« Return to the syllabus «

531 Seminar Schedule

Our own interests, expertise, and discoveries will determine more clearly how we will actually spend our time. For those reasons, I prefer to establish an agenda for a course, with the proviso that how much we dwell on a topic or gloss it will effect the timing of matters. One of the things we will do in the first few weeks together is to establish the topics that interest us most and in what order we should proceed. Even then, while the sequencing of topics may remain stable, the fulfillment of those topics through various readings will be determined by the content of our conversations.

(J23) A Very Bayesian Beginning

Narrative and story get used a lot. For our first meeting, after we review the syllabus and introduce ourselves, we will discuss examples of the two that you bring in from out in the world. Each participant should bring in at least three usages, quotations. To make it easier to share, please copy and paste them into a document that you can then print out and bring sufficient copies for all to have one. We will cut one copy into individual quotations (so if your quotations run more than a page, please make sure each appears on a page). We will then sort the quotations/usages into groups of our own devising, based on similarities in emergent traits. Each participant should bring in at least three examples. Try to vary the nature of the examples: make at least one scholarly and/or formal; make one from a popular source – and not everyone can use Wikipedia! We will discuss the review of Brooks’ Seduced by Story (see Teams for a PDF version) and various videos in this seminar. (Maya Eilam created an infographic of Vonnegut’s shapes.)

Stewart, Susan. 2022. Beware the ‘Storification’ of the Internet. The Atlantic (November 17). https://www.theatlantic.com/books/archive/2022/11/seduced-by-story-peter-brooks-book-review/672135/.

Sagmeister, Stefan. 2014. You Are Not a Storyteller. FITC. https://vimeo.com/98368484.

Vonnegut, Kurt. 2004. The Shapes of Stories. Lecture at Case Western Reserve University. https://vimeo.com/videos/791979342.

Vonnegut’s notion of story shapes re-surfaced a decade later and received a lot of attention, with most reseachers focused on mapping his good fortune-ill fortune axis onto positive and negative sentiment. For applications of that idea and for a clearer understanding of what it means to “extract” sentiment “out” of a text, see the following publications.

Reagan, Andrew J, Lewis Mitchell, Dilan Kiley, Christopher M Danforth, and Peter Sheridan Dodds. 2016. The Emotional Arcs of Stories Are Dominated By Six Basic Shapes. EPJ Data Science 5 (1): 175. 10.1140/epjds/s13688-016-0093-1. URL.

A pre-print of Reagan et al. is available on ArXiv.org, a site used by a wide range of scientists to make papers given at conferences accessible. It’s always worth a search.

Gao, Jianbo, Matthew Jockers, John Laudun, and Timothy Tangherlini. 2016. A Multiscale Theory for Sentiment Variation in Novels. 2016 International Conference on Behavioral, Economic and Socio-cultural Computing (BESC) 1-4. 10.1109/BESC.2016.7804470. URL.

Lei, Lei, and Dilin Liu. 2021. Conducting Sentiment Analysis. Cambridge University Press. 10.1017/9781108909679. URL.

The Lei and Liu is from the Cambridge Elements series, which is worth checking out for things of interest since most are free for download, and has the following description: “This Element provides a basic introduction to sentiment analysis, aimed at helping students and professionals in corpus linguistics to understand what sentiment analysis is, how it is conducted, and where it can be applied. It begins with a definition of sentiment analysis and a discussion of the domains where sentiment analysis is conducted and used the most.”

If there is time, we will also have a brief discussion about the nature of texts, contexts, competences, and performances.

(J30) Renown Shapes

In European tradition prior to the twentieth century, there are really two accounts of dramatic structure or shape that were most prominent. The first is Aristotle’s notion of beginning, middle, and end that the plot of all tragedies must possess — note the qualification (which often gets overlooked)—put forth in his Poetics (335BCE):

A whole is what has a beginning and middle and end. A beginning is that which is not a necessary consequent of anything else but after which something else exists or happens as a natural result. An end on the contrary is that which is inevitably or, as a rule, the natural result of something else but from which nothing else follows; a middle follows something else and something follows from it. Well constructed plots must not therefore begin and end at random, but must embody the formulae we have stated.1

The next consideration that “shapes” our current thinking doesn’t occur until the end of the nineteenth century, when the German playwright Gustav Freytag argued in Die Technik des Dramas that dramatic structures occurred in five parts: introduction, rise, climax, return or fall, denouement or resolution (or catastrophe). While Freytag’s name is most associated with the shape of dramatic structures, it’s really Selden Lincoln Whitcomb’s The Study of a Novel (1905) whose shape we reference, with its triangular shape shifted noticeably to the right, mapping the length of the narrative to the base of triangle, and thus the climax of a narrative “further” into the telling. As the twentieth century developed, the notion of dramatic shape continued to gain adherents: see, for example, Percy Lubbock’s The Craft of Fiction (1921), and as a number of media industries developed, with an especial focus on “middle brow” works, the notion of a formula for crafting a successful novel or film became a part of the industrial landscape. (Painful to think of novels as part of an industry for some, but there you have it.)

The most famous version of this mid-century formula is, of course, the Hollywood formula, which, as TV Tropes notes, “follows three characters through three acts.” For a 15-minute version of the formula, listen to Lou Anders’ explanation on Writing Excuses from 2011.

If there is no official handbook for the Hollywood formula, then it can also be glimpsed through all the ways that various artists, critics, and scholars seek to subvert or critique it. See, for example, Dancyger and Rush’s Alternative Scriptwriting: Beyond the Hollywood Formula (2013) or the derision of the formula in Duncan Cooper’s “Who killed Spartacus?”

Cooper, Duncan. 1991. WHO KILLED SPARTACUS? Cinéaste, 18(3): 18–27. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41687089.

There are a lot more shapes to consider: Reedsy outlines 7 in a 2018 post, but we will wrap up our consideration of such structures/shapes with the story circle, which most writers attribute to Dan Harmon, who suggests that it became more clear to him while working on Community. (I will leave it to your independent investigatory impulses to explore the connections between Harmon’s story circle and Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey.)

We will start our discussion with texts like Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899), Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” (1924), Casablanca (1942), Star Wars: A New Hope (1977) — because Lucas helped revive Campbell), and Die Hard (1988), but feel free to bring examples of your own: there are pyramids and circles (and beats and whatever else) everywhere you turn.

(F6) The Morphology of the Folktale

Perhaps only lagging behind Claude Levi-Strauss’ “The Structural Study of Myth” as one of the most renown works of folk narrative study, Propp’s Morphology shaped much of the classical work in mythology to come later in the twentieth century and would, in fact, have a significant influence on early attempts to build computational models of narrative in the early twenty-first century.

Propp, Vladimir. 1968. Morphology of the Folktale. Tr. Laurence Scott. University of Texas Press.

Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1955. The Structural Study of Myth. Journal of American Folklore 68 (270): 428-44.

(F13) Types & Motifs

In this seminar, we familiarize ourselves with one way the idea of functions in folktales were operationalized, The Tale-Type Index and, later, its companion set of volumes, The Motif Index. With the readings in mind, we settle down to using the volumes to classify a number of tales.

There are no class meetings during Mardi Gras break. Enjoy!

(F27-M20) Towards a Structuralist Study of Narrative

The notion that stories can only be understood in terms of sequence dates back to Aristotle who argued that all narratives develop longitudinally, from beginning to middle and the end through the selection and combination of events. Taking their cue from the formalists, structuralists thinkers like Roland Barthes and Tzvetan Todorov (and later A.J. Grimes and Gerard Genette) argued that that was but one way to approach narrative, as a syntagm. There are also paradigms at work, and that was where the study of narrative, if it was to become a science, should look.

If you need a refresher on structural linguistics as it was first articulated by Ferdinand Saussure, you can find an excerpt in our course files on Teams.

Saussure, Ferdinand de, and Roy Harris. 1998. Course in General Linguistics (Open Court Classics). Open Court.

The main focus of our conversation for this seminar will be essays by Barthes and Bremond, which appeared in the same issue of Communications in 1966 and a subsequent essay by Todorov.

Barthes, Roland. 1975. An Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narrative. New Literary History 6 (2): 237-72. Translated by Lionel Duisit. JSTOR.

Bremond, Claude, and Elaine D. Cancalon. 1980. The Logic of Narrative Possibilities. New Literary History 11 (3): 387-411.

Todorov, Tzvetan. 1971. The 2 Principles of Narrative. Diacritics 1 (1): 37-44.

In a bit of a chronological loop, we read Lévi-Strauss’ “Structural Study of Myth,” which appeared a decade before the essays by Barthes, Bremond and Greimas. Lévi-Strauss’ essay is a bit more difficult for most readers new to structuralism to understand, so it comes after our initial explorations have established the structuralist approach a bit more. Lévi-Strauss’s method is not necessarily glimpsed well in the essay, with its focus on a single text as a primary example, and so the early essay is paired with two chapters from a later work which in some fashion acts as the sixth volume of his Mythologiques, Story of Lynx (1995):

Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1955. The Structural Study of Myth. The Journal of American Folklore 68 (270): 428-44. DOI.

To see Lévi-Strauss in action is to understand more about his larger claims. For that reason, we are reading a chapter from Story of Lynx, “Indian Myths, French Folktales.”

Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1995. The Story of Lynx. University of Chicago Press.

If you continue to struggle with Lévi-Strauss, Eleazar Μeletinsky’s discussion in the essay below, in a section of only 6½ pages, is pure analytical gold.

Meletinsky, Eleazar. 1974. Structural-Typological Study of Folktales. In Soviet Structural Folkloristics, 19–51. Edited by Pierre Maranda. The Hague: Mouton.

In our last seminar on classical narratology, we pick up some useful tools, a few of many available for helping us thing our way through texts:

Genette, Gérard, and Ann Levonas. 1976. Boundaries of Narrative. New Literary History 8 (1): 1-13. DOI: 10.2307/468611. http://www.jstor.org/stable/468611.

Bal, Mieke. 1985. Excerpts on Focalization from Narratology: Introduction to the Theory of Narrative. University of Toronto Press.

Ricouer, Paul. 1985. Excerpts on time and narrating from Time and Narrative. University of Chicago Press.

(M27-A3) Recent Developments

Herman’s synthesis.


Computational Narratology.

Spring Break.

April 17.

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain nor the material below this point.

Part 2.The first task in any course with some dimension of intellectual history as its focus is to try to understand the overall history of the domain. Narrative, however, is a relatively recent locus for organizing scholarly and scientific investigation. Prior to its development as a subject of study in the twentieth century, narrative was largely viewed through a lens of other objects: tragic plays, novels, myths. While a seminar of this nature could spend a considerable amount of time in the period prior to the formalist-structuralist articulation of narrative as an object in its own right, we are going to bounce around a bit, hoping, in some shadow of Bayes, to locate ourselves through apparent random pings in the great depths of intellectual history.

We begin with two readings, one a narrative and one a scholarly examination:

McConnell, Richard. 1924. The Most Dangerous Game. Collier’s. [Moodle].

For those interested in the sheer volume of adaptations of the story, the Wikipedia entry for the short story has a decent, if not complete (because impossible), list.

Schiffrin, Deborah. 2009. Crossing Boundaries: The Nexus of Time, Space, Person, and Place in Narrative. Language in Society 38 (4): 421–45. DOI:10.1017/S0047404509990212. JSTOR.

Finally, before we leap into our own exploration of the development of narrative studies, it won’t hurt to read some surveys and develop some sense of the larger landscape. For this, there are two encyclopedias, one you know and one you are less likely to know. The first entry for “Narratology” is in Wikipedia, and the second in the Living Handbook of Narratology. The former is short; the latter long.

Unitizing Narrative: Motifs & Functions

Before we examine Propp’s work, it’s important to understand the larger dialogue in which he is engaging. Specifically, early in Morphology, Propp notes that “the study of the tale has been pursued for the most part only genetically, and, to a great extent, without attempts at preliminary, systematic description” (5). Genetic references the great philological collection projects of the nineteenth century that were, for the most part, focused on origins and originals. In the twentieth century, that focus would become what is now known as the historic-geographic method, and its most noted accomplishment are the great indices of folklore studies: the tale-type index and the motif index. The best way to understand them is to use them. (More on genetic matters below.)

The Indices

The Aarne-Thompson-Uther classification system is available on-line as part of the Multilingual Folk Tale Database. A concise explanation of the ATU system is offered here.

In preparation for actually using the two iconic folklore indices, I would suggest the following reading:

Again, Wikipedia is not a terrible place to start. And there are two other online sources that are worth your time:

Richard Kuehnel and Rado Lencek. What is a Folklore Motif?

How to use Thompson’s Folklore Motif Index

Two of the Grimms tales are available entirely in plain text for your use: Grimms 91, sometimes titled as “The Gnome” and sometimes as “The Elves” and “Jack and the Fire Dragon” as told by Ray Hicks.

This seminar would be remiss if you did not read about the idea of motif from the compiler himself, Stith Thompson. I have also included Angela Maniak’s short introduction to the role of the role of indexes, or indices, and bibliographies in classical forms of scholarship for those less acquainted with them. Finally, the long essay by Dan Ben-Amos is for those committed to understanding the nuances of folklore studies’ intellectual history.

Thompson, Stith. 1949. Motif. In Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend, 753. Eds. Maria Leach and Jerome Fried. Funk and Wagnalls. [Moodle].

Maniak, Angela. 1983. Bibliographies and Indexes in American Folklore Research. In Handbook of American Folklore, ed. Richard Dorson, 447-451. Indiana University Press. [Moodle].

Ben-Amos, Dan. 1980. The Concept of Motif in Folklore. In Folklore studies in the Twentieth Century: Proceedings of the Centenary Conference of the Folklore Society, ed. Venetia Newall, 17-36. Rowman and Littlefield. [Moodle].

A slightly different approach to unitizing narrative, but proceeding along the same lines as the historic-geographic school, can be found in the work of Jamshid J. Tehrani, who has parsed narratives into traits that look a lot like motifs and then attempted phylogenetic analysis on variations on a text to see which are more closely related. His analysis takes place against a backdrop of history and cultural geography.

Graça da Silva, S. & Tehrani, J. J. 2016. Comparative phylogenetic analyses uncover the ancient roots of Indo-European folktales. Royal Society Open Science 3(1): 150645. DOI: 10.1098/rsos.150645. URL

Tehrani, J. J. 2013. The Phylogeny of Little Red Riding Hood. PLoS ONE 8(11): e78871. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0078871. URL.


The intertwined, and yet not intersecting, history of motifs and functions is not one on which I can comment. Structuralists outside folklore studies never took up the motif, and folkorists, while fascinated with function, never developed the idea much. Propp’s Morphology, however, has enjoyed a renaissance of late. (It is perhaps because the kinds of data and analysis needed for structuralism has finally come to be – see Miranda for more.)

Propp, Vladimir. 1968. Morphology of the Folktale. Tr. Laurence Scott. University of Texas Press. [Moodle].

And here are some Louisiana legends to consider. (For a text analytical perspective, the corpus is also on Voyant-Tools)

Contemporary considerations of Propp include:

Fisseni, Bernhard, Aadil Kurji, and Benedikt Löwe. 2014. Annotating with Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale: Reproducibility and Trainability. Literary and Linguistic Computing 29(4): 488-510. [Moodle].

Hansen, Gregory. 2015. Computerizing Propp’s Morphology: A Forward-Thinking Retrospect on Structuralism. New Directions in Folklore 13(1/2): 3-43. [Moodle].

The motif is one of those things that seems old-fashioned and yet has renewed interest in the era of data science (for a variety of reasons). In computer science, Mark Finlayson has done some remarkable work – see his profile page for a complete bibliography – but those works directly related to Propp are below. (Please note that computer science, like the sciences in general, is really good about making their work easily accessible: the obsession with tying any work up with protections is the best path to obscurity, literal and figurative.) The 2009 paper was my introduction to his work, but please note that the first publication listed is in the Journal of American Folklore:

Finlayson, M. A. 2016. Inferring Propp’s Functions from Semantically Annotated Text. Journal of American Folklore, 129(511) 53–75. PDF.

Yarlott, W. V. H. & Finlayson, M. A. 2016. ProppML: A Complete Annotation Scheme for Proppian Morphologies. In The 7th International Workshop on Computational Models of Narrative (CMN’16), Krakow, Poland. 8:1–8:19. DOI:10.4230/OASIcs.CMN.2016.8. PDF.

Yarlott, W. V. H. & Finlayson, M. A. 2016. Learning a Better Motif Index: Toward Automated Motif Extraction. In The 7th International Workshop on Computational Models of Narrative (CMN’16), Krakow, Poland. 7:1–7:10. DOI:10.4230/OASIcs.CMN.2016.7. PDF.

Eisenberg, J. D., Yarlott, W. V. H., & Finlayson, M. A. 2016. Comparing Extant Story Classifiers: Results & New Directions. In The 7th International Workshop on Computational Models of Narrative (CMN’16), Krakow, Poland. 6:1–6:10. DOI:10.4230/OASIcs.CMN.2016.6. PDF.

Finlayson, M. A. 2011. Corpus Annotation in Service of Intelligent Narrative Technologies. In Proceedings of the 4th Workshop on Intelligent Narrative Technologies (INT4), Stanford, CA. 17–20. PDF.

Finlayson, M. A. 2010. Learning Narrative Morphologies from Annotated Folktales. In Proceedings of the 1st Automated Motif Discovery in Cultural Heritage and Scientific Communication Texts Workshop (AMICUS), Vienna, Austria. 99–102. PDF.

Finlayson, M. A. 2009. Deriving Narrative Morphologies via Analogical Story Merging. In Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on Analogy (published as “New Frontiers in Analogy Research”, New Bulgarian University Press), Sofia, Bulgaria. 127–136. PDF.

And, finally, there is a cognitive dimension:

Gervás, P. (2016). Computational Drafting of Plot Structures for Russian Folk Tales. Cognitive Computation, 8(2), 187–203. DOI: 10.1007/s12559-015-9338-8. URL.

If you’re interested in Markov models, there is a good description and walk-through on HackerNoon as well as the example of the efficacy of the Chomskybot – be sure to read “how it works.” If you want to see how Markov models are a part of contemporary science and scholarship, check out these ScienceDirect search results.

The Other Structuralism

For those familiar with Claude Lévi-Strauss, it might surprise you to learn that while his early work on kinship had established him in the academy, his rise to star status actually emerged from his memoir, Tristes Tropiques, published in the same year, 1955, as “The Structural Study of Myth” (below). The essay was one stepping stone – others are collected in Structural Anthropology – to his longer treatment of myth in La Pensée Sauvage (1964, translated as The Savage Mind in English, which, as is usual for translations of Levi-Strauss, and later Derrida, misses the linguistic play often at the heart of his writing).

Saussure, Ferdinand de. 1959. Course in General Linguistics. Tr. Wade Baskin. New York: Philosophical Library. [Moodle].

Levi-Strauss, Claude. 1955. The Structural Study of Myth. Journal of American Folklore 68 (270): 428–44. DOI: 10.2307/536768. JSTOR.

Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1978. Harelips and Twins: The Splitting of a Myth. Myth and Meaning, 25-33 University of Toronto Press. [Moodle].

For those interested, Lévi-Strauss addresses Propp’s work directly in the essay below – the first 8 pages are essentially his summary of Morphology before he begins to offer his own views.

Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1984. Structure and Form: Reflections on a Work by Vladimir Propp. In Theory and History of Folklore (Theory and History of Literature, Volume 5), eds. Ariadna Y. Martin, and Richard P. Martin, 167-189. Tr. Monique Layton. University of Minnesota Press. [Moodle].

Classical Narratology

While we will return to the idea that narratives are a distinct form of discourse, or a particular mode of discursive production, if you prefer, Barthes’ “Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narratives” captures some of the spirit of one of the pivotal moments in the shaping of narrative as a subject of study and will, for many participants, give some hint of what the formalist-structuralist paradigm looks like. Barthes’ “Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narratives” first appeared in Communications 8 in 1966. (We are reading the translation published in NLH in 1975. Another translation (into English) can be found in Image Music Text, published in 1977.) Communications was a pathbreaking French journal, and this issue featured essays by Greimas, Bremond, Metz, Todorov, and Genette, all of whom were well on their way to becoming some of the more important figures in structuralism and/or narrative studies. They are typically grouped together for their combined debts to a variety of sources which are easily confused for readers otherwise unfamiliar with the broader intellectual history of the twentieth century. Greimas et al. drew upon structural linguistics (as articulated by Saussure and Benveniste), the Prague School (most notably the work of Roman Jakobson), Russian formalism (particularly Propp but also Bakhtin, Medvedev, among others), structural anthropology (as advanced by Claude Levi-Strauss but also found in the work of Mauss).

Barthes, Roland, and Lionel Duisit (tr). 1975. An Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narrative. New Literary History 6(2): 237–72. DOI: 10.2307/468419. JSTOR.

Bremond, Claude, and Elaine D. Cancalon. 1980. “The Logic of Narrative Possibilities.” New Literary History 11(3): 387–411. DOI: 10.2307/468934. JSTOR.

Greimas, Algirdas Julien. 1996. “Reflections on Actantial Models.” In Narratology, edited by Susan Onega, and José Ángel Garcia Landa, 76–89. Longman. Reprinted from 1983. Structural Semantics: An Attempt at a Method. Tr. Daniele McDowell, Ronald Schleifer, and Alan Velie. University of Nebraska Press. [Moodle].

Colby, Benjamin N. 1966. “The Analysis of Culture Content and the Patterning of Narrative Concern in Texts.” American Anthropologist 68 (2, Part 1): 374–88. JSTOR.

Genette, Gérard, and Ann Levonas. 1976. “Boundaries of Narrative.” New Literary History 8 (1): 1–13. DOI: 10.2307/468611. JSTOR.

Todorov, Tzvetan. 1971. “The 2 Principles of Narrative.” Diacritics 1(1): 37–44. DOI: 10.2307/464558. JSTOR.

Bal, Mieke. 1981. The Laughing Mice: Or: On Focalization. Poetics Today 2 (2): 202–10. DOI: 10.2307/1772198. JSTOR.

For more on the nature of her response, read:

Bronzwaer, W. 1981. Mieke Bal’s Concept of Focalization: A Critical Note. Poetics Today 2 (2): 193–201. DOI: 10.2307/1772197. JSTOR.

Ricoeur, Paul. 1980. Narrative Time. Critical Inquiry 7(1): 169–90. JSTOR.

For more on timelines upon/against/within which narratives are situated, there is All Timelines and The Movie Timeline. In addition to the visualization of a timeline within a narrative that we discussed from XKCD, there is 16 Complicated Movie Plots Explained With Infographic Timelines.

Jakobson, R., Ju. Tynjanov, & Eagle, H. 1980. Problems in the Study of Language and Literature. Poetics Today 2(1a), 29-31. doi:10.2307/1772349. JSTOR.

Bakhtin, M. M. 1987. Speech Genres and Other Late Essays (University of Texas Press Slavic Series). University of Texas Press. [Moodle as well as Archive.org, where it is available as an epub, html, etc.]

Bakhtin, M. M. 1984. Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics (Theory and History of Literature). University of Minnesota Press. [Moodle].

Bakhtin, M. M. 1981. The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays (University of Texas Press Poetry Series, No. 5). University of Texas Press. [Moodle].

Bakhtin, Mikhail. 1971. Discourse Typology in Prose. In Readings in Russian Poetics: Formalist and Structuralist Views, 176-196. Ed. Ladislav Matejka and Krystyna Pomorska. Cambridge, Mass.

Jakobson, Roman. 1988. Language in Literature. Belknap Press. [Moodle].

We are reading “Poetics and Linguistics” which first appeared in print in Style in Language (edited by Thomas Sebeok and published by MIT Press in 1960. As the beginning of the essay makes clear, it was written to be presented at a conference of the same title that took place at Indiana University - Bloomington in 1958. Most page references you will see elsewhere are usually to the version published in SiL, which I is also available on Moodle, but the advantage of the larger collection of Jakobson’s work is that it also contains his essay on “The Dominant” and the essay he co-wrote with Yuri Tynjanov on “Problems in the Study of Language and Literature.”


Burke, Kenneth. 1973/1941. Literature as Equipment for Living. In The Philosophy of Literary Form, 293-304. University of California Press. [Moodle].

Herman, David. 2009. Basic Elements of Narrative. Wiley-Blackwell. [Moodle].

Ryan, Marie-Laure. From Narrative Games to Playable Stories: Toward a Poetics of Interactive Narrative. Storyworlds: A Journal of Narrative Studies 1 (2009): 43-59. JSTOR.

Outside the Tower

One of the reasons for this course is the immense amount of discourse focused on stories and storytelling that takes places outside the academy. Some of it, as we have seen, is just that story is the current buzzword, much like paradigm and/or box were in a previous moment. There is, however, a lot of very smart thinking about the shapes of stories taking place. TVTropes is one venue, but writers, readers, and critics of genre fiction also have some very interesting, and often quite compelling things to note about the nature of narrative. One place to start is this analysis of the final battle in the middle movie of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, aka Helms Deep. The Nerdwriter’s analysis includes the notion of beats, something you will find used elsewhere.


The lists below are by no means comprehensive, only suggestive. If you find something that should be added here, please let me know.


Please note that the hyperlinks for JSTOR and Project Muse take you directly to the journal’s main page and not the home page of those two services.

The Journal of Narrative Theory appears to be the oldest journal focused specifically on narrative. Founded in 1971 as the Journal of Narrative Technique, JNT “has provided a forum for the theoretical exploration of narrative in all its forms. Building on this foundation, JNT publishes essays addressing the epistemological, global, historical, formal, and political dimensions of narrative from a variety of methodological and theoretical perspectives.” JNT is available on-line through Project Muse.

Narrative is “the official journal of the International Society for the Study of Narrative. Narrative’s broad range of scholarship includes the English, American, and European novel, nonfiction narrative, film, and narrative as used in performance art.” The Society’s website is: http://narrative.georgetown.edu/. Online access to articles is available through Project Muse (2002-present). Issues prior to 2002 are available through JSTOR.

Storyworlds is a new, interdisciplinary journal of narrative theory. It features research on storytelling practices across a variety of media, including face-to-face interaction, literary writing, film and television, virtual environments, historiography, journalism, and graphic narratives, studied from perspectives developed in such fields as narratology, discourse analysis, jurisprudence, philosophy, cognitive and social psychology, Artificial Intelligence, medicine, and the study of organizations.” Current journal contents and contact information are available at http://storyworlds.osu.edu. The journal is available on-line on Project Muse.

In addition to these journals focused narrowly on narrative, there are journals that address narrative specifically but from a particular perspective. Obviously most, if not all, of the journals with which you are familiar in the fields of composition, folklore, or literary studies will include narrative as part of their purview, but you may also want to take a look at a few other journals that you, perhaps, would not normally encounter, such as Discourse Processes or Genre.

Special Issues

In Autumn 1980, Critical Inquiry 7(1) released a special issue entitled simply: On Narrative. (URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/i257724.) The table of contents reads like a who’s who of scholars from the era:

Front Matter: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343172

W. J. T. Mitchell, Editor’s Note: On Narrative (1-4): http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343173

Hayden White , The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality (5-27): http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343174.

Roy Schafer, Narration in the Psychoanalytic Dialogue (29-53): http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343175.

Jacques Derrida and Avital Ronell , The Law of Genre (55-81): http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343176.

Frank Kermode, Secrets and Narrative Sequence (83-101): http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343177.

Nelson Goodman, Twisted Tales; Or, Story, Study, and Symphony (103-119): http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343178.

Seymour Chatman, What Novels Can Do That Films Can’t (And Vice Versa) (121-140): http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343179.

Victor Turner, Social Dramas and Stories about Them (141-168): http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343180.

Paul Ricoeur, Narrative Time (169-190): http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343181

Ursula K. Le Guin, It Was a Dark and Stormy Night; Or, Why Are We Huddling about the Campfire? (191-199): http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343182

Afterthoughts on Narrative

Paul Hernadi, On the How, What, and Why of Narrative (201-203): http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343183

Robert Scholes, Language, Narrative, and Anti-Narrative (204-212): http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343184

Barbara Herrnstein Smith, Narrative Versions, Narrative Theories (213-236): http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343185.

In addition to the special issue of Critical Inquiry, there was also a special issue of Poetics published in 1986 (Volume 15, Numbers 1-2). (URL: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/0304422X/15/1-2):

Elisabeth Gülich, UtaM. Quasthoff, An interdisciplinary dialogue, 1-3. F.-J. Brüggemeier, Sounds of silents: History, narrative and life-recollections, 5-24.

Rainer Münz and Monika Pelz, Narration in social research, 25-41.

Peter M. Wiedemann, Don’t tell any stories: Theories and discoveries concerning story-telling in the therapeutic setting, 43-55.

D. Baacke, Narration and narrative analysis in education and educational science, 57-72.

P. Bange, Towards a pragmatic analysis of narratives in literature, 73-87. Christof Hardmeier, Old testament exegesis and linguistic narrative research, 89-109.

Christopher Habel, Stories – An artificial intelligence perspective (?), 111-125. Harvey Sacks, Some considerations of a story told in ordinary conversations, 127-138.

Wallace Chafe, Beyond bartlett: Narratives and remembering, 139-151.

Ruth Wodak, Tales from the Vienna woods: Sociolinguistic and psycholinguistic considerations of narrative analysis, 153-182.

Charlotte Linde, Private stories in public discourse: Narrative analysis in the social sciences, 183-202.

Wolf-Dieter Stempel, Everyday narrative as a prototype, 203-216. Elisabeth Gülich, Uta M. Quasthoff, Story-telling in conversation: Cognitive and interactive aspects, 217-241.


Some of these texts are more central to the scholarly study of narrative; some are not. Make of the two categories what you will:


Bal, Mieke. 1985. Narratology: Introduction to the Theory of Narrative. Tr. Christine van Boheemen. University of Toronto Press.

Bauman, Richard. 1986. Story, Performance, and Event. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Benveniste, Emile. 1971. Problems in General Linguistics. Tr. Mary Elizabeth Meek. Coral Gables: University of Miami Press.

Booth, Wayne. 1961. The Rhetoric of Fiction. University of Chicago Press. Chatman, Seymour. 1978. Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film. Cornell University Press.

Borges, Jorge Luis. 1962. Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings. Ed. Donald A. Yates and James E. Irby. New York: New Directions. “The Garden of Forking Paths” (19-29). Tr. Donald A. Yates.

Coles, Robert. 1989. The Call of Stories: Teaching and the Moral Imagination. Houghton Mifflin.

Goffman, Erving. 1981. Forms of Talk. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Onega, Susana and José Ángel García Landa. 1996. Narratology: An Introduction. Longman.

Prince, Gerald. 1987. A Dictionary of Narratology. University of Nebraska Press. More Central

Sternberg, Meir. 1978. Expositional Modes and Temporal Ordering in Fiction. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Less Central

Articles & Essays

Briggs, Charles and Richard Bauman. 1992. Genre, Intertextuality, and Social Power. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 2(2): 131-172.

Clifford, James. 1986. On Ethnographic Allegory. In Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, 98-121. Ed. James Clifford and George Marcus. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Kramer, Mark and Wendy Call (ed). 2007. Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers’ Guide from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University. New York: Plume. Roemer, Michael. 199. Telling Stories: Postmodernism and the Invalidation of Traditional Narrative. Rowan and Littlefield.

Before Our Beginning

As noted elsewhere, prior to the twentieth century, interested commentators were more focused on narrative’s manifestations in various forms of discourse, as is the case with Aristotle’s concern with the nature of tragedy in the plays of his day. Aristotle’s Poetics are available in a number of locations: Project Perseus has an authoritative edition of Aristotle’s Poetics which is generously annotated but requires you to be online and Project Gutenberg has a variety of formats which can easily be downloaded for offline viewing.


Nevins, Jake. 2018. In the golden age of television, can narrative podcasts compete? The Guardian (May 2018). Link.

  1. This translation of Aristotle’s Poetics is from Perseus, an online library of Greek and Latin texts maintained by Tufts University. According to them the citation is: : http://data.perseus.org/citations/urn:cts:greekLit:tlg0086.tlg034.perseus-eng1:1450b. Aristotle’s consideration is really quite nuanced and is examining for yourself. For instance, I find his assessment of what a character is quite compelling: “Character is that which reveals choice.”