In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Narrative Engagement

  • Introduction
  • Narrative
  • Narrative Engagement Process
  • Measuring Narrative Engagement

Communication Narrative Engagement
Rick Busselle, Nathan Cutietta
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 February 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0223


Narrative engagement is the sensation we sometimes experience of being “pulled in” to the world of a story and temporarily losing awareness of ourselves and our real-world surroundings. Narrative engagement shares considerable conceptual overlap with transportation and story world absorption. It also is closely related to, but distinct from, the concepts of flow, identification, and retrospective imaginative involvement. Being more engaged in a narrative is associated with greater enjoyment of the story and greater potential for the story to influence the reader, listener, or viewer.


A narrative tells the story of an event or events. Typically, narratives have some form of complication and resolution, and involve sentient beings, such as people, anthropomorphized animals, or cartoon characters. Narratives often are experienced in the form of movies, television programs, or novels. However, they also are presented in radio plays, short stories, and by storytellers at bedtime or around campfires. As Abbott 2002 notes, the simplest narrative may be only a few words that represent an event, such as “She escaped!,” or a single image, such as a sprinter crossing a finish line ahead of the pack. Both suggest an event and the idea that the situation changed as a result of the event. It is useful to distinguish between narrative discourse and story. Graesser, et al. 2002 conceptualizes narrative discourse as existing in a text; that is, in the words on a page or the sound and images presented in a movie theater. Discourse refers to the telling of events and can be presented in any order and in many different ways. For example, consider narrative devices such as flashbacks, different narrators, or the use of subjective camera angles. Story, on the other hand, is the reader’s or audience member’s understanding of the event or events based on their interpretation of the narrative discourse that is presented in a text. As such, the discourse exists in a text, while the story exists in each reader or audience member’s imagination as they read, watch, or listen to the text.

  • Abbott, H. P. 2002. The Cambridge introduction to narrative. Cambridge, UK: Univ. Press.

    This book provides a comprehensive definition and description of narrative and the different elements of a narrative, such as plot, character, time, and space. Early chapters are helpful for distinguishing among basic concepts, such as the narrative discourse and the story.

  • Graesser, A. C., B. Olde, and B. Klettke. 2002. How does the mind construct and represent stories? In Narrative impact: Social and cognitive foundations. Edited by M. C. Green, J. J. Strange, and T. C. Brock, 229–262. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

    This chapter provides an in-depth overview of narrative structure, including discussions of narrative discourse, story and other related concepts.

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