The key difference between a narrative and a story is simple enough: A story is only ever in mind.
Narrative occurs continuously all over the cosmos. Wherever there is change over time that is a narrative. Somewhere a cheetah is taking down a gazelle. Some kids are playing football in the street. A moon is orbiting a planet. All of these are narrative, but none is necessarily a story. For it to become a story there must be a human there to perceive it and turn it from information into knowledge. This is a process called interpretation.
Fundamentally, this is a philosophical discussion concerning the differences between realism, idealism and constructivism, but for our purposes, you will be relieved to hear, it is essentially the difference between information and knowledge.
Knowledge is in mind. There is no knowledge ‘out there’ in the material world. Knowledge is what something means when we think about it, so knowledge requires a thinking mind before it can exist. When information stimulates the senses of a person, they interpret the information into what it means for them. What it means is knowledge. It may not be true or reliable, but for the human being who has interpreted it, it is knowledge for them. A lie, for example, is still meaning because it is logical narrative. The story of Santa Claus is not true, but it has meaning and becomes knowledge in the mind of the receiver.
So, for a narration to have any meaning there must be a human being present to receive and interpret it. To answer one of the great philosophical questions: If a tree falls in the forest and there is nobody there to hear it, does it make a sound?
The answer is: yes, it does make a sound, but unless there is a human being there to hear it, it does not make a meaningful sound.
So, a narrative is made from information. The delivery of a narrative to a human receiver is called a narration. A narration is an information stream that stimulates the senses of a receiver who interprets it into knowledge in mind. That knowledge in mind will be a human logical representation of an event of change over time. A narrative in mind is called a story.
A story is made of knowledge and is only ever in mind.
|Material World||Only in Mind|
|Material things||What they mean|
|Change over time||human logical sense|
Why does this matter?
Traditionally, we have searched for the source of the magic of story in the texts that deliver the narration. We look for the relationship between the text and the reader. We go through a classic text and we analyse the arrangement of information to try to identify common mechanisms and structures that make it special. The outcome is a set of structures that we hope might be magically powerful if re-used in the same way in other narrations. We document these structures and rules into formulae and peddle them in ‘How to Write’ books and seminars. This is rather like searching for the source of genius through in-depth study of the skeleton. After all, every genius has a skeleton, and a genius doesn’t seem half so clever any more if you take his skeleton away. It’s proof! The skeleton is the source and substance of story! Let’s document it to reuse it to make more geniuses! However, we all know that the real source of genius – and the magical wonder of story – is in the mind, not the structures that support it.
The reason my research and books are a step forwards in narrative theory is because a story is a collaboration, a joint production, a knowledge transfer between an author and a receiver. And THAT is why The Primary Colours of Story (Out late 2019) is going to change the world and massively improve the way we think about and understand STORY!!
You’re very welcome… 😉