Tag Archive: Narrativity

by Marsha Little Matthews

July 3, 2019

The Summer 1 session of COMM 5333/MCOM 4333 Narrative Storytelling Across Media wraps up this week. Five weeks go quickly, especially when learning a new way to conceptualize narrativity and approach mediated storytelling.

Five undergraduate students with some experience in video and audio production and three graduate students, two of whom had no video or audio production experience and one who did, enthusiastically embraced the challenge.

The final project for this course was a 3-5 minute audio story approached with a documentary-style rather than a traditional news interview style. Elements to be incorporated/applied to create the stories include:

  • William Labov’s Five Principles of Tellibility (Ryan, 2004)
    • Abstract
    • Orientation
    • Complicating Action
    • Evaluation
    • Result or Resolution
    • Coda (if used)
  • Kurt Lancaster’s Concepts of Character and Dramatic Structure (Lancaster, 2013)
    • Dramatic Structure
      • Hook
      • Conflict
      • Climax and Resolution
    • Character
      • What does the character want?
      • What does the character do to achieve this?
    • Use of Music and Sound Effects
    • Editing – Rhythm and Pacing
      • Montage
      • Decoupage
      • Collision
      • Linkage
    • Tension and Release
    • Audio Design

Here are the stories produced by this summer’s students.


Ryan, M-L (2004). Narrative Across Media: The Languages of Storytelling.Lincoln NE: University of Nebraska Press.

Lancaster, K. (2013). Video Journalism for the Web: A Practical Introduction to Documentary Storytelling. New York: Routledge.

by Marsha Little Matthews

“What is narrative?” This is the question I posed to my summer topics class the first evening we met. We considered the following components that go into defining narrative.

  • May be presented using a variety of formats, media, and genres
  • Stories based upon our lived experience
  • A basic human strategy for coming to terms with time, process, and/or change

We also had to make a distinction between the interdisciplinary study of narrative and the study of narrative storytelling across media. I like Marie-Laure Ryan’s definition:

The study of narrative across media is not the same project as the interdisciplinary study of narrative: whereas one project directs us to the importance of narrative in mostly language-based practice, the other focuses on the embodiment, that is to say, the particular semiotic substance and the technological mode of transmission of narrative. Its categories are language, image, sound, gesture, and further, spoken language, writing, cinema, radio, television, and computers, rather than law, medicine, science, literature, and history. (Ryan, 2004, page 1)

We used this as our foundation for studying mediated narrative. The final audio narrative project had to possess narrativity, that is, “being able to evoke such a [narrative] script” (Ryan, p.9) in the mind of an audience, and possess tellability – a quality that makes the story worth telling.  This is the “so what” factor. One of my doctoral professors always made us answer the “so what” question regardless of what we were writing.

  • Why does it matter?
  • Who suffers if we don’t answer this question?
  • So what?

Great questions. Regardless of what I’m writing, creating, or researching, I’m forced to dig deeper for the meaning behind the work. If there is no meaning, if it doesn’t really matter, then why do it at all? Asking such questions also serves to draw my attention to the real question and keeps the writing, creating, and research narrowed and focused so I can leave out anything that doesn’t contribute to the text under construction.

In the act of telling one’s story, the storyteller is actively building the structure of the story to share the meaning the storyteller found in the events. Remember, narrative is how humans make meaning out of lived experience. It’s how we come to terms with what happens to us – good or bad – as we live our lives.  It is through telling one’s story repeatedly, that the storyteller figures out what the meaning is for him or her. This is one reason why a person telling about a tragic personal event is compelled to include multiple back stories when sharing the narrative with others in the hours, weeks, and months following the event. Each subsequent telling may get shorter as the storyteller comes to terms with the changes the tragedy brought about in his or her life.

When my husband died at age 38 from cancer, I had to tell a very long story, filled with many details and side stories, so that the listener could know who he was, why he was special, how he fought the disease, and the experience of growing with him throughout the journey. It took a while, but thirty years later I can tell the story in one sentence. It’s not because I don’t think all of the elements of the first story weren’t important. I’ve come to terms with what the experience means to me, and telling the longer story is how I worked my way through the meaning making process.

When the storyteller is sharing his/her lived narrative, it is with the purpose of sharing that meaning with the listener/viewer/reader.  If I want to share the meaning of my husband’s death and my loss, I will tell a much longer story than the one-sentence version even today. But I will not tell that narrative to someone who merely asks me what happened to my husband.

So, my students had to find someone with a narrative that possesses narrativity and tellability. To discover such a story, they had to ask open-ended questions, and keep asking questions. Next, they had to transcribe the recordings and analyze the text for the narrative meaning, and finally construct a script. And often, the narrative the students uncovered as they analyzed the transcripts was not the story they originally thought was being told.

Narrative meaning doesn’t really happen until the listener/viewer/reader has created his/her own mental image in response to the story. No meaning has been shared until the listener/viewer/reader receives and owns it. It’s not the telling of the story that creates meaning for the receiver of the story. It’s like basic communication theory – you really haven’t communicated anything until the idea in your mind is received and cognitively constructed in the mind of your intended receiver.

Here are three more audio narratives for you to hear. These stories are grouped together because they share a theme of personal journey and discovery.

Julian Hood is a senior majoring in Spanish and minoring in Mass Communication, Kirstine Kirst and Kenny Lange are graduate students in the master’s in communication program at The University of Texas at Tyler.

  • Production: Mia’s Journey
  • Producer/Writer/Narrator: Julian Hood
  • Executive Producer: Marsha Little Matthews
  • Storyteller: Mia Milokis
  • Production: Bucket List
  • Producer/Writer/Narrator: Kris Kirst
  • Executive Producer: Marsha Little Matthews
  • Storyteller: Stephen Rainwater
  • Production: Dream Exchange
  • Producer/Writer/Narrator: Kenny Lange
  • Executive Producer: Marsha Little Matthews
  • Storyteller: Zach Krumm
  • Female Voice: Ali Smith, Girlfriend
  • Male Voice: Jordan Butler, Boss

I’ll post the final three audio narratives in my next blog.


Ryan, Marie-Laure (2004). Narrative Across Media: The Languages of Storytelling. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.


Copyright 2013 Marsha Little Matthews

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