He is largely responsible for the reintroduction of a rhetorical vocabulary into literary criticism, for example such terms as trope and metonymy. Additionally his work on narrative, best known in English through the selection Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method, has been of importance. His major work is the multi-part Figures series, of which Narrative Discourse is a section.
His international influence is not as great as that of some others identified with structuralism, such as Roland Barthes and Claude Lévi-Strauss; his work is more often included in selections or discussed in secondary works than studied in its own right. Terms and techniques originating in his vocabulary and systems have, however, become widespread, such as the term paratext for prefaces, introductions, illustrations or other material accompanying the text.
This outline of Genette's narratology is derived from Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method. This book forms part of his multi-volume work Figures I-III. The examples used in it are mainly drawn from Proust's epic In Search of Lost Time. One criticism which had been used against previous forms of narratology was that they could deal only with simple stories, such as Vladimir Propp's work in Morphology of the Folk Tale. If narratology could cope with Proust, this could no longer be said.
Below are the five main concepts used by Genette in Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method. They are primarily used to look at the syntax of narratives, rather than to perform an interpretation of them.
Say a story is as follows: a murder occurs (event A); then the circumstances of the murder are revealed to a detective (event B), finally the murderer is caught (event C).
Arranged chronologically the events run A1, B2, C3. Arranged in the text they may run B1 (discovery), A2 (flashback), C3 (resolution).
This accounts for the 'obvious' effects the reader will recognise, such as flashback. It also deals with the structure of narratives on a more systematic basis, accounting for flash-forward, simultaneity, as well as possible, if rarely used effects. These disarrangements on the level of order are termed 'anachrony'.
The separation between an event and its narration allows several possibilities.
Voice is concerned with who narrates, and from where. This can be split four ways.
Distance of the narrator changes with narrated speech, transposed speech and reported speech.
Perspective of the narrator is called focalization. Narratives can be non-focalized, internally focalized or externally focalized.
Genette, G (1980) Chapter 4: 'Mood' in Narrative Discourse, pp. 161 - 211, 1980, New York, Cornell University Press.