telling his grandchildren a story. (Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images)

In writing or speech, narration is the process of recounting a sequence of events, real or imagined. It's also called storytelling. Aristotle's term for narration was prothesis.

The person who recounts the events is called a narrator. Stories can have reliable or unreliable narrators. For example, if a story is being told by someone insane, lying, or deluded (such as in Edgar Allen Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart"), that narrator would be deemed unreliable.

The account itself is called a narrative. The perspective from which a speaker or writer recounts a narrative is called a point of view. Types of point of view include first person, which uses "I" and follows the thoughts of just one person (or just one at a time), and third person, which can be limited to just one person or can show the thoughts of all the characters, called omniscient third person. Narration is the base of the story, the text that's not dialogue or quoted material.

Uses in Types of Prose Writing

It's used in fiction and nonfiction alike. "There are two forms: simple narrative, which recites events chronologically, as in a newspaper account;" note William Harmon and Hugh Holman in "A Handbook to Literature," "and narrative with plot, which is less often chronological and more often arranged according to a principle determined by the nature of the plot and the type of story intended.

It is conventionally said that narration deals with time, description with space."

Cicero, however, finds three forms in "De Inventione," as explained by Joseph Colavito in "Narratio": "The first type focuses on 'the case and...the reason for dispute' (1.19.27). A second type contains 'a digression...for the purpose of attacking somebody,...making a comparison,...amusing the audience,...or for amplification' (1.19.27).

The last type of narrative serves a different end—'amusement and training'—and it can concern either events or persons (1.19.27)." (In "Encyclopedia of Rhetoric and Composition: Communication from Ancient Times to the Information Age," ed. by Theresa Enos. Taylor & Francis, 1996)

Narration isn't just in literature, literary nonfiction, or academic studies, though. It also comes into play in writing in the workplace, as Barbara Fine Clouse wrote in "Patterns for a Purpose": "Police officers write crime reports, and insurance investigators write accident reports, both of which narrate sequences of events. Physical therapists and nurses write narrative accounts of their patients' progress, and teachers narrate events for disciplinary reports. Supervisors write narrative accounts of employees' actions for individual personnel files, and company officials use narration to report on the company's performance during the fiscal year for its stockholders."

Even "jokes, fables, fairy tales, short stories, plays, novels, and other forms of literature are narrative if they tell a story," notes Lynn Z. Bloom in "The Essay Connection."

If you need practice writing one, see  "Compose a Narrative Essay." If you need writing topics, see  "50 Essay Topics: Narration."

Examples of Narration

For examples of different styles of narration, check out the following: