Narratives structure human comprehension, and shape our ability to imagine and achieve transformed futures within the 1.5 degree threshold. Examining tensions between narrative as a communication technique and as a spatial-temporal cognitive structure, this paper brings these different understandings together in a conversation for transformative global change. We suggest that filling the 'information deficit' with improved communication of a single, unifying and global narrative about Earth systems is necessary but insufficient: filling the 'narrative deficit' requires engagement with the protagonists, timelines, and places that provide situated agency in identifying and navigating uncertainty and risk. Transformations to sustainability will require recognizing and engaging multiple, diverse experiences of agency, a process that attention to narrative can help facilitate.