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  1. Alex R. Encomienda

    Alex R. Encomienda Contributor Contributor

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    Is a story within a story ever a good idea?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Alex R. Encomienda, Dec 1, 2016.

    Good evening beautiful writers!

    I have a question I've been wondering but I figured I'll just ask my writer friends!

    Let's say someone writes a story about a man's struggles to finish his story which is the main story. For example, the real world would be all in narrative while the story would focus on the man's story.

    Do you personally think readers could ever feel anything for characters in a fictitious book? The books we read are all made up yet we feel for the characters. Isn't it quite the same?

    Tell me your thoughts please!
     
  2. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    Sounds a bit like Shakespeare in Love.

    Taking that as the template, the internal story didn't stir me one jot. The protagonist's conflict within the internal story was simply a problem for the protagonist in the main story; if he needed to kill a character to resolve his dilemma, well, tough luck Mercutio and Tybalt.
     
    Alex R. Encomienda likes this.
  3. Spencer1990

    Spencer1990 Contributor Contributor

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    This is called Narrative Framing. It's a perfectly valid literary device. Whether or not people will be invested in what goes on within your second frame depends largely on what it's about and how it's executed. Give us a compelling plot, interesting characters, fresh prose, and no one will think twice about a story within a story.
     
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  4. S~A~W

    S~A~W Banned

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    Check out Adaptation. Somewhat of the idea.
     
  5. OJB

    OJB A Mean Old Man Contributor

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    The Never Ending Story, The quest, The princess bride, (I know there are books I've read that do this, I just can't think of any them at the moment.)
     
  6. KevinMcCormack

    KevinMcCormack Senior Member

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    Yup. Narrative Framing or Encapsulated Narratives are not much different than standard narration where reader-character engagement is concerned. Wuthering Heights is my favourite example. 99% of the text is a story told by the housekeeper character Nelly Dean. Canterbury Tales is another great example - it's a storytelling contest. Frankenstein. However, those aren't stories about characters in a novel per se, they're stories about stories.

    IIRC, there's a subplot in Watchmen where we shift back and forth from a pirate story in a fictional graphic novel that is being read by one of the characters. That's probably closer to what Alex is asking about.

    And there's always Stranger Than Fiction, where the protagonist turns out to be a fictional character in another character's unfinished novel as she struggles with writer's block.

    In all of these examples, the reader is very engaged and empathizes with the fictional-fictional characters, because they're written accordingly.



    Edited to add: Oh! I almost forgot... Donald E Westlake once wrote a short story that was a nested series of encapsulated tales. I think he was challenging himself, there were about 30 levels. Sorry I don't recall the title.
     
  7. antlad

    antlad Banned

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    If done well it works. I have seen this in a number of random horror short stories.
     
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  8. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    I think The Man in the High Castle would only experience 1,001 Nights of soul-crushing Misery at the suggestion of a fictional story being told about the creation of a fictional story and would rather step on a Mouse-trap than subject himself to such a Spanish Tragedy.
     
  9. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Aunt? Supporter Contributor

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    Hamlet had the play within the play, and it's a common movie technique, as mentioned above. "The Mexican", with Brad Pitt, had a number of explanations of the origin of the gun shot as vignettes within the movie.

    That having been said, it's a dicey proposition to do, you risk coming across as trying to seem overly clever ("Adaptation" didn't really impress me very much, sorry).
     
  10. halisme

    halisme Contributor Contributor

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    Frankenstein has a story within a story within a story.
     
  11. Alex R. Encomienda

    Alex R. Encomienda Contributor Contributor

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    Yes it is quite a risk but I just suddenly had the idea and now that I have it; I cannot stop fantasizing about it really! I already have dozens of notes for it in my big brown binder too.
     
    Simpson17866 and Iain Aschendale like this.

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