What is Narrative?

Narrative plays at the forefront of my life as a writer.  I googled the definition of narrative yesterday because the extent of my definition was “story”.

  1. 1.
    a spoken or written account of connected events; a story.
    “the hero of his modest narrative”
    1. the narrated part or parts of a literary work, as distinct from dialogue.
    2. the practice or art of telling stories.
  2. a representation of a particular situation or process in such a way as to reflect or conform to an overarching set of aims or values.

I noticed a handy graph below the definition. It told me the use of the word “narrative” doubled in the past 60 years. My skills of deduction aren’t awesome, but I know this means narrative is an important word today.

Dan Allender writes in his book To Be Told, “We grow up in a sea of stories told in a way that fits what we want others to know about us.” Whether we know it or not, I believe we often fashion our lives to “reflect or conform to an overarching set of aims or values.” To build a narrative.

Maybe our narrative is the religion we practice, the philosophy of life we hold, or even the nickname given to us in childhood. Whatever it is, it is a system of beliefs and we live accordingly.

Narrative, like this cross-stitch piece, is one story with all elements serving the theme.
Narrative, like this cross-stitch piece, is one story with all elements serving the theme.

YOLO. The bucket list. Original sin. Science. Angst. Goth. Fame.

In my life I’ve discover my narrative acutely when I’m disappointed, angry, or sad. When things don’t turn out they way they should, I’m left with puzzle pieces. Sometimes it seems like I have pieces from different puzzles jumbled together.

I think I believe one thing, but I act according to a different assumption. Crisis, pain, transition, betrayal. They open my eyes.

Sometimes the crisis is minor like speeding around to get my errands done. Why do I feel anxious about time? Does time run out? Obviously, I think it does. My actions portray it.

Perhaps its a little deeper. I like Keurig machines for convenience but the sheer square footage of shelf space bugs me. Then, I read that none of those little cups are recyclable. Yikes. Why do we save the environment? Do we only live once? Is earth and all it holds all that ever will be?

We parent our kids. It’s easy to want to avoid pain in their lives, to shield them from heartache. Yet, I also think that pain builds muscle. Are the highest goals in life safety, happiness, well-adjusted kids, kindness, generosity, or productivity.

Often evil leads me to the deepest questions. War rages and I despair about the state of the world. Are people basically good? What do I do when people who share the same faith die for their beliefs? Does my narrative answer the questions that arise from the atrocities and apparent blessings visible in the state of the world today? Are the other narratives out there as benign as the news seems to want me to believe? Or is there something at their core that leads them down a violent path?

I’m still thinking about this concept of narrative and how “story” plays out in our lives. It’s a popular word these days. Just listen to the latest Presidential address. It’s what drove me to look up the definition. I’ve heard it too many times to not know what it means.

What’s your story? Do you live by a certain narrative? How does it affect your life? Do you see inconsistencies? What do you do with them?

Here is a link to the usage graph for narrative:


2 thoughts on “What is Narrative?

  1. Beautifully written Ali. Love your thoughts on story. How you embrace it with all its nuances and meaning. It means we all count for something. It’s all in perspective and in the telling. Great post.

    Dayle Sent from my iPhone


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