A narrative tells a story. Narrative is as ancient as the art of storytelling itself. Drama and poetry from the time of the Ancient Greeks and fiction from around the birth of the modern era in the 18th Century has a definite arc: a beginning, rising action that leads to a climax and falling action to the end in the form of a denouement. But narrative can also be found in episodic tales and other work that doesn’t necessarily have an arc, such as in myths, fables, short tales and even in stories related pictorially - for example in religious stained glass imagery. The overriding categories of narrative are fiction and non-fiction.
Fiction is the telling of an imaginary story. Even if a story is based on real characters and events, if the narrative deviates from relating actual facts, it is considered fiction. Fictional narratives can be transmitted verbally, in textual formats, or dramatized on film or stage. Pictorial fiction is found in comic books, painting and film. Essays and arguments are not considered a type of narrative, even though they may be fictional or discuss fiction.
Fictional and non-fictional narratives can be further broken down into genres. The list of fictional genres is wide and diverse, but examples include: literary fiction, thriller, mystery, horror, children’s fiction, young adult fiction and so on. Any type of fiction within a genre shares certain characteristics with other works in its genres. The same holds true across narrative media. So, for example, mystery movies share common traits; horror novels share common traits; and science fiction stories share common traits.
Non-fiction narratives relate true stories. They may be constructed to have an arc, as is the case with creative non-fiction, which employs literary techniques in the relation of true stories. Non-fiction narratives are transmitted using the same media as fictional narratives: film, television, books, verbally or in pictures. Think, for example, of the narrative transmitted by paintings of Napoleonic war scenes.
Certain forms of non-fiction are not categorized as narrative. These include books, such as handbooks, guidebooks or scientific journals categorized in the non-fiction section of bookstores. On the other hand, true crime stories do qualify as narrative as does biography, autobiography, and works of creative non-fiction. Works of journalism may qualify, such as narrative journalism which employs fictional and literary techniques in the relation of single or serial news stories.
Visual and Pictorial Narratives
If you wonder how a picture can relate a narrative, think of the old phrase “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Photo journalism is an important aspect of any news report or feature article because of the narrative information transmitted by the images. With the advent of photo doctoring and advanced photo retouching, it can be hard to peg narrative imagery into the fiction or non-fiction categories. Film and television relate narratives, and in classical times sculpture and painting, often communicate the narrative of religion and war.