Abused Word of the Day: Narrative

May 3, 2019

Back in the days when people used to read, journalists would use the “reverse pyramid” style of writing, in which the most important information went first. Who, what, why, when, where and how had to be in the lead (or lede, for some unknown reason).

Copywriters, likewise, would typically try to grab a reader’s attention with a catchy opening or headline.

Today, apparently no one wants news, facts or anything else that’s boring. They want a story. They want a “narrative.” At least that’s what people believe if they are in marketing or other corporate functions in which the use of clichés is a requirement.

Today, it’s the “narrative” that’s important. A narrative tells a story. As a reader, you’re obligated to read it all so you can catch the writer’s – or should we say narrator’s – deep meaning.

Public relations professionals and other morally challenged beings seek to “control” the narrative, skewing the plot toward their employer’s or client’s perspective.

It’s as if we’re all toddlers. You need a “narrative” today if you want to hold our interest. As the narrator, you need to tell us a good story. One with a narrative. A good narrative, because you shall be judged by your narrative.

Yet “narrative” implies a length and depth of discourse that’s beyond the attention span of the typical reader. Most people are not readers, anyway. If your narrative takes too long to unwind, good luck.

Stories that evolve out of narratives tend to be fiction. Often bad fiction.