Story or Narrative: what’s the difference?

We know that the world views of everyone are shaped by what “narratives” are out there. But what does this mean? and how does STORY-telling come into the picture.

This easy set of definitions developed by the Narrative Initiative brings a useful clarification:

Narrative Concepts

These core concepts articulate the different levels at which we engage with narrative specifically in the context of social change. Each category has discrete functions, expressions, and modes of transmission.


Simply put: “In a story, something happens to someone or something. Typically, a story has a beginning, middle and end.”


Narratives permeate collections or systems of related stories. They have no standard structure, but instead are articulated and refined repeatedly as they are instantiated in a variety of stories and messages. (Toward New Gravity)

Deep Narrative

Deep narratives are characterized by pervasiveness and intractability. They provide a foundational framework for understanding both history and current events, and inform our basic concepts of identity, community and belonging. Just as narratives permeate collections of related stories, so too do deep narratives permeate collections of related narratives. In Toward New Gravity, we used the term meta-narrative. Over two years of dialogue with peers in the field, we’ve evolved to a preference for the term deep narrative. We see that deep narrative lends itself to more illustrative uses.

These foundational terms are interconnected and reinforce each other over time. We find the concepts much easier to hold onto through an example:

  • The movie Jaws is a story about an insatiable man-eating shark
  • All the stories about insatiable, man-eating sharks add up to a broader narrative of sharks being dangerous and predatory creatures
  • The narrative and stories about sharks rest on powerful deep narratives about the human relationship to nature and a fear of the unknown

So when we are telling our stories of LGBQI+ struggles and/or liberation, how much attention do we pay to broader narratives and, most importantly, to deep narratives?

Sometimes our stories reinforce deep narratives which are broadly unhelpful, like the idea that there are two genders only.

The “screening” for deep narratives should be an essential part of message development.