What is a Transmedia Narrative? (Part 2 – Defining “Narrative”)

The term “story” has been defined as a sequence of events involving characters and settings;(Szulborski, 2005, p. 37), an account of an event or series of events that are fictional or non-fictional;(Simmons, 2006, p. 31), and a portrayal of characters caught in a dramatic situation, with a series of events being depicted from a beginning to a conclusion;(Miller, 2008, p. 5).

“Narrative” has been defined as an “account of events, experiences, or the like, whether true or fictitious” (Dictionary.com, n.d.). Miller defines as narrative as an account of events that are interesting or exciting in some way (Miller, 2008, pp. 4-5). Marie-Laure Ryan provides a more comprehensive view of what qualifies as a narrative:

“A narrative text must create a world and populate it with characters and objects…The world referred to by the text must undergo changes of state that are caused by nonhabitual events: either accidents (“happenings”) or deliberate human actions. These changes create a temporal dimension and place the narrative world in the flux of history. The text must allow the reconstruction of an interpretive network of goals, plans, causal relationships, and psychological motivations around the narrated events. This implicit network gives coherence and intelligibility to the physical events and turns them into plot.” (Ryan, Introduction, 2004, pp. 8-9)

The terms “narrative” and “story” are often used interchangeably (Miller, 2008, p. 5) and the Collins English Dictionary uses the term story within the definition of “narrative” (Dictionary.com, n.d.).

Some researchers make a distinction between the two terms, with a “story” being a collection of facts (events, actions, character, etc.) whereas a “narrative” is a particular way in which those facts have been arranged and presented to the audience (Wolff, Mulholland, Zdrahal, & Joiner, 2007). By their definition, the same story (i.e. set of facts) can be presented as one or more narratives based on different viewpoints, different selection of facts, or different media.

I will use the terms “story” and “narrative” as synonyms, rather than the more restricting definition that makes a distinction between the two.


Books Mentioned



Dictionary.com. (n.d.). narrative. Retrieved September 2, 2011, from Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/narrative

Miller, C. H. (2008). Digital Storytelling: A Creator’s Guide to Interactive Entertainment (2nd Edition). Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Ryan, M.-L. (2004). Will New Media Produce New Narratives? In M.-L. Ryan, Narrative Across Media: The Languages of Storytelling (pp. 337-359). Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

Simmons, A. (2006). The Story Factor: Secrets of Influence from the Art of Storytelling. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Szulborski, D. (2005). This Is Not a Game: A Guide to Alternate Reality Gaming. New-Fiction Publishing.

Wolff, A., Mulholland, P., Zdrahal, Z., & Joiner, R. (2007). Re-Using Digital Narrative Content in Interactive Games. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies , 65 (3), pp. 244-272.

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