RELATED TERMS: Diegese; Storyworld

Diegesis is the process of telling or narrating. In Plato’s and Aristotle’s writings, as reported discourse, diegesis is contrasted with mimesis, the process of showing or enacting.

Some modern theorists have converted diegesis into a narratological category denoting the imagined story-universe as opposed to the discursive or textual constituents of a narration. The earliest modern usage of French “diégèse” originates in film theory, where diegesis designates everything which constitutes or belongs to the world projected by a film, and not only visually (Metz, c1971, 1974: 97–8)

In this case, The diegesis [diegese] is taken to mean the world of the narrative. It includes objects, events, spaces and the characters that inhabit them, including things, actions, and attitudes not explicitly presented in the work but inferred by the audience. That audience constructs a diegetic world from the material presented in a narrative. The narrator may be inside the diegesis, i.e.intra-diegetic, or may not, in which case they are outside, i.e. extra-diegetic.

Note that this formulation of extra- and intra- diegetic differs from and is simpler than the initial formulation of Genette, which includes homo- hetero- extra- and intra-diegetic categories, and combinations thereof [1]. This difference is made for two reasons: the first is that the diegesis in a narrative environment is typically constructed of real things: real place, real objects, real people; the second is that we have found that we do not need such a complex formulation as Genette proposes – inside and outside suffices.

A diegesis may contain other narratives, in which case the narrative it belongs to is called a framing narrative. Stories that are told (usually by characters) within the main narrative are part of its diegesis, but also each has its own internal diegesis. If the diegeses of these subnarratives are related to the diegesis of the framing or master narrative, then in narrative environment design we call the framing narrative a meta-narrative.

The diegesis is an important concept in narrative environment design because it will most likely contain real places, spaces, objects. Because the audience (narratee) is in direct physical relationship to these elements, the borderline between intradiegetic (part of the narrative’s world) and extradiegetic (outside the narrative’s world) can be extremely porous, making metalepsis comparatively easy. This is a powerful tool for engaging the narratee.

See intradiegetic narratee and metalepsis.

In Narrative environment design, the distinction between diegesis and mimesis as two ways of representing can be blurred in practice. See also mimesis


[1] For a discussion of these categories, see Genette, G (1980) Voice, in Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1980, pp.212-262.