As a former student of comparative literature, and in particular the field of narratology, my tolerance for unnecessarily vague academic terms is bigger than average. Recently at our monthly dinner party, my father-in-law mentioned that he doesn’t think the term “narrative” is relevant in the majority of contexts. “In most cases, a simple ‘story’ will suffice”, he declared.

Recently, when I was publishing an old Now page, I came across a use case for the word “narrative” that did not allow for an interchanging of that word with “story”.

Here for posterity, as wel as for my father-in-law, is what I believe to be true about the word “narrative”:

  1. It’s relevant to refer to stories in an academic sense to honor the origins of the study of such artefacts: the Bulgarian-French scholar Tzvetan Todorov.
  2. “Narrative” in a non-academic sense can be helpful to distinguish between a story and a story that has a (slightly) more political or spin-like quality. Example: many people believe 10,000 steps a day is a healthy norm, when in reality this is a narrative spun by a Japanese pedometer brand from the 1960s.