narration (composition and speech)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

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

Definition

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

The person who recounts the events is called a narrator. The account itself is called a narrative. The perspective from which a speaker or writer recounts a narrative is called point of view.

In composition studies, narration is one of the traditional modes of discourse.



See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Examples of Narration

 

Etymology
From the Latin, "knowing"
 

Observations

  • "Jokes, fables, fairy tales, short stories, plays, novels, and other forms of literature are narrative if they tell a story. Although some narrations provide only the basic who, what, when, where, and why of an occurrence in an essentially chronological arrangement, as in a newspaper account of a murder, others contain such features as plot, conflict, suspense, characterization, and description to intensify readers' interest."
    (Lynn Z. Bloom, The Essay Connection. Houghton Mifflin, 2001)
     
  • Two Forms of Narration
    - "There are two forms: simple narrative, which recites events chronologically, as in a newspaper account; 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."
    (William Harmon and Hugh Holman, A Handbook to Literature, 10th ed. Prentice Hall, 2006)

    - "A paragraph of narration tells a story or part of a story. Narrative paragraphs are usually arranged in chronological order, but they may also contain flashbacks, interruptions that take the story back to an earlier time."
    (Diana Hacker, The Bedford Handbook, 6th ed. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2002)
     
  • Mark Doty on Narration in the Memoir
    "I have, so far, been telling you a story—though you have doubtless recognized that the evocation of my visit to Memphis is relayed here in order to allow me to say some things about memory and about memoirNarration is comforting; as readers, we feel reassured by the presence of a narrator, whose shaping voice assures that things are more or less in control, that there is some reasonable expectation of coherence.

    "But when it comes to talking about my father and my memoir, I have to choose between honesty and coherence; if I take the former course, then it seems almost inevitable that any sense of stability I've cooked up here will tumble into a morass of contradictory feeling."
    (Mark Doty, "Return to Sender." Touchstone Anthology of Contemporary Creative Nonfiction: Work from 1970 to the Present, ed. by Lex Williford and Michael Martone. Touchstone, 2007)
     
  • Narration in the Workplace
    "Narration is . . . a component of much of the writing done in the workplace. 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."
    (Barbara Fine Clouse, Patterns for a Purpose. McGraw Hill, 2003)
     
  • Cicero on Narration
    "Cicero discusses many of the types of narration/narratio in De Inventione, beginning with the following definition: 'an exposition of events that have occurred or are supposed to have occurred' (1.19.27). Cicero also lists three types of narrative. 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)."
    (Joseph Colavito, "Narratio." Encyclopedia of Rhetoric and Composition: Communication from Ancient Times to the Information Age, ed. by Theresa Enos. Taylor & Francis, 1996)

     

    Pronunciation: nah-RAY-shen