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The way of storytelling is called: NARRATION.

Films like any other art form is a medium of largely storytelling. Us humans are traditionally storytellers and thus find different mediums to tell stories. Since the birth of cinema, people tried various ways to make films, giving birth to a huge section of cinema called narrative cinema, which basically means cinema that tell story rather than just giving an experience of moving pictures. In this article we are going to explore meaning of narration in cinema.

The word 'Narration' written in bold over the piles of cinema books.


To start with, I would like to quote from ‘Narration in fiction films’ by David Bordwell on what is film narration 

a chain of events in cause-effect relationship occurring in time and space.

 To bring it down, lets assume a situation, there is an ongoing war, a world war, due to which German soldiers are taking Jews to detention centre. Now this could be our cause, resulting millions of people dying, i.e. Holocaust.
We all have seen several films on holocaust, right? But still each one seems different than other. Why is it so? Well because each one narrates differently. Take for example, in Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, the Nazis keeps Jews in detention centre, this cause Schindler to pick out his workers, resulting saving them.

In Life is beautiful, Nazis keep Jews in detention centre, this cause a separation of Guido Orefice’ family and shattering of his whole world resulting him trying to save his family.

Even if a single story is made into film by different people it feels different every time, it is because of the way narration goes. Narration mainly involve some elements which are theme of the story, characters, a plot, setting, characterization, structure, symbolism & point of view. There are a few others too.  

Further, Narrative films are categorized into majorly 2 types, Fiction and Non-Fiction.

  • Fiction being one which is imagined or one which didn’t take place in real life. Though it could have been inspired by real life events.
  • Non-Fiction are the ones which took place in real life. Like Documentaries.


When I started learning about the narration, I got very confused with terms that seemed similar, let me now explain my confusions.

  • I use to think story and plot and narrative are same. Though not very separated, the two terms aren’t same. Story is basically what happens or Why it happens, the core of the writing. To cut it further short it is an event happening. Where as plot is how it happens. And Narrative is how it is told to us.

Let us understand it by a basic example. First, we need an event, a story. “An Ice cream seller, on a beautiful day, drove across whole city in his Red-truck to sell Ice Creams filled with drugs to the people who just wanted an Ice Cream. He made whole city high. And was rewarded by the drug lord with $3k next day”


Let’s go with this story. Now we can make the plot of the story, which is how it happened.  An Ice cream seller running a failed business is tricked into meeting mafia where they offer him some money. He then takes the money and a week later he fills the ice cream truck with drugs. And drive it to city where he sells it. And gets money in by the mafia the next day.

Plot is basically like when what happened, like a series of events making a story. And narrative is how it is told. How story unfolds, is it linear, does it has foreshadowing, what is the Point of view of the story. The story here, is by a third person not Ice cream seller himself, nor the mafia but someone else. Maybe storywriter himself. Whose Point of View are we watching the story from, it is Ice Cream seller in this case. Also notice, we get to know it was a mafia’s job at the very end of the story. 

(Also, it is a story of a gameplay and not a Russian gangster film. Just to be clear.)


  • I use to think non-narrative and non-fiction is same thing. To be able to understand this, we need to know what non-narrative is. Does non-narrative even exist. Well technically it does, but non-narrative does include components of narrative. If narrative is events which has cause-effect relationship. Non-narrative would be the one with no cause-effect relationship. Example if a shot of a horse running is placed next to Aliens having food on mars. It wouldn’t make sense. Nor does both the shots will have a relation. So that could be a non-narrative film. But it surely would have, even if very slight, some component of narrative film.

Non-narrative like narrative films are fiction and non-fiction.

Example-Baraka is a great non-narrative, non-fiction (documentary) film. At first, it’s just random visuals coming at you. On watching it more and more you get a feel of what director is trying to say.

This is because We humans are storyteller by birth, we find stories in everything.

Narration is much simple than you think and at the same time it is much complex than you can imagine. Learning narrative style, narrative components, structuring, fiction, non-fiction is important. But to understand all of the above you need to understand only one line, The way of storytelling is called Narration.


Learn more here.