I'm preparing a university homework on Foer's "Eating Animals" and I'm supposed to analyse "the use of storytelling to make food meaningful".

However, I have a hard time finding definitive references about storytelling. Most "storytelling" work seems to be done in advertising and management context, and literary theory uses the terms narration and narrative. I couldn't even find a clear definition of storytelling.

Is there a difference between these terms?

  • 1
    You can narrate real-life events which don't constitute a story proper. Like the ticking of a clock: "The clock has struck 2:07:12. The clock has struck 2:07:13. The clock has struck 2:07:14...".
    – Dan Bron
    Mar 14, 2016 at 18:43
  • 1
    Narrative and storytelling can be fairly interchangeable. Story vs. narrative in the field of rhetorical analysis appear to be used to mean the same thing in many papers that I've seen.
    – Jesse M
    Apr 14, 2016 at 1:35

2 Answers 2


Storytelling, at least in this sense, is an art form. It's what separates a gifted or skilled writer from a poor one: the ability to compellingly tell a story.

Narration, as contrasted to storytelling, is a much more clinical, dry term. It is merely stating a series of events.


In 'The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative' (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), H Porter Abbott gives the following definitions in the glossary which comes at the end of the book:

Narration: The telling of a story or part of a story. Often used indistinguishably from narrative, narration as it is used here refers to the activity of a narrator.

Narrative: Commonly, the telling of a story. I prefer to call it the representation of a story. Some scholars have argued that there cannot be a narrative without someone to tell it (a narrator), but this view would exclude most drama and film, which though they present stories, usually do so without a narrator.

Narrative discourse: The story as narrated - that is, the story as rendered in a particular narrative. Some narratologists use the term plot for this concept, but this can be confusing because in English we commonly use "plot" and "story" interchangeably. Note that the distinction between "story" and "story as narrated" can be taken to imply that stories exist independently of narrative presentation - in other words, the same story can be narrated in more than one way. This distinction raises a number of ontological (perhaps even metaphysical) questions. If a story does not exist in its narrative presentation, where does it exist? If the same story can be presented in different ways, how do we recognize it as the story that it is? What is necessary for us to see that it is this story and not another? And can a story ever be fully told?

Narrativity: A disputed term, used here to mean the degree to which one feels a story is being told or performed.

Narratology: The descriptive field devoted to the systematic study of narrative. Some narratologists see their field as a science analogous to linguistics. Many of the terms in this glossary come frorn the work of narratologists. In the first section of the Bibliography ("Foundational Works") are entries squarely in the field of narratology by Bal, Barthes, Chatman, Cohn, Genette, Prince, and Rimmon-Kenan.

Narrator: One who tells a story. The narrator is not necessarily the author. Some narratologists assert that the narrator can never be the author, even if the narrative is an autobiography. Others (a bit more moderate) say that, since at the least we can never know for sure if the narrator is the sarne as the author, it is senseless to speak of the author as if he or she were necessarily implicated in the views of the narrator. This is an interesting philosophical question involving the relation of voice, character, and identity (whose voice is this you are reading now? Is it my voice or is it the voice of a character-like entity 1 created to present these ideas - a mask that I wear in print, my persona?).

Omniscient narration: Narration by a narrator assumed to know everything connected with the story narrated. Though it is widely used, this is a troublesome term that is finally more confusing than helpful. There are, it is true, narrators who seem to know everything, but no narration was ever omniscient (literally "all-knowing"). All narration is riddled with blind spots - gaps - which we must fill from our limited knowledge.

Story: With narrative discourse, one of the two basic dimensions of narrative. Conveyed through the narrative discourse, story is a sequence of events involving entities. Slightly adapting Chatman, events in a story are of two kinds, acts and happenings. Entities are also of two basic kinds: characters (who can engage in acts) and settings (in which happenings occur). Story should not be confused with narrative discourse, which is the telling or presenting of a story. A story is bound by the laws of time; it goes in one direction, starting at the beginning, moving through the middle, and arriving at the end. Narrative discourse does not have to follow that order. The distinction between story and narrative discourse was first anticipated early in this century by Russian structuralists. The terms they used for this distinction - fabula (for story) and sjuzet (for the order of events in the narrative) - are still widely employed in the discourse on narrative.

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