author: the person who created the text. In biblical literature, this can be complicated because some stories existed in an oral form before being written down and even then went through several editions before ending up in their present form. §2.1, §2.3, §2.5

basic plots:  the storylines that capture basic human events and so appear throughout history and cultures although they may well have a specific historical and cultural form. Christopher Booker gives the following as the basic plots: overcoming the monster (battle), rags to riches, journey quest, the journey of voyage and return, comedy, tragedy, and rebirth He adds three subplots: call and commission, trials, and temptations. §5.7

boundaries of the story: the beginning and end of the story. While a novel begins on the first page and ends on the last, biblical narratives are often part of a chain of stories, and sometimes in analyzing a story, one must make a prudent decision about its beginning and end. §1.2

closure:  the sense of an ending that comes with the resolution of the overriding tension and the basic questions raised by the story. In general, audiences dislike the lack of closure. §5.8

development:  the middle of the story where the tension heightens the means of resolution fall into place. §1.1

distance: the audience’s sense of being far from or close to the story. The narrator can keep the story far from the audience by mediating everything or bring it close by letting the characters speak for themselves and by providing more detail. §2.4

drama: a story presented directly by the characters, as distinct from a narrative mediated by the narrator. §1.1

duration: another term for narrative time that refers to the amount of the narrative devoted to the telling of an event. §5.4

entities: those things in the story, in addition to the characters, that serve some function in the story. §4.2

flashback: a narrative scene out of sequence that takes the audience back to an earlier event needed to understand the present action. §3.1, §5.3

flashforward: a scene out of sequence that takes the audience forward in time to reveal what will happen. In the Bible, prophecy has this function and helps the audience see the consequences of the present action. §3,1, §5.3

flat characters: stereotypes that represent an idea or trait. §4.1

focalization: see narrative lens. §2.4

frequency: the number of times an event is told. §5.5

gaps: the things that the narrator does not tell us but that we want or need to know about the story. Some gaps are inconsequential, but the way in which we fill in other gaps can have important consequences for the interpretation. §5.6

history: what actually happened and should be verifiable; for biblical events, often there is little data beyond what is contained in the Bible. §1.4

implied author: Wayne Booth’s term for the idea of the author constructed by the audience to account for the narrative. This essay uses the term “worldview” instead. §2.1

implied narrative: a text that presumes some tension and a projected resolution, but the audience must reconstruct the story from what is told. §1.1

keyword: a repeating word or phrase that signals critical themes in the story. §5.2

lyric: not a story, but the direct presentation of reaction or idea by a single voice. §1.1

motif: a recurring image that signals critical themes in the story. §5.2

narrative, also referred to as story: a sequence of events moving from tension to a resolution,  told by a narrator/storyteller. §1.1

narrative discourse: the way that a narrator tells a story in a particular instance as distinct from the storyline. The narrative discourse of Exod 13:17—14:31 captures one telling of these events in the Bible.

narrative lens: also called focalization: the frame through which we see and experience the story. Usually, the narrator serves as our narrative lens, but sometimes, a character may serve as the lens. §2.4

narrative space: the geography of the story which carries thematic dimensions. §3.2

narrative time: the amount of time given to telling the parts of the story. The more narrative time an event receives, the more important it is. §3.1, 5.4

narrator, first-person: a narrator who tells the story from “my” point of view, often as a character in the story. §2.2

narrator, third-person: a narrator outside the story, typically possessing an omniscient understanding of the characters and events. This narrator typically gives the impression of impartiality and objectivity but plays a crucial role in shaping the story, its worldview, and the narrative lens. §2.2

narrator, also called the storyteller: the voice that tells the story. §2.1

overreading and underreading: overreading finds connections that go beyond what the text signifies, while underreading fails to recognize clues in the text. §5.6

plot: the way that the actions unfold in the story. §5.1

realistic narrative: a narrative that presents a world true to our experience with its round characters and complexity. §1.5

redactor: the person(s) who serves as the final editor and gives a biblical text its final form. The redactor may take a creative hand and reshape the material from the tradition to reflect a new worldview/theology. §2.1, §2.3

reliability: the trustworthiness of the narrator. Biblical narrators are reliable in the sense that they believe what they tell to be true. §2.5

repetition: a basic strategy used to create emphasis, time to react, and design. Repetition is a sign of what the text deems important and demands the audience’s attention. §5.2

report: a retelling of what has happened without any particular concern for tension or resolution (though some today would consider this as part of narrative). §1.1

resolution: whatever brings a tension to an end. Stories typically have a major resolution that brings the whole to an end, but along the way, smaller tensions demand their own resolution so that the story can move ahead. §1.1

retardation: events that introduce new tensions that impede the final resolution. §5.1

round characters: E.M. Forster’s term for a realistic character who possesses the complication and surprise of real human beings.

sequence of events: the chronological unfolding of the events of the story which may or may not be the way in which the narrator tells the story. §4.1

story: used here as another word for narrative. §1.1

storyline: the skeletal events that a story fills out. §1.1

tension: a problem that the characters must resolve for the story to move forward and come to closure. A story typically has a major tension whose resolution brings the whole to an end. Between them, small tensions arise and demand resolution for the story to move forward. §1.1, §5.1

thematic narrative: a narrative that projects and reinforces a plot with flat characters representing traditional themes (ideas);  all the pieces are grounded in convention and artistic tradition. §1.5, §4.1

theme: an idea that a story carries and develops. §5.2, also §1.5, §3.2, §4.1

time of the story: the time when the story takes place, in contrast to the time of its composition,  the time of its reading, and also to narrative time. §3.1.1

worldview: the story’s understanding of how its world works. This world view is largely, and the audience must construct this understanding from what the narrator presents. Others call this understanding “the implied author.” For biblical stories, their worldview could also be called their theology—that is, their understanding(s) of God and humanity with their relationship to each other and creation. §2.1


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Elements of Biblical Narrative by Harry Hagan, OSB, © Saint Meinrad Archabbey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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