A “trace narrative”! I finally know what it’s called. I had them analyze a piece of writing I did, hoping it had a ‘type’ and it does.
I asked each: Can you an example of a pure trace narrative using a stereotyped example of a trace narrative?
First Bard, then ChatGPT4:
Sure, here is an example of a pure trace narrative using a stereotyped example of a trace narrative:
* * *
The coin dropped from my hand, and I watched as it arced through the air. It landed on the ground with a dull thud, and I followed its journey as it rolled across the pavement. The coin bounced once, then twice, before coming to a stop at the edge of the curb.
I stood there for a moment, watching the coin. I could see the individual grooves and ridges on its surface, and I could even make out the date stamped on it. The coin was a penny, and it was old and worn.
I reached down and picked up the coin. I held it in my hand, feeling its weight and its texture. I turned it over, examining it from all sides.
I thought about the journey that the coin had taken to get to me. It had been minted in a factory, then it had been shipped to a bank, then it had been used in a transaction, and then it had been dropped by me.
I wondered where the coin would go next. Would it be picked up by someone else, or would it just lie there on the ground? I didn’t know, but I knew that its journey was not over yet.
* * *
This is a pure trace narrative because it follows the journey of a single object, the coin, from its origin to its destination. The narrative does not include any other characters or events, and it does not stray from the path of the coin.
The narrative is also a stereotyped example of a trace narrative because it follows the journey of a physical object. Trace narratives can also follow the journey of digital objects, such as emails or text messages. However, this narrative is a good example of the basic structure of a trace narrative.
Certainly, one of the most stereotyped examples of a trace narrative is the journey of a physical letter from sender to recipient. Here’s an example:
The moment John put pen to paper, he was beginning a journey far longer than the few feet from his desk to the mail slot. The stroke of his pen, the folding of the paper, the sealing of the envelope, the scribble of the address – each was a step on a path that was about to unfold.
Once deposited into the mailbox, the letter took its first ride. A mail truck, dusty and laden with letters and parcels, swept the letter away from its home street. Inside the truck, it was a world of quiet anticipation, as if every piece of mail held its breath, waiting for its turn to move on.
From the truck, the letter was deposited in the local post office, where it was sorted by machine, separated from its truck companions, and grouped with other letters destined for the same region. It was a whirl of motion and noise, a dance orchestrated by postal workers and machines that operated with clockwork precision.
After sorting, it was packed into a bag with its new travel companions, and taken to the airport. There, loaded into a cargo hold, the journey expanded from local roads to the wide-open skies. The rumble of the engines, the ascent into the clouds, the cruising at high altitudes, all while the letter lay quietly in the dark belly of the plane.
Touching down at the destination city, the letter was whisked away to another sorting center, another round of machines and hands moving it along. It was then loaded into another mail truck, this one a little cleaner, a little less crowded, for the final leg of its journey.
And then, at last, the moment of delivery. The letter carrier’s hand picked it out from the bundle, walked it up to a red front door, and slid it through the mail slot. After a journey of hundreds of miles, over roads and through the air, the letter came to rest on a welcome mat, ready to be discovered by its intended recipient.
Each step of the journey was a testament to the world’s interconnectedness, the ability of a simple letter to cross such distances, to navigate such complex systems, and to ultimately reach its destination. John’s simple act of writing was now completed by another simple act – the opening of the letter. And the journey of the letter had ended, or rather, had just begun a new chapter in the hands of the reader.