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Complex Dynamics of Narratives

Vlad Dimitrov  


1 Stories - Products of Mind

2 In Captivity of Narratives

3 Interactions of Narratives and Life

4 Journey beyond Narratives

5 Stirring Resonant Vorticity

6 Soul Narratives

7 Towards Direct Experience of Life

8 References

9 Appendix: A Short Summary of Narratology


A narrative (from the Latin word narratus - telling story) is anything that tells or presents a story - texts and talks, pictures and music, plays and films, hypertexts and virtual realities. The stories have played a significant role in the cultural development of humanity. Without being involved in interpreting the meanings of the stories, learning from them, creating and re-creating our own stories, exploring the knowledge or simply entertaining the information which the stories convey, we would hardly be able to expand our capacity to think and learn. Telling stories is a way for us to give meaning and express understanding of our experience.

Stories help people to cope with the fact that the physical death is inevitable. Everyone knows that the material and intellectual acquisitions which we accumulate while living become entirely worthless for us at the moment of death, and yet we do not stop striving to acquire all kinds of possessions, knowledge and skills, to make plans and work about their realizations until the mind and body function; the narratives essentially support us in doing this.

Although there are stories, which energize and inspire us, we know that the real custodian of the energy and inspiration is the life as we live it, and not so much the stories that describe it. The stories are like reflections of the sun or moon on the water surface; however beautiful and inspiring these reflections appear, it is the real sun whose energy supports the life on the planet, and it is the real moon that strongly affects the life dynamics.


1 Stories - Products of Mind

Stories are products of mind; this powerful rational thinker never ceases to divide the whole of reality into fragments in order to analyze, classify and label them, then to toss or scrap together to piece out another world - the world of narration.

It is difficult for the piecewise world of narration to reflect the unbreakable wholeness of reality - a wholeness that has created us and to which we inseparably belong. The texts, which we read and listen to, are words organized by the minds of the authors and narrators in phrases, according to grammatical rules, linguistic norms and manners of expression. While reading or listening to the texts we are using our minds to interpret - 'deconstruct' and re-construct their meanings. But the mind is only one participant in the vital triad of our nature consisting of body, mind and soul.

The capacity of mind to think, make decisions and generate stories is included in the much wider capacity of the human body, mind and soul to experience in a holistic and coherent way the infinite spectrum of ever-emerging life events, phenomena and processes.

Proposition 1: Mind's capacity to generate stories about the existential reality is included in the body-mind-soul's capacity to experience this reality holistically.

Corollary 1: A mind's created narrative can only be a partial description of reality.

What humans are capable to experience goes beyond their thinking capacity. Since ancient times, people recognize the unique power of the human spirit; it can heal diseases which the mind labels incurable and empower people to perform actions which seem impossible for the capacity of their bodies.

Nobody denies the power that one's mind is able to develop; the function of the body is strongly affected by mind-generated images, stories, instructions and commands. The mind is the coordinator of our senses, and one the most important roles of this coordinator is to create stories - some of them are coherent with what our senses perceive, others are strongly influenced by our imagination and fantasy.

The stories affect our experience; they can be deeply emotional and make us cry or smile, feel depressed or happy, paralyzed by fear or filled with valour and heroism. The mind can offer stories, which cause pain, sickness, despair and even death, as well as stories, which evoke joy, pleasure and happiness.

There are stories that make people sacrifice their lives fighting for ideas, leaders and totems, or go mad, commit suicide, kill others, etc.

There are stories which society wants us to believe in, and as far as the capitalist society is characterized with a huge gap between a monstrously rich handful of people and an ever-increasing-in-size poor majority, most of the dominant social stories - economical, political, religious - are created by those who count in society. This is clearly seen in today's era of establishment of a global economic order, when a phenomenal consumption-oriented brainwash is exercised through the most popular and easily accessible social sources of narration.


2 In Captivity of Narratives

Proposition 2: Every time we lack awareness that the story we are dealing with - reading, hearing, performing, watching - is only a story, a description of some aspects of life or an isolated experience or a fragment of knowledge, a piece of information, a snapshot of reality, a disconnected fact, etc., and not the life as it unfolds in-vivo, with its inherent spontaneity and integrity, we are at risk of becoming captives of the story.

While in captivity of a story, it strongly affects the ways we live. There are many people in today's world who are prisoners of their stories, locked in the narrative space created by them or adopted from others. When a certain story rules one' life, the end of the story may mark the end of the life also. So strong can be the involvement of a person with a certain story that when s/he discovers that the story is not true any more, that the story has passed its climax and reached its end, the life may suddenly lose meaning for that person. The life without meaning is no longer life, just a survival.

One can argue that there is nothing wrong in living with a story that inspires, that fills the existence with meaning, makes people feel healthy and joyful, strong and happy. Narrative therapy is based on assumptions that by evoking positive emotions, stories heal; so, by helping people to reshape the stories they live with, the therapists tries to help them pass over mental and emotional crises. However positive the effect of a certain story might be on ones way of seeing the events of life, at some stage s/he must know that the 'medical drug' in use are changes suggested by others (therapists, counsellors, advisers) into her or his story. So, it is not ones life that undergoes changes, but the story ones have about it.

There is a need for conscious efforts accompanied with an extreme alertness, vigilance, will and concentration in order to make the changes evoked in one's narrative to actually manifest in life. And this applies not only to the narrative therapy. We may describe ourselves as clever, generous and brave, while our real-life behaviour and actions reveal that we are foolish, greedy and coward. We can generate highly moral stories about ourselves and even teach others how to be ethical and moral, and yet our life can be full of amoral and unethical deeds and endeavours.


3 Interactions of Narratives and Life

The narrative space - the space of narration, where the story (as a chronological sequence of events) and its plot (as a logical and causal structure of the story) unfold with all the included actions and characters, is a space of ideas, plans, images, dreams, hopes, aspirations, fictions, fantasies, etc. However large this space might appear, it is only a subspace of the human experiential space - the space where we experience the results of our behaviour and actions, realize our potential to create and expand our consciousness.

It is in life where we grow in consciousness and wisdom, and not in narratives. The narratives can only reflect (often, in a distorted way), impede or facilitate this growth; the life tests and confirms it.

The interaction between the space of narration and human experiential space are similar to the interactions between two scale levels ('fractal' levels) - one imbedded in another. When the large-scale level undergoes changes, they usually affect the imbedded smaller-scale levels. For example, when ones experience of life changes, so do ones stories describing it.

Most of the changes occurring at a small-scale level dissipate before being able to significantly affect the larger scale level. For example, the active smokers can change their narratives about smoking and agree that it is quite detrimental for their life, and yet do little or nothing to stop smoking. But if a smoker undergoes a severe heart attack due to smoking, that is, a change at the large scale of life, this usually brings an end to the habit, and therefore drastically changes the narratives which supports it.

Under certain conditions some small-scale changes can produce large-scale 'butterfly' effects. Such effects manifest in the interaction between the changes belonging to the space of narration and the changes emergent in life.

Proposition 3: Only life as a holistic, direct and authentic experience of diversity and integrity of existential dynamics can be a criterion of reality, and not stories.

If we let the stories and their changes to substitute our living experience, we become their slaves. Narratology teaches that every story inevitably has a focalizer - an agent whose points of view orients the narrative texts. So by accepting a certain story as a criterion of reality - a criterion of what is real, true an authentic in our life experience, - we simply follow the focalizer.

Whether the focalizer is our own mind or the mind of another person, this does not make a substantial difference; in the both cases, we remain locked in the space of narration, and therefore unable to feel and experience the rhythm of life, to co-evolve with the life dynamics and experience the real power of their never-ending self-organizing drive.

Narrative therapists need to remember that they are facilitating emergence of changes in the stories of the patients and not in the patients' lives. Earlier or later, this must be revealed to the patients and not let them remain for long in captivity of their stories. The changes initiated in a patient's story, no matter how promising they appear, may have dangerous and even fatal consequences for the health of the patient in the moments when s/he faces the discrepancy between the narratives and the actual unfolding of his/her life.


4 Journey beyond Narratives

The challenge for us is to be able to move beyond the stories, beyond the words and patterns which the stories project on our minds, and let life speak directly to our bodies, minds and souls in its unique language. The human heart and spirit can perfectly understand this kind of language; therefore it can evoke changes and transformations directly in our lives.

Paradoxically enough, the way to move beyond stories is through the stories themselves; they represent the power of our mind, and this power ought to be used and not to be neglected. We need the power of mind in order to put into operation two other major constituents of the vital triad of our nature - the body and the soul, and that mysterious factor which keeps this triad in a vibrant integrity - the human spirit.

There are stories, which energize us; they have been used to evolve our bodies from mere products of unconscious drives and animalistic inclinations to conscious projections and creations of our minds. Many people have achieved this transformation; their bodies are in constant dialogue with their minds. Often the stories portray ideal images of what could be a harmonious body-mind synergy; the images can stimulate actions to achieve this synergy in life.

There are stories which inspire us; these are the stories through which the mind reaches the soul. The scale of the human soul is broader and higher than the scale of the mind; so it is not easy for the mind narratives to sustain their effect on the soul. Many times we have been inspired to achieve great things in life, but the inspiration generated by the stories used to dissolve quite quickly in the turbulence of the actual flow of life. What could be the way to sustain the inspirational force of a narrative?


5 Stirring Resonant Vorticity

The inspirational force of a narrative as experienced by an individual can be sustained, if the vorticity of the experiential dynamics evoked by the narrative resonates with vorticity of those life dynamics of the individual, which s/he considers essential.

According to the theory of vortex formation, forces of significant magnitude can emerge when vorticity - a characteristic of the whirling energy of the substances participating in the vortex formation - reaches a certain level. As we discussed in chapter 3, vorticity can also be defined as a variety in dynamics, in movement, in a whirling motion impregnated with positive and negative feedbacks. The dynamics are sine qua non for creating such a whirling variety, and it is this whirling variety that is responsible for emergence of self-organizing forces.

Each narrative affects the experiential dynamics of a specific reader (listener) in a specific way; we say that a story moves us, if it moves the 'swarm' of our thoughts and feelings shaped into diverse and dynamically changing ideas, emotions, aspirations, expectations, hopes, dreams, and actions (Dimitrov, 2000). When this motion becomes vortical like the motion of a whirlpool or tornado, forces of significant magnitudes can emerge.

What does 'vortical' mean when applied to the motion of the swarm of an individual's ideas, feelings and actions? It means that these ideas, feelings and actions not only move, but also interact with each other through various positive and negative feedbacks, that is, they either mutually increase or decrease their intensities. While keeping their integrity attached to the experiential space of a specific individual, the swarm becomes involved in a vortex-like motion. In the case of an inspirational narrative, the vorticity of this motion is high enough to produce self-organizing forces in the form of an inspirational urge - an intensive drive towards fulfilment (Dimitrov and Wright, 2000). How to sustain this drive? The new kind of social science tries to answer this question.  

Life engages each of us in different fields of activity. There are always activities which we prefer to be involved in; although these activities may absorb a lot of efforts, they can give us in return fountains of joy, creativity and happiness. In this sense, they are vortical - they 'move' our ideas, feelings and action in such a way as to produce self-propelling forces of enjoyment and inspiration. We consider this kind of activities essential in our lives. Example of such essential activities could be one's involvement in art, design, sport, research, spiritual practice, communion with nature, teaching, travelling, etc. or simply in communicating with those whom one loves and cares for.

Individual experiential dynamics are the medium where life meets the narrative. An essential human activity makes one's experiential dynamics form a vortex generating strong self-organizing forces of inspiration that can endure for long; similar is the effect of an inspirational story. It can also stir the experiential dynamics of those who read or listen to it into a vortex radiating forces of inspiration. (It needs to be noted that usually, the choice of a certain story is strongly influenced by the essential activity of its reader).

No matter how short is the life of a vortex created by a story, its self-organizing forces can be of a significant magnitude (we know that the stories can have tremendous effects on human behaviour). If the magnitude and direction of a story-created vortex coincide with the magnitude and direction of the forces, which sustain an essential activity of the reader (or the listener) of the story, then the two vortices may fall into resonance with one another and become coherent. Then the inspirational force of the narrative can be sustained for a long time - at least as long as one's essential activity endures. If the magnitude of the narrative-generated inspirational force exceeds the magnitude of the inspirational force rooted in one's essential activity, it can either prolong the duration of the same activity or fire another type of activity influenced by the story and the plot of the narrative.

The coherent vortices are able not only to sustain their whirling varieties, but make them expand; while expanding, they creates new self-organizing forces of a larger magnitude, which make the varieties grow further, and so on. People can devote their whole lives to one and the same kind of activity that never ceases to inspire them, because of the crucial support of equally inspiring narratives related to this activity.


6 Soul Narratives

There are narratives which can have quite strong and long-term inspirational effects on the readers, independently of the character of their life activities. In or research, we call them soul narratives as their influence spread beyond the space of narration. What are the typical features of a soul narrative?

      It does not try to impose constraints over the richness and spontaneity of the experience of the readers by submitting them to just follow the story and the plot of a completed narrative; on the contrary, the very process of narration is designed to evoke creative experiential insights;

      It constantly stimulates emergence of inspirational resonances between the narrative dynamics and the swarming dynamics of the readers' thoughts, feelings and actions;

      It tends to mirror as much as possible the dynamics of the existential infinity and not just to cling to the finite - partial, transitory and therefore meaningless - stories and plots of narration that unfolds only for their own sake, without reflecting the infinite and eternal dimensions of life;

      It helps the readers implode inwards and discover transformative power of meditation.

The soul narratives can be applied in various practical environments: organizational development, health practices, lifelong learning, personal growth, etc.


7 Towards Direct Experience of Life

Is it possible to see ourselves and the world around us directly as we are - changing, adapting and evolving in connection with one another and with the environment, and not only through the filters of stories written by others or made out of our own limited knowledge? In other words, are we able to discriminate between a narrative about the life and the life itself, which we live and experience in-vivo?

In the paradigm of complexity one can find a hint for answering the above question: life is always at the edge of chaos - no matter how strong is ones intention to order it, to make it a system with rules and norms, to organize and control it. The narrative is never at the edge - its plot and story follows the plan of the author and the author's manner of narrating. Life constantly pulls itself towards criticality where small perturbation may lead to large and unpredictable changes and where spontaneity decides and not our plans and scenarios. The only way to exist and evolve at the edge is by sharpening our awareness and learning to balance on the emergent self-organizing forces of the vortices of life; and this is what misses when dealing with narratives dynamics.

In a narrative we do not depend on that profound awareness which is vitally important when confronting the turbulence and spontaneity of life dynamics. The stories are already completed - we just follow the authors. A critical situation may emerge when one disagrees with the narrators, but the scale of this criticality is much lower than the scale of ones own life criticality. We can simply ignore what the narrators say or our disagreement with them can serve as a catalyst for emergence of new swarms of thoughts, feelings and actions.

More difficult-to-deal with is the case when we are the authors of our life's stories; then the stories may become sources of rigid mental or behavioural patterns. Our stories cannot cope with unpredictability of the life unfolding and its extreme sensitivity to hard-to-grasp changes of the factors affecting it. Again, it is crucial to be in a state of extreme vigilance about every single mismatch between the plots offered by our narratives and the forces constantly driving the life flow towards criticality. Together with our vigilance and alertness comes the flexibility in designing our stories; they start to appear more open and responsive to the changes in our lives.

Again, it is the selfish ego that impedes the development of ones ability for direct perception of life. Usually, we are the most positive characters in the stories about ourselves; we easily see what is good in us (and what is bad in the others) and constantly justify or forgive to ourselves our wrong deeds (while angrily react to and blame similar deeds of the others). When decreasing the selfish urge of the ego, one increases its capacity to perceive the events of life and their changes. No doubt that the attitude of understanding and respect for other people's views, of compassion and readiness to help those who suffer keeps the 'eyes' of ones mind and soul open for seeing the life as it is. Through a silent communion with nature, through practice of relaxation, meditation and unconditional love, one can learn to listen to the rhythm of life (Dimitrov, 2001) and thus decrease the effects of the forces coming from the selfish ego.

Paradoxical enough, the most efficient use of narratology (Todorov, 1969) - a study of the narratives and their dynamics - is in assisting people to liberate themselves from the framework of narratives in which they live, be it a framework of organizational management and business, human and environmental health, learning and personal development. It is much easier to deal with life complexity when we consciously experience and ride on the powers of its vortices, attractors, repellers, criticality and self-organization, than to remain imprisoned in narratives created by ourselves or imposed on us by society.


8 References

Dimitrov, V. (1999) Living at the Edge of Chaos, Internet publication:

Dimitrov, V. (2000) Swarm-like Dynamics in Organization and Management, Complex Systems, 12, 4, pp. 413-420.

Dimitrov, V. and Wright, D. (2000) Emotions: Complexity Perspective, Internet Publication:

Dimitrov, V. (2001) Rhythm of Self-organization: A Health Perspective, Internet publication:

Todorov, Tz. (1969) Grammaire du Dcamron. The Hague: Mouton, 1969.


9 Appendix: A Short Summary of Narratology

This appendix contains some definitions and explanations related to narratology, which selected from the web publication of Manfred Jahn "Narratology: A Guide to the Theory of Narrative" located at

9.1 The Narrative

The narrative tells or presents a story. According to Branigan (Branigan, E. (1992) Narrative Comprehension and Film, London: Routhledge), narrative can be defined as a perceptual activity that organizes data into patterns which try to represent and explain human experience.

Action in narrative dynamics is a sequence of acts and events; the sum of events constituting a 'story line' on a narrative's level of action.

The story is simply a sequence of events and actions involving characters. Story can be also defined as a chronological sequence of events. Story analysis examines the chronological scale and coherence of the action sequence. The basic question concerning story structure is "What happens next?" (Forster's example: "The king died, and then the queen died").

Plot is the logical and causal structure of a story. The basic question concerning plot structure is "Why does this happen?" (Forster's example: "The king died, and then the queen died of grief"). To illustrate, fairy tales are usually linearly and tightly plotted following the pattern A does X because B has done (or is) Y. The Queen is jealous because Snow-White has become more beautiful than she is. So she orders a huntsman to kill her. But the huntsman does not do it because he takes pity on Snow-White (because she's so beautiful)... etc (Forster's example) [Forster, E. (1976) Aspects of the Novel, Harmondsworth: Penguin].

Order refers to the handling of the chronology of the story. Anachrony is a deviation from strict chronology in a story. The two main types of anachrony are flashbacks (presentation of events that have occurred before the current story-NOW) and flashforwards (presentation of a future event before its proper time). Achrony is a sequence of temporally wholly unordered events.

Two models of narrative trajectories have become famous. Freytag's model consists of three part: horizontal AB, ascending BC and descending CD, where AB represents the exposition of the story, B the introduction of conflict, BC the 'rising action', complication, or development of the conflict, C the climax, or turn of the action, CD the denouement, or resolution of the conflict. In Bremond's model, the narrative cycle starts from a state of deficiency or a satisfactory state and ends usually with the establishment of a satisfactory state (Bremond, C. (1970) Morphology of the French Folktale, Semiotica 2: 275-347).

Normally, the stories are required

      to have a point

      to teach a lesson

      to present an interesting experience

      to arrange its episodes - groups of action units consisting of exposition, complication, and a resolution - in a more or less interesting progression.

Narratology is concerned with all types of narratives, literary and nonliterary, fictional and non-fictional, verbal and nonverbal. Specifically, among the objects of narratological analysis are jokes, riddles, anecdotes, fairy tales, novels, cartoons, plays, films, operas, ballets, pantomimes, paintings, computer games. The overarching distinction is clearly that between fictional and non-fictional narratives:

      non-fictional narrative presents a real-life person's account of a real-life story;

      fictional narrative presents an imaginary narrator's account of a story that happened in an imaginary world.

Among the specific narratives themes, which strongly relate to the exploration of social complexity, are the narratives of personal experience, family narratives, legal narratives, doctor's narratives, manager's narratives, etc.

From the point of view of semiotics - the study of signs, a narrative text can be considered as a complex sign, whose signifier is the mode of presentation of the text (a discourse), and the signified is the action sequence (a story).

9.2 Narrator and Focalizer

The narrative analysis revolves around two basic questions: "Who speaks?" - the question of the identity of the text's narrator, its narrative voice and "Who sees?" - the question of whose point of view orients the narrative text.

Who speaks? Narrator is the agent who establishes communicative contact with an addressee (the 'narratee'), who manages the exposition, who decides what is to be told, how it is to be told (especially, from what point of view, and in what sequence), and what is to be left out. There are two types of narrators: a first-person narrator and an authorial narrator, who can be overt or covert. The latter does not intrude or interfere and lets the story events unfold in their natural sequence and tempo. The narrator is the only source of the narrative dynamics in the space of narration.

Who sees? Focalizer is the agent whose point of view orients the narrative text. A text is anchored on a focalizer's point of view when it presents (and does not transcend) the focalizer's thoughts, reflections and knowledge, his/her actual and imaginary perceptions, as well as his/her cultural and ideological orientation. The focalizer can be either 'external' (a narrator) or 'internal' (a character). The focalizer is the attractor of the narrative dynamics in the space of narration, and can be:

      fixed: presentation of narrative facts and events from the constant point of view of a single focalizer

      variable: presentation of different episodes of the story as seen through the eyes of several focalizers

      multiple: presenting an episode repeatedly, each time seen through the eyes of a different focalizer

      collective: focalization through either plural narrators - 'we narrative', or a group of characters.

An authorial narration involves telling a story from the point of view of an 'authorial narrator', i.e., somebody who is not, and never was, a character in the story itself. Often, the authorial narrator's status of an outsider makes her/him an authority commanding practically godlike abilities such as omniscience and omnipresence.

A figural narration presents the story's events as seen through the eyes of a third-person 'reflector' character. The narrative agency of figural narration is a highly covert one. A typical element of the figural narrative is epiphany (a Greek term denoting the 'manifestation' or appearance of divine quality or power). Epiphany is a sudden spiritual manifestation in the narrative, whether from some object, scene, event, or memorable phase of the mind - the manifestation being out of proportion to the significance or strictly logical relevance of whatever produces it.

9.3 Alterations and Voice Effects

According to Grice's [Grice, H. (1975) Logic and Conversation, in Speech Acts, Eds. P. Cole and J. Morgan, New York: Academic: 41-58] famous principle of co-operation, the speakers (narrators) are socially obliged to follow an established set of 'maxims': to give the right amount of information, to speak the truth, to speak to a purpose (tell something worth telling) to be relevant,etc.

Alterations seems to contradict the above principles; it is a sudden shift into a mode of presentation of the narrative which does not conform to the standard expectations associated with the current narrative situation (the analogy is of a musical composition which momentarily becomes dissonant or changes its tonality). Frequently mentioned cases of alterations are Agatha Christie's "Murder of Roger Ackroyd" (a crime novel narrated by a first-person narrator who turns out to be the murderer himself), Richard Hughes's "The Ghost" (first-person narrator "lives" to tell the tale of her own death), Ambrose Bierce's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" and Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" (containing unsignaled shifts into a character's dream world).

According to Bakhtin [Bakhtin, K. (1981) The Dialogic Imagination, Austin: University of Texas Press] there are sevearl basic voice effects that can characterize a narrative text:

*          monologism: the effect created when all voices sound more or less the same; the principle underlying a 'monologic' text.

*          dialogism: the effect created when a text contains a diversity of authorial, narratorial, and characterial voices creating significant contrasts and tensions. The result is a polyphonic or dialogic text.

*          heteroglossia: (literally, 'other-language') The use of language elements inherited or learned from others. The concept stresses the fact that 'our' language is never truly our own, and that no language can be entirely private or idiosyncratic; hence, heteroglossia normally suffuses all discourses.

*          alterity: the theme or effect of otherness or strangeness (especially as opposed to what is familiar and to what one considers one's own selfhood and unique identity). Cp. the alterity effect created by the Russian-influenced slang used by the juvenile hooligans in Burgess's "A Clockwork Orange".

9.4 Narrative Modes and Space

The process of narration differentiates between showing and telling:

*          showing: in a showing mode of presentation, the reader is basically cast in the role of a witness to the events.

*          telling: in a telling mode of presentation, the narrator is in overt control of action presentation, characterization and point-of-view arrangement.

The narrative modes - manners in which an episode can be presented - are:

*          scene/scenic presentation: a showing mode which presents a continuous stream of detailed action events.

Example "He glanced at the girl lying asleep on one of the twin beds. Then he went over to one of the pieces of luggage, opened it, and from under a pile of shorts and undershirts he took out an Ortgies caliber 7.65 automatic. He released the magazine, looked at it, then reinserted it. He cocked the piece. Then he went over and sat down on the unoccupied twin bed, looked at the girl, aimed the pistol, and fired a bullet through his right temple". (Salinger, "A Perfect Day for Bananafish")

*          summary: a telling mode in which the narrator condenses a sequence of action events into a thematically focused and orderly account.

*          description: a telling mode in which the narrator introduces a character or describes the setting.

Examples "He had numbered ninety years. His head was completely bald - his mouth was toothless - his long beard was white as snow - and his limbs were feeble and trembling". (G.W.M. Reynolds, Wagner the Were-Wolf)

*          comment/commentary: a telling mode in which the narrator comments on characters, the development of the action, the circumstances of the act of narrating, etc.

Example "I've been a postman for twenty-eight years. Take that first sentence: because it's written in a simple way may make the fact of myhaving been a postman for so long seem important, but I realize that such a fact has no significance whatever. After all, it's my fault that it may seem as if it has to some people just because I wrote it down plain; I wouldn't know how to do it any other way. (Sillitoe, "The Fishing-Boat Picture")

The story space is the spatial environment or setting of any of the story's action episodes, while the discourse space is the narrator's current spatial environment.

9.5 Characterization Analysis

Characterization analysis investigates the ways and means of creating the personality traits of fictional characters. The basic analytical question is: Who (subject) characterizes whom (object) as being what (as having which properties)? Characterization analysis focuses on three basic parameters:

(1) narratorial vs. figural characterization (identity of characterizing subject: narrator or character?);

(2) explicit vs. implicit characterization (are the personality traits attributed in words, or are they implied by somebody's behavior?);

(3) auto-characterization vs. altero-characterization (does the characterizing subject characterize himself/herself or somebody else?).

The implicit auto-characterization of a narrator is always a key issue in interpretation. Is the narrator omniscient? competent? opinionated? self-conscious? well-read? ironic? reliable?

The reliable narrator is a narrator whose rendering of the story and commentary on it the reader is supposed to take as an authoritative account of the fictional truth.

The unreliable narrator is a narrator whose rendering of the story and/or commentary on it the reader has reasons to suspect. The main sources of unreliability are the narrator's limited knowledge, his personal involvement, and his problematic value-scheme. Many first-person narrators are unreliable.

Example "True! - nervous - very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am! but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses - not destroyed - not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily - how calmly I can tell you the whole story". (Poe, "The Tell-Tale Heart")

Characters are characterized as static or dynamic:

*          static character: a one-dimensional figure characterized by a very restricted range of speech and action patterns. A static character does not develop in the course of the action and can often be reduced to a type or even a caricature (e.g., "a typical Cockney housewife", "a bureaucrat" etc.).

*          dynamic character: a three-dimensional figure characterized by many, often conflicting, properties. A dynamic character tends to develop in the course of the action and is not reducible to a type.

Each narrative text can be considered as a concatenation and alternation of narrator's discourse and character's discourse.

9.6 'Stream of Consciousness' in Narratology

Presenting the mental processes of characters, their thoughts and perceptions, their memories, dreams, and emotions became a prime challenge for late 19C and early 20C novelists. The term stream of consciousness is used in narratology for the textual rendering of mental processes, especially any attempt to capture the random, irregular, disjointed, associative and incoherent character of these processes. Among the main techniques to representing the sound and rhythm of the stream of consciousness is interior monologue.

The interior monologue is an extended passage of direct thought of a character, which aims to invoke the uninterrupted flow of thoughts going through the character's being, as they are born, and in the order they are born, without any explanation of logical sequence and giving the impression of 'raw experience.

Example "The waiter. The table. My hat on the stand. Let's take our gloves off; drop them casually on the table; these little things show a man's style. My coat on the stand; I sit down; ouf! I was weary. I'll put my gloves in my coat pockets. Blazing with light, golden, red, with its mirrors, this glitter, what? the restaurant; the restaurant where I am. I was tired. (Dujardin, The Bays Are Sere)

Psychological states are usually rendered by 'psychonarration' and 'narrated perception':

*          psychonarration: textual representation of a character's conscious or unconscious mental states and processes, mainly by using forms of narrative report of discourse or narrated perception. A borderline case is the report of what characters do not know, think, or say.

Example "They had married in 1905, almost a quarter of a century before, and were childless because Pilgram had always thought that children would be merely a hindrance to the realization of what had been in his youth a delightfully exciting plan but had now gradually become a dark, passionate obsession. (Nabokov, "The Aurelian")

*          narrated perception: textual representation of a character's perception, often using a form of psychonarration, or a rendering in indirect discourse or free indirect discourse.

Mind style is a general term for a character's or a narrator's typical patterns of mentation. Narratology defines the mind style as textual evocation, especially by typical diction, rhetoric, and syntax, of a narrator's or a character's mindset and typical patterns of thinking.


"Corto y derecho," he thought, furling the muleta. Short and straight. Corto y derecho. (Hemingway, "The Undefeated") [A bullfighter thinking in bullfighting terms.]

"Ah, to be all things to all people: children, husband, employer, friends! It can be done: yes, it can: super woman". (Weldon, "Weekend") [The weary exclamation, the enumeration of stress factors, and the ironical allusion are typical features of the mind style of Martha - a character in Weldon's story.]

V.Dimitrov 2003


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