N Is for Narrative


Narrative: a collection of events that tells a story, which may be true or not, placed in a particular order and recounted through either telling or writing.

Narrative is the way that we convey our stories to each other, exercising our “voice” and lending it, sometimes, to a variety of other persons’ perspectives as well. It is our weaving of the human drama into a pattern that “tells” about life.

But Narrative also tells us a lot about ourselves and our lives as we are living them. When we are able to connect the events of our human experiences into a coherent shape, we are more likely to see purpose and meaning in the little things that happen to us—and remember times when just such small incidents ended up being clues to our destiny.

It is for some of these reasons that I chose to write in Narrative, specifically in excerpts of condensed dialogue between a mother and daughter, in my books Becoming Flame and Spinning Straw, Weaving Gold.

Susan Cahill writes in the Introduction to her anthology Wise Women: “Perhaps because it has been women’s task throughout history ‘to go on believing in life when there was almost no hope,’ in the words of Margaret Mead, women have sought and cultivated the goods of the spirit out of a practical need for meaning.”  

I see something spiritual in the Narrative quest as well, and so I use this conversational form, drawing from my experience as a woman and a mother—seeking to convey some essentials of feminine collective insight, as wisdom is sometimes “kneaded” and made into “bread” right within our own daily exchanges.Image

Such dialogues can be seen as cameo stories with imagined details that extend beyond the borders of the words spoken. As an instance of Narrative, they invite the imagination to enter in, filling in richness from memory and the mind’s eye. In fact, all stories, even the most descriptive, require this of the reader.

Since much of the Bible itself is presented in Narrative form, I find it natural to think both in terms of specific setting and acts, and also more timeless implications.

Umberto Eco wrote in Six Walks in the Fictional Woods:

“By reading narrative, we escape the anxiety that attacks us when we try to say something about the world. This is the consoling function of narrative—the reason people tell stories, and have told stories from the beginning of time … to find a shape, a form, in the turmoil of human experience.”

And, whimsically speaking, as renowned author Elie Wiesel put it—perhaps “God created man because he loved stories.”  


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