Here’s a quick essay I had to write for school that might be of interest to others, about my understanding of Narrative, in response to something the professor sent us about Narrative that was pretty simple and focused on just books:
The straightforward approach to narrative presented by the essay limits its focus to just written narrative, to the detriment of the depth and scope of narrative.
As a writer of video games, as well as books, I disagree that narrative needs to be told in words. Any sort of symbol or sign can be conducive to narrative. The subconscious mind is always on, after all. I would say narrative stems from a sense of destination translated into the subconscious mind. What this means, to me, is that when Mario reaches the flag at the end of the level, he has experienced a narrative. When the driver pushes through the unexpected traffic to get home, that is also a form of narrative. When Ivan Ilyich finally dies, that, too, is the destination point of a narrative. That destination point may be known in advance – Mario pushing through the level knows there is an end point – or it could be that the destination point is known but not exactly when it will arrive – like Ivan Ilyich’s death – or it could be the destination point to the subconscious is a surprise at every moment – like how traffic just seems to pile upon the driver, with no end in sight until it suddenly, miraculously, clears away. The “meaning and evaluation” stems from the destination point. However, that meaning and evaluation could be completely untold to the audience. The subconscious mind is, after all, always active. The depth of the narrative – Ivan Ilyich versus stuck in traffic – comes from the connectivity of the conscious acts and activities of the narrative through laid out connecting lines to the subconscious destination point.
The meaning and theme come from three places. First, the subconscious destination point colors the theme. Also, the mind’s path to that subconscious destination point – whether rooted in the physical world or not – is a source of theme and meaning. Third, the connectivity between conscious and subconscious ideas, if presented at depth, color the meaning and theme. This connectivity could be quite shallow, which would not contribute much to the connection between spheres of though. However, with elaborate narrative packed with signs and symbols and numerous psychic destination points, the connectivity is the stuff of magic, where most of the themes come from. After all, the conscious layer of narrative – where a character does things – and the subconscious layer – where one can feel a progression towards or away from psychic destination points – is the place with the most work to do. Simplistic narrative, like Super Mario Bros., do not really concern themselves with the third layer. Complex narrative, like Moby Dick, expend almost all energies behind this third element. The conscious layer of Moby Dick – men do whaling activities – is connected to the psychic destination point – Ahab is taken by his own hated whale, and the whalers are defeated – through a vessel of connectivity: Ishmael.
Call it narrative.