story (narrative theory) As a function of the mind story is the connecting of actions and events structured by a temporal sequence. This is a cognitive process, creating order and meaning, and identifiable as memory, imagination and situational conception. This initial definition of story is an attempt to state what story is outside of any narrative form or medium of narration: outside the construction and telling of a story, its representation in speech, writing, image or performance. What makes story possible is not that events occur in the world and that they can be represented in a narrative form in a narrative medium, but what is essential is that it is possible for the mind to construct story, as single narrative event or a complex set and sequence of events.
If one imagines a mind without the ability to construct story then this personal existence and perception of the world would only be now. No past could be created, no future event envisaged, no present situation and circumstance given meaning and understanding, there would only be the appearance of things. The mind has narrativity, and if the initial state of the mind is taken to be a tabula rasa, the narratives in the mind accrue, so that lived experience develops into the understanding of actions, events and then story: people understand, recall and recount the events of lived experience and as part of a process of living in the world and through communication in person and through media.
The production of storytelling as a form of narrative in oral storytelling and through other mediums, film and writing is an extension of the mind’s narrativity: the mental construction of temporal events into human communication, social communication and the production of social and cultural understandings and values carried through transferable and durable story: stories that are transmitted through medium that enables and allows the reproduction of narrative.
In narrative film, fiction film, film drama, the story narrates a series of events that depicts characters, their actions and intentions. This is a historically developed form of story, using a very recent medium, film, within part of a developing history, the conventions and practices of storytelling, its mediums and its story forms with a range of societies and cultures.
In Western culture, dramatic storytelling, Classical Greek tragedy, Attic drama (5th century BC) was more recognisable as a religious ceremony than the naturalism and realism of contemporary dramatic fiction. Attic drama had two narrating components: diegesis where events were told, and mimesis where events were acted out, mimicked in action. Religious ceremonies today, within the Judeo-Christian and other traditions, still follows this model: there is the diegetic component to the service, the performance of prayers, songs, and preaching which states, tells, and there is mimesis, ritual, symbolic enactment, which is re-enactment through mimicry: this is the performance of actions and events connected to a religious belief system and its history. Greek Tragedy, Religious ceremony is a narrative form, but it is not like a feature film drama in the cinema or in dramatic theatre.
The historical movement of drama has been to shift from diegesis and mimesis combined to the dominance of mimesis. Early forms of theatre would still have elements of diegesis, such as Renaissance and Elizabethan drama having prologues and monologues to tell the audience, but this form of stage drama shifted into mimetic dominated drama, in the forms which are known today as realism and naturalism where narration is often entirely mimetic and diegetic narration, voice over, speaking to the fourth wall is a particular and minor technique of narration. When referring to drama today, the assumption will be of a story acted out with the characters/performers speaking to each other as if in real life: mimesis. Mimetic drama was the dominant form story in a media because cultures had no widespread literary culture, there was no general literacy, and this only changed toward the 18th century with the development of general education and mass printing. The economics of mass printing allows for newspapers, magazines and the novel to develop as storytelling forms.
In terms of writing, the novel offers depicts story events in a diegetic form, telling a story, as opposed to the other non-narrative forms of writing, such as a treatise, or essay which primarily discuss concepts, depicting ideas, rather than events in the form of a story. Diegesis in the novel is the structuring of different methods of narration: there is immediate action, summary action, description, and commentary: these need to be understood and carefully formulated and combined by the writer to produce the storytelling cultural artefact that is the novel. The one element of the novel that might be considered mimetic is the presentation of speech. This is somewhat different from a play or a film where speech is acted out, because in a novel the speech is not made by actors mimicking characters, but by the author writing the words, within the context of a diegetic telling of a story. The novel became a significant form of narrative in the 19th century, and this was only possible because of societies with a high level of literacy and also the means of production for circulating written narrative fiction: books, magazines. The novel is therefore a very recent form with earlier works that told fiction incorporated into this canon.
Because of the social significance of the novel during the 19th and 20th century it has been given a cultural, academic and historical prominence as a form of storytelling that to some extent masks the development of the non-literary form of the acted out story: mimetic drama, which was carried into the film narrative with the development of the moving image. The division of teaching and academic disciplines into literature, drama and film, has separated the connections between mediums in terms of story, with film theory replacing the concept of mimesis with representation, which is a question of how a film represents the world rather than how film is able to be constructed to represent the world and tell a story.
In relation to storytelling in film one thing that should seem remarkable is how and why film, a medium that has existed for little more than a hundred and fifty years in the form of motion pictures, should and could be developed into such a complex narrative form over such a short period. The medium of film has an intrinsic narrativity only in so far as it shows something happening, but this is not a complex story construction: storytelling in the feature film, with all of its conventions of technique for production, continuity and narration has been able to be developed because it corresponded to the narrativity of the mind and the mind’s ability to construct story and also, the narrative feature film has developed as part of the historical and social developments of other narrative forms: utilising the forms of drama and the form of the novel.
What this discussion of story aims to clarify is that the narrative film, dramatic fiction in film is a complex social and cultural construct, and it uses human cognition as a basis for this. It is understood that it is far easier to comprehend a story rather than to create and narrate as story within a complex form: recounting a story as a play, as a novel as a film. What might help to explain this is that narrativity is a feature of cognition and the interpretation of a film or a novel uses this mental processes to read a story but the construction of a form of mimetic fiction is based on rules of construction that need to be learned and understood and often formally learned to be used effectively: story as a human capacity is nearly ubiquitous, but the forms of story are historically, socially and culturally constructed.
So, story is a cognitive construction based on mental capacity, and a social historical construction. In narrative theory story is the overarching term, and there is narration, which is the telling of the story, there is the narrative, which tells a particular story in a particular medium and form, and there are narrative forms, which comprise the established methods and structures for story. When someone states that they are storyteller, that they can tell a story, this can be a generality, or it can be stated with a coherent and complex understanding of what storytelling is and genuine ability to tell a story within a specific medium and form.
Copyright: Eugene Doyen 2019