1. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    Story within a story

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by xanadu, Oct 22, 2008.

    In my current work, my main character is a writer and as she progresses through the plot, much of her conflict and indecision will be expressed through a story that she is writing. My question is this: How would this best be expressed in my story? I was thinking, since my chapters are broken up into scenes, that at a point when an excerpt is to be shown I would just have it as its own scene (it would be long enough), but I'm not sure if that would be confusing to the reader. Should I have some sort of indication that the following is from the character's writing and not an actual event in the story? Should I format it differently? It's not really an issue yet, as I haven't reached the point in which she begins writing, but I would like to know your input.

    I hope I explained this well enough. If I was unclear, please say so! Thanks. :cool:
     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I think a clean explanation through narrative and dialogue at the beginning of the story as to the inner story and the characters involved in said inner story should be enough.

    Trust your reader. ;)
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    What you are trying to do really is an instance of clean transition between two points of view. Every time you switch context, you have to signal it clearly to the reader.

    I have a blog entry that discusses POV: What's Your Point (of View)?. I hope it will be helpful.
     
  4. Scarlett_156
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    Scarlett_156 Active Member

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    I would intersperse the two, using italics for the story that is being written, and perhaps also indenting it as well, so that it stands out more, ex:

    Naturally, if you are going to submit the work for publication, you will probably have to read the publisher's guidelines quite carefully to make sure that no changes in formatting are needed before you send your work off.

    I hope this was helpful. yours in Chaos, Scarlett
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Scarlett, I think what you are going for here is a block quote. A block quote is an indented expanse of literally quoted material, but you don't use quote marks or italics with it. The indenting suffices to identify it.

    I was assuming that xanadu wanted parts of the story to take place in the writer's world, and part to take place within the writer's creation.

    If the inner story is only in the form of passages from the book, you are right that the block quote is the way to go. But if anything like equal time is given to action within the story and action in the outer world, it would be better served by switching POVs at chapter boundaries.

    From a writing point of view, that would simply be a switch of location and narrator, never mind that they exist in different planes of "reality".
     
  6. Cheeno
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    Cheeno Contributing Member

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    Workshop it. Get a couple of examples down and submit them. I'm sure you'll get plenty of practical assistance (not that the above isn't) once we can see what you're at. Good luck with it.
     
  7. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    I myself would go with the italics or, more professionally, blockquote technique for a story within a story, even if it's given substantial time and space within the book. I wouldn't regard the story-within-the-story to be a separate point of view at all--it's like excerpts from something, and in general those are set off from the text with blockquotes and such.

    If you go with entire chapters of excerpt from the story-within-a-story, then you'll probably have to try a different technique, like titling it so that the reader knows it's an excerpt and not the main story itself. (This only because blockquote won't show up very well if it's the only formatting used in the entire chapter.)

    But if the excerpts are within chapters of regular story (i. e., are treated as "scenes"), blockquote sounds good. No matter how long they are.
     
  8. Helmut_II
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    Helmut_II Member

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    You could do what Stephen King did in Misery.

    Go from a more typical word processor font to a handwritten or typewritten font.

     
  9. DragonGrim
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    DragonGrim Contributing Member

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    I wouldn’t do anything flashy. I would just switch between third person (the story) and first person (story within a story) and just give a break between the changes.

    If the story is already in first person, then further action may be necessary, such as change of font or indentation.

    Sometimes the vagueness is an asset to a story. As with Saving Julia (I think that is the title).
     
  10. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks for the timely responses!

    Going by the replies, I'm considering the blockquote technique or just starting the scene with the excerpt but giving a heads-up that it's coming. For example:

    Cogito, you're saying that blockquotes are only used for quoting real material? In that case it wouldn't work for me.

    @Cheeno: I'll certainly do that eventually, once I get to that point in the story.

    Thanks for the help. :)
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    There's a novel I read recently, but I don't remember the name. The novel itself wasn't that great, but it took place in two different times. There were present day chapters, with the MC tracking down clues to bones she found buried in the garden of the house she just bought. Other chapters took place in Boston in the 1800's, and built up the story the MC was investigating.

    The same technique, I think, would work for you, as it doesn't sound like you intend to simply insert short excerpts.

    Incidentally, the reason I didn't enjoy the novel much wasn't really due to the writing. The writing was competent, but the story was one of sould fated to be together - not really my cup of tea.

    EDIT: I just remembered the name of the novel: The Bone Garden, by Tess Gerritsen (Duh!). Can I blame it on a senior moment? Or maybe just an attempt to expunge it from memory...
     

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