Cambridge Introduction to Narrative


  • Media: #Books #Books 2021
    • Author: H Porter Abbott
    • Status: read
    • Date: 2021-01-21
    • Tags: #narratology #storytelling #storytellingBooks #textbook #nonfiction #literature
    • Rating: ★★★★★
    • Idea richness: ★★★★★


The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative does exactly what it says on the tin: introduce core principles of the theory behind narrative construction, psychology, and analysis in concise and jargon-free fashion.


  • Narrative and life
  • Defining narrative (what is and what is not a narrative, narrative discourse vs story, etc.)
  • Narrative rhetoric (masterplots, normalization)
  • Closure
  • Narration
  • Interpreting narrative
  • Adaption
  • Characters
  • Narrative and truth (exploring both fiction and nonfiction)
  • Narrative worlds (unfortunately not so much about worldbuilding or how narrative shapes worlds as investigating how narratives define and create space as well as time)
  • Narrative contests (specifically how we put narratives head to head and build off each other, with a fascinating true courtroom example)
  • Narrative negotiation (how narratives help us negotiate conflicts by those they resolve (or fail to) within themselves)


The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative is a surprisingly readable and brisk guide to narrative, proving the perfect place to start for someone like me. I am a selfish person approaching weighty topics like [[!Narratology]] from the outside perspective: not as a English Lit student but as a designer. Researching my interaction design dissertation led me by a backwards route into the fascinating topics of, well, how [[!Storytelling is our native language]] and essentially everything. Having gotten an idea of the vast power of narrative, I'm now searching out the fundamentals to learn more about the theory and structure behind such a force.

The book itself is incredibly concise (some 200 odd pages) and Abbott takes pains to avoid jargon (which is always explained when used, along with an excellent glossary) and adhere strictly to the 'introduction' label. This is both a blessing (it's a textbook but you can read it cover to cover in a couple of nights without melting your brain) and a curse (if there is a particular topic you are researching, don't expect more than an introduction), depending on your wants. However, as an introduction it is perfect and the ample bibliography is excellent, offering suggestions for each topic with notes so you can dive down whichever rabbithole suits you.

For my personal study, I did feel a tad disappointed by the middle of the book. The opening and closing chapters dive into the connections between narrative and life (my particular interest) and do so excellently. However, the middle portion is far more focused on interpretation and analysis and does not weave in quite so much of the cultural and psychological interplay from earlier. The chapter on narrative worlds also felt a bit sparse and not what I was expecting, even though the key point of narratives creating and existing in both time and space was fascination. But that's just me. For literature studies, it would be perfect and I certainly learned a lot.


If you want an introduction to narrative no matter your background or field and don't want to get bogged down in intelligible terms or pages of analysis on a book you haven't read, look no further.

As of 2021, the second edition is dirt cheap used on ebay.