Warner  “Some Notes on Narrative”*


Remember the basic genre distinctions (narrative, drama, poetry)! And remember that the narrative impulse is essentially re-creative: telling a [traditional] story [or mythos] with some allegiance to the past. So we can describe/categorize the patterns thus:


Empirical depending on experience or observation; available to the senses)  Motivation is predominantly psychological/personal [Realism]

  1. Historical (facts, biography, investigation of past in more detached/objective manner; often third person narrators – but be careful of this distinction)
  2. Mimetic (sensation and environment; autobiography; subjective/sensation; common to first person narrators but, again, be careful of this distinction)


Fictional (Allegiance to an ideal); motivation by an ideal or value

  1. Romantic – the “showing’ of show and tell; demonstration of ideal/value
  2. Didactic - - the ‘telling’ of show and tell; explicit statement of ideal/value/preaching.


In the Empirical mode, the eye is on the world and the objective/goal is “truth” – either of fact or sensation; In the Fictional mode, the narrative eye is on the audience and the objective is ‘beauty’ or ‘goodness” (and their siblings). Here we have the hero and heroine who represent the ideals/values. Another way of making the distinction is “representation” vs ‘Statement”


The pairing might be said to parallel scientific vs. artistic approaches to an ultimate truth, but be careful here, too. In fact, be careful of wedding yourself to this entire format. It is for convenience and preliminary distinctions and not to be applied too rigidly. Few modern texts, if any, are examples of a single mode due to what has been termed a “Post Renaissance Synthesis”.


Consider the example of the father/son/husband on the bridge who sees the drowning maiden/child/etc. Would he jump in the narrative you’re reading? Yes or no, and what would be his reasons/justifications in either case? What would be the “authority”? Which type of book does  he inhabit? What does it indicate about the text you’re reading?


And in the case of the Historical vs Mimetic distinction, consider the difference in the retelling of your own wedding/birthday vs your telling of your experience at someone else’s.


*From Scholes and Kellogg The Nature of Narrative