Franz Stanzel: Narrative Theory and the Typological Circle

Franz Stanzel set out to derive a comprehensive typology of all conceivable narrative structures. His intent, he said,was "to systematize the various kinds and degrees of mediacy." (Mittelbarkeit) [1] that result from the shifting relationship between the story and how it is being told. Stanzel says that his project is to show how novels and short stories "render their mediacy."[2] and thus affect the structure of the narrative. "Render" is the translation of the German verb gestalten and connotes the act of in-forming and shaping. Stanzel writes:

Whenever a piece of news is conveyed, whenever something

is reported, there is a mediator- the voice of a narrator is

audible. I term this phenomenon "mediacy."[3]

Three basic narrative positions:

1 First-person narrative: The world of the characters is identical to the world of the narrator.

2 Authorial narrative situation: The narrator is outside the world of the characters.

3 Figural narrative situation: There is no apparent narrator. A reflector character thinks, feels and perceives. An illusion of im-mediacy is created.

(In fact, all narration is first-person because there is always a narrator between the reader and the story.)

The constitutive elements of mediacy

1 Person: The narrator either exists as a character within the world of the fictional events of the story, or he exists outside it.

2.Perspective: Perspective may be internal (limited), located in the story, in the protagonist or in the centre of the action, or it may be external (omniscient) outside the story or or its centre of action located in a narrator who does not belong to the world of the characters, or who is merely a subordinate figure.

3 Mode: Who is narrating? The narration may be highly personalized or relatively invisible. Mode distinguishes between what Stanzel calls reportorial narration and scenic presentation. (Otherwise distinguished as "showing" and "telling" or mimesis and diegesis.) Modal possibilities constitute a continuum.


In each of the three narrative situations, another constitutive element or pole of the binary opposition associated with it attains dominance over the other constitutive elements and their poles.

1 Authorial narrative situation: Dominance of external perspective.

2 First-Person narrative situation: Dominance of fictive world.

3 Figural narration: Dominance of the reflector mode.

Possibilities of narrative mediation:

Does the narrator belong to the world of the story, or does he remain in another realm of existence?

2 Does the narrator give the reader an external view of the narrated events, or does he present them from within?

Does the narrator directly convey information to the reader, or does he filter it through the consciousness of one or several characters?


Stanzel uses the term "prototype" for the narrative situation most widely used in any particular period. Victorian writers preferred the authorial narrative or the quasi-autobiographical form of the first-person narration. Twentieth century writers combine authorial and figural elements. At any time, some writers deviate from the historic norm by defamiliarizing the conventions through estrangement. This accounts for the historical development of the form.

Stanzel's typology is used to determine the predominance of the narrative situations in a work. It should be understood that the narrative situation can change at any point. A work is complex of basic narrative forms whose profile may be charted. As well, an individual reader reads according to reading strategies which may very from reader to reader(the indeterminacy of the reader, who through a kind of inertia maintains his spatio-temporal orientation until the text conspicuously signals a change).

Profile of a narrative: The alternation between diegetic-narrative and mimetic-dramatic parts of a narrative (and the overlapping of the two structural elements in "indirect speech" and "free indirect style."

Rhythm of a narrative: The succession of the basic forms of narration( summary, report, description, commentary, scenic presentation interspersed with action report).

Narrative Forms :

Narrative modes

overt mediacy covert mediacy

indirect direct

personalization impersonalization

telling showing

summary scenic presentation

report 1. Scene with extensive dialogue and brief

impersonal allusions to the context and action.


comment 2. Reflection of the fictional events in the

consciousness of a fictional character.

Non-narrative forms:

dramatic forms:


dramatised scene

The Opposition Mode: Teller Character and Reflector Character

a)Teller mode: The teller is there to tell, report, witness, comment, anticipate, recapitulate. He provides a generalized summary or a complete record of events.

b) Reflector mode: The reflector is there to mirror in his own consciousness what is going on in the world outside(or inside). He pretends to be giving an unmediated view, as if the reader were presented with the thing itself. Mediation is camouflaged. He provides arbitrary details, apparently the result of existential situations.

The value of any detail is determined by the mode.

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