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What Is Narrative Media?

Much of the study of filmmaking and visual media production involves learning how to tell stories through visual media forms. Whether a short TV commercial, internet-based news show, independent documentary film or Hollywood blockbuster, various forms of visual media are used to convey stories. The combination of storytelling and visual media production methods and techniques form the basis of narrative media.

For those interested in exploring this intersection of creative forms, the in-depth study of narrative media is one of two program emphases offered by Arkansas State University’s online Bachelor of Science (BS) in Creative Media. Through this program, degree candidates can learn about the nuances of integrating story and visual media to create rich, compelling narratives and engaging content.

What Is the Definition of “Media”?

To understand what is encompassed in narrative media, the separate concepts must also be understood. Media is in fact a plural form of medium, though it has come to be used as a collective singular noun at times. Medium and media have many different definitions, but (in the context of narrative media) two Merriam-Webster definitions for “medium” are fitting:

  1. A channel or system of communication, information, or entertainment
  2. A mode of artistic expression or communication

So, media can refer to means of communication like TV, radio, books, movies, etc. As noted above, “the media” is also often used to refer to a collective group of communication channels. But media can also be used when referring to the “languages” or tools and materials used to communicate (i.e. images, sounds and actual physical materials like paint, ink, paper and film). Both of these conceptions of media are important in the study of narrative media — what it is, how it is conveyed and which channels are used.

What Does Narrative Mean?

“Narrative” can be used both as a noun (as in “a compelling narrative”) and as an adjective (as in “narrative media”). In both uses, the meaning of “narrative” surrounds the telling of a story. A narrative combines the elements of a story (plot, sequence of events, setting, character, etc.) with the techniques and methods used to tell that story and the “narrative performance” — what scholar Marie-Laure Ryan describes as “the mode of participation of human agents (authors, actors, readers) in the narrative event.”

How Are Those Concepts Combined in Narrative Media?

Although the separate elements can sound complex, putting them together is fairly simple. Using “narrative” as a descriptor, “narrative media” are media that aim to tell a story.

Narrative media can involve the passive participation of the audience, such as when watching a film. But narrative media can also include active audience participation through interactive video games or call-in radio shows. The audience may also take part in forming aspects of the narrative, applying imagination and further development in setting, plot and characters to the basic structure of a narrative (as when reading a book).

The study of narrative media concerns understanding the technical aspects of a chosen media form as well as how to utilize its strengths and compensate for its weaknesses. Audiovisual media, for instance, offer the benefit of using images, sound and pacing to convey a narrative and evoke emotion.

Students in A-State’s narrative media program will study how to take advantage of these benefits. This study informs the entire process from how one might write, structure and pace a screenplay to how using various filmmaking and cinematography techniques to strengthen a narrative.

Every aspect of setting up a shot, lighting it, editing it, and cutting to the next can affect the audience’s viewing experience and engagement with the narrative. The sequence of events, setting and characters of a story ideally support a seamless narrative. Skilled use of images, sounds and pacing can bring the narrative to life. Even what is left “unsaid” can be a tool in the filmmaker’s arsenal, both in literal storyline as well as in visual and audio content.

The study of narrative media is essential to the creation of engaging content that grabs an audience. Integrating narrative theory, storytelling, visual communications and visual media production techniques, A-State’s narrative media program can help aspiring screenwriters, directors, producers and filmmakers of all sorts be effective in their creative and professional pursuits.

Learn more about A-State’s online Bachelor of Science in Creative Media program.


Image & Narrative: On Defining Narrative Media

Marie-Laure Ryan: Media and Narrative

Merriam-Webster: Definition of Medium

SlideShare: Andy Wallis – Narrative: A Media Studies Key Aspect

Merriam-Webster: Definition of Narrative

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