In Vishnu Sarma 's Panchatantra , an inter-woven series of colorful animal tales are told with one narrative opening within another, sometimes three or four layers deep, and then unexpectedly snapping shut in irregular rhythms to sustain attention. In the epic Mahabharata , the Kurukshetra War is narrated by a character in Vyasa 's Jaya , which itself is narrated by a character in Vaisampayana 's Bharata , which itself is narrated by a character in Ugrasrava's Mahabharata.
Another early example is the One Thousand and One Nights Arabian Nights , where the general story is narrated by an unknown narrator, and in this narration the stories are told by Scheherazade. In many of Scheherazade's narrations there are also stories narrated , and even in some of these, there are some other stories. Within the story, after the murderer reveals himself, he narrates a flashback of events leading up to the murder.
Within this flashback, an unreliable narrator tells a story to mislead the would-be murderer, who later discovers that he was misled after another character narrates the truth to him. This perennially popular work can be traced back to Arabic , Persian , and Indian storytelling traditions. Mary Shelley 's Frankenstein has a deeply nested frame story structure, that features the narration of an Arctic explorer, who records the narration of Victor Frankenstein, who recounts the narration of his creation, who narrates the story of a cabin dwelling family he secretly observes.
Similarly, Roald Dahl 's story The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar is about a rich bachelor who finds an essay written by someone who learnt to "see" playing cards from the reverse side. The full text of this essay is included in the story, and itself includes a lengthy sub-story told as a true experience by one of the essay's protagonists, Imhrat Khan. In Chaucer 's Canterbury Tales , the characters tell tales suited to their personalities and tell them in ways that highlight their personalities.
The noble knight tells a noble story, the boring character tells a very dull tale, and the rude miller tells a smutty tale. Homer 's Odyssey too makes use of this device; Odysseus ' adventures at sea are all narrated by Odysseus to the court of king Alcinous in Scheria. Other shorter tales, many of them false, account for much of the Odyssey.
A well-known modern example of framing is The Princess Bride both the book and the movie. In the movie, a grandfather is reading the story of "The Princess Bride" to his grandson. In the book, a more detailed frame story has a father editing a much longer but fictive work for his son, creating his own "Good Parts Version" as the book called it by leaving out all the parts that would bore a young boy.
Both the book and the movie assert that the central story is from a book called "The Princess Bride" by a nonexistent author named S. Sometimes a frame story exists in the same setting as the main story. On the television series The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles , each episode was framed as though it were being told by Indy when he was older usually acted by George Hall , but once by Harrison Ford.
The same device of an adult narrator representing the older version of a young protagonist is used in the films Stand By Me and A Christmas Story , and the television show The Wonder Years. In The Amory Wars , a tale told through the music of Coheed and Cambria , tells a story for the first two albums but reveals that the story is being actively written by a character called the Writer in the third.
During the album, the Writer delves into his own story and kills one of the characters, much to the dismay of the main character. The critically acclaimed Beatles album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is presented as a stage show by the fictional eponymous band, and one of its songs, "A Day in the Life" is in the form of a story within a dream.
Similarly, the Fugees album The Score is presented as the soundtrack to a fictional movie, as are several other notable concept albums , while Wyclef Jean 's The Carnival is presented as testimony at a trial. The majority of Ayreon 's albums outline a sprawling, loosely interconnected science fiction narrative, as do the albums of Janelle Monae.
Jan Potocki 's The Manuscript Found in Saragossa — has an interlocking structure with stories-within-stories reaching several levels of depth. The provenance of the story is sometimes explained internally, as in The Lord of the Rings by J. Tolkien , which depicts the Red Book of Westmarch a story-internal version of the book itself as a history compiled by several of the characters. The subtitle of The Hobbit "There and Back Again" is depicted as part of a rejected title of this book within a book, and The Lord of the Rings is a part of the final title. An example of an interconnected inner story is "The Mad Trist" in Edgar Allan Poe 's Fall of the House of Usher , where through somewhat mystical means the narrator's reading of the story within a story influences the reality of the story he has been telling, so that what happens in "The Mad Trist" begins happening in "The Fall of the House of Usher".
Also, in Don Quixote by Cervantes , there are many stories within the story that influence the hero's actions there are others that even the author himself admits are purely digressive. A commonly independently anthologised story is " The Grand Inquisitor " by Dostoevsky from his long psychological novel The Brothers Karamazov , which is told by one brother to another to explain, in part, his view on religion and morality.
It also, in a succinct way, dramatizes many of Dostoevsky's interior conflicts. An example of a "bonus material" style inner story is the chapter "The Town Ho's Story" in Herman Melville 's novel Moby-Dick ; that chapter tells a fully formed story of an exciting mutiny and contains many plot ideas that Melville had conceived during the early stages of writing Moby-Dick —ideas originally intended to be used later in the novel—but as the writing progressed, these plot ideas eventually proved impossible to fit around the characters that Melville went on to create and develop.
Instead of discarding the ideas altogether, Melville wove them into a coherent short story and had the character Ishmael demonstrate his eloquence and intelligence by telling the story to his impressed friends. With the rise of literary modernism , writers experimented with ways in which multiple narratives might nest imperfectly within each other.
A particularly ingenious example of nested narratives is James Merrill 's modernist poem " Lost in Translation ". In Rabih Alameddine 's novel The Hakawati , or The Storyteller , the protagonist describes coming home to the funeral of his father, one of a long line of traditional Arabic storytellers. Throughout the narrative, the author becomes hakawati an Arabic word for a teller of traditional tales himself, weaving the tale of the story of his own life and that of his family with folkloric versions of tales from Qur'an, the Old Testament, Ovid, and One Thousand and One Nights.
Both the tales he tells of his family going back to his grandfather and the embedded folk tales, themselves embed other tales, often 2 or more layers deep. In Sue Townsend 's Adrian Mole: The Wilderness Years , Adrian writes a book entitled Lo! Dreams are a common way of including stories inside stories, and can sometimes go several levels deep. Both the book The Arabian Nightmare and the curse of "eternal waking" from the Neil Gaiman series The Sandman feature an endless series of waking from one dream into another dream.
In Charles Maturin 's novel Melmoth the Wanderer , the use of vast stories-within-stories creates a sense of dream-like quality in the reader. This structure is also found in classic religious and philosophical texts. The structure of The Symposium and Phaedo , attributed to Plato , is of a story within a story within a story. In the Christian Bible , the gospels are retellings of stories from the life and ministry of Jesus. However, they also include within them the stories parables that Jesus told. In more modern philosophical work, Jostein Gaarder 's books often feature this device.
Examples are The Solitaire Mystery , where the protagonist receives a small book from a baker, in which the baker tells the story of a sailor who tells the story of another sailor, and Sophie's World about a girl who is actually a character in a book that is being read by Hilde, a girl in another dimension.
Later on in the book Sophie questions this idea, and realizes that Hilde too could be a character in a story that in turn is being read by another. The experimental modernist works that incorporate multiple narratives into one story are quite often science-fiction or science fiction influenced. These include most of the various novels written by the American author Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut includes the recurring character Kilgore Trout in many of his novels. Trout acts as the mysterious science fiction writer who enhances the morals of the novels through plot descriptions of his stories.
Rosewater are sprinkled with these plot descriptions. All levels tell stories of the same person, Trurl. House of Leaves is the tale of a man who finds a manuscript telling the story of a documentary that may or may not have ever existed, contains multiple layers of plot. The book includes footnotes and letters that tell their own stories only vaguely related to the events in the main narrative of the book, and footnotes for fake books. This hypothesis enables many writers who are characters in the books to interact with their own creations. Margaret Atwood 's novel The Blind Assassin is interspersed with excerpts from a novel written by one of the main characters; the novel-within-a-novel itself contains a science fiction story written by one of that novel's characters.
As Dick's novel details a world in which the Axis Powers of World War II had succeeded in dominating the known world , the novel within the novel details an alternative to this history in which the Allies overcome the Axis and bring stability to the world — a victory which itself is quite different from our history. Farmer a doubly recursive method is used to interwine its fictional layers.
This novel is part of a science-fiction series, the World of Tiers. Farmer collaborated in the writing of this novel with an American psychiatrist, Dr. Giannini had previously used the World of Tiers series in treating patients in group therapy. During these therapeutic sessions, the content and process of the text and novelist was discussed rather than the lives of the patients. In this way subconscious defenses could be circumvented.
Farmer took the real life case-studies and melded these with adventures of his characters in the series. In Matthew Stover 's novel Shatterpoint , the protagonist Mace Windu narrates the story within his journal, while the main story is being told from the third-person limited point of view. The Motion Picture , J. Lawrence 's Mudd's Angels , John M. Rasmussen's "Research" in the anthology Star Trek: Strange New Worlds II. The book Cloud Atlas later adapted into a film by The Wachowkis and Tom Tykwer consisted of six interlinked stories nested inside each other in a Russian doll fashion.
The first story that of Adam Ewing in the s befriending an escaped slave is interrupted halfway through and revealed to be part of a journal being read by composer Robert Frobisher in s Belgium. His own story of working for a more famous composer is told in a series of letters to his lover Rufus Sixsmith, which are interrupted halfway through and revealed to be in the possession of an investigative journalist named Luisa Rey and so on.
Each of the first five tales are interrupt in the middle, with the sixth tale being told in full, before the preceding five tales are finished in reverse order. Each layer of the story either challenges the veracity of the previous layer, or is challenged by the succeeding layer. Presuming each layer to be a true telling within the overall story, a chain of events is created linking Adam Ewing's embrace of the abolitionist movement in the s to the religious redemption of a post apocalyptic tribal man over a century after the fall of modern civilization.
The characters in each nested layer take inspiration or lessons from the stories of their predecessors in a manner that validates a belief stated in the sixth tale that "Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present and by each crime, and every kindness, we birth our future. The events of the play broadly mirror those of the novel and give the main character, Oedipa Maas, a greater context with which to consider her predicament; the play concerns a feud between two rival mail distribution companies, which appears to be ongoing to the present day, and in which, if this is the case, Oedipa has found herself involved.
As in Hamlet , the director makes changes to the original script; in this instance, a couplet that was added, possibly by religious zealots intent on giving the play extra moral gravity, are said only on the night that Oedipa sees the play. From what Pynchon tells us, this is the only mention in the play of Thurn and Taxis' rivals' name—Trystero—and it is the seed for the conspiracy that unfurls.
A significant portion of Walter Moers ' Labyrinth of Dreaming Books is an ekphrasis on the subject of an epic puppet theater presentation. Another example is found in Samuel Delany 's Trouble on Triton , which features a theater company that produces elaborate staged spectacles for randomly selected single-person audiences. In Manuel Puig 's Kiss of the Spider Woman , ekphrases on various old movies, some real, and some fictional, make up a substantial portion of the narrative.
They additionally raise the question of whether works of artistic genius justify or atone for the sins and crimes of their creators. This dramatic device was probably first used by Thomas Kyd in The Spanish Tragedy around , where the play is presented before an audience of two of the characters, who comment upon the action.
The action and characters in The Murder mirror the murder of Hamlet's father in the main action, and Prince Hamlet writes additional material to emphasize this. Hamlet wishes to provoke the murderer, his uncle, and sums this up by saying "the play's the thing wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king. Later he tries to come between them, as Hamlet had done with his mother and her new husband.
The tragic developments in the plot follow in part from the scorn the mother shows for her son's play. Shakespeare adopted the play-within-a-play device for many of his other plays as well, including A Midsummer Night's Dream and Love's Labours Lost. Almost the whole of The Taming of the Shrew is a play-within-a-play, presented to convince Christopher Sly , a drunken tinker, that he is a nobleman watching a private performance, but the device has no relevance to the plot unless Katharina's subservience to her "lord" in the last scene is intended to strengthen the deception against the tinker  and is often dropped in modern productions.
The musical Kiss Me, Kate is about the production of a fictitious musical , The Taming of the Shrew, based on the Shakespeare play of the same name , and features several scenes from it. Pericles draws in part on the 14th century Confessio Amantis itself a frame story by John Gower and Shakespeare has the ghost of Gower "assume man's infirmities" to introduce his work to the contemporary audience and comment on the action of the play.
The citizen's "apprentice" then acts, pretending to extemporise, in the rest of the play. This is a satirical tilt at Beaumont's playwright contemporaries and their current fashion for offering plays about London life. The opera Pagliacci is about a troupe of actors who perform a play about marital infidelity that mirrors their own lives, and composer Richard Rodney Bennett and playwright - librettist Beverley Cross 's The Mines of Sulphur features a ghostly troupe of actors who perform a play about murder that similarly mirrors the lives of their hosts, from whom they depart, leaving them with the plague as nemesis.
And John Adams' Nixon in China features a surreal version of Madam Mao's Red Detachment of Women to extraordinary effect, illuminating the ascendance of human values over the disillusionment of high politics in the meeting. In Bertolt Brecht 's The Caucasian Chalk Circle , a play is staged as a parable to villagers in the Soviet Union to justify the re-allocation of their farmland: This kind of play-within-a-play, which appears at the beginning of the main play and acts as a 'frame' for it, is called an 'induction'.
Brecht's one-act play The Elephant Calf is a play-within-a-play performed in the foyer of the theatre during his Man Equals Man. In Jean Giraudoux 's play Ondine , all of act two is a series of scenes within scenes, sometimes two levels deep. This increases the dramatic tension and also makes more poignant the inevitable failure of the relationship between the mortal Hans and water sprite Ondine. The Two-Character Play by Tennessee Williams has a concurrent double plot with the convention of a play within a play. The characters in the play are also brother and sister and are also named Clare and Felice.
Alternatively, a play might be about the production of a play, and include the performance of all or part of the play, as in Noises Off , A Chorus of Disapproval or Lilies. Similarly, the musical Man of La Mancha presents the story of Don Quixote as an impromptu play staged in prison by Quixote ' s author, Miguel de Cervantes. However, many productions of the show omit "Growltiger's Last Stand", and "The Ballad of Billy McCaw" has at times been replaced with a mock aria, so this metastory isn't always seen.
Depending on the production, there is another musical scene called The Awful Battle of the Pekes and the Pollices where the Jellicles put on a show for their leader. The Musical , there are three play within a plays. First, when Lestat visits his childhood friend, Nicolas, who works in a theater, where he discovers his love for theater; and two more when the Theater of the Vampires perform. One is used as a plot mechanism to explain the vampire god, Marius, which sparks an interest in Lestat to find him. The play mirrors Tuptim's situation, as she wishes to run away from slavery to be with her lover, Lun Tha.
In stagings of Dina Rubina 's play Always the Same Dream , the story is about staging a school play based on a poem by Pushkin. Joseph Heller's play We Bombed in New Haven is about actors engaged in a play about military airmen; the actors themselves become at times unsure whether they are actors or actual airmen. The musical Babes in Arms is about a group of kids putting on a musical to raise money.
The central plot device was retained for the popular film version with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. TV Tropes maintains a list of feature films that feature this plot device. The story of Pamela involves lust, betrayal, death, sorrow, and change, events that are mirrored in the experiences of the actors portrayed in Day for Night. There are a wealth of other movies that revolve around the film industry itself, even if not centering exclusively on one nested film. These include the darkly satirical classic Sunset Boulevard about an aging star and her parasitic victim, and the Coen Brothers' farce Hail, Caesar!
In addition to the Victorian love story of the book, Pinter creates a present-day background story that shows a love affair between the main actors. In Buster Keaton 's Sherlock, Jr. A similar device is used in the seminal music video Take on me by A-ha , which features a young woman entering a cartoon universe. Conversely, Woody Allen 's Purple Rose of Cairo is about a movie character exiting the movie to interact with the real world. Allen's earlier film Play it Again, Sam featured liberal use of characters, dialogue and clips from the film classic Casablanca as a central device.
The film presents The Shrinking Lover in the form of a black-and-white silent melodrama. To prove his love to a scientist girlfriend, The Shrinking Lover protagonist drinks a potion that makes him progressively smaller. The resulting seven-minute scene, which is readily intelligible and enjoyable as a stand-alone short subject, is considerably more overtly comic than the rest of Talk to Her —the protagonist climbs giant breasts as if they were rock formations and even ventures his way inside a compared to him gigantic vagina.
Critics have noted that The Shrinking Lover essentially is a sex metaphor. Later in Talk to Her, the comatose Alicia is discovered to be pregnant and Benigno is sentenced to jail for rape. Gradually it emerged that this was part of the rhetoric of fiction, that he could not possibly have seen first-hand some of the things he claimed to have witnessed. For some readers this was a thoroughly disillusioning experience; for others it seemed that his exuberance and imaginative abundance were not always compatible with the obligations and diligence of the reporter.
He remains a great writer — just not the kind of great writer he was supposed to be. The essential thing — and this was something I discovered when writing But Beautiful as a series of improvisations — is to arrive at a form singularly appropriate to a particular subject, and to that subject alone. That book was dedicated to John Berger. The documentary studies — of a country doctor in A Fortunate Man , of migrant labour in A Seventh Man — he made with photographer Jean Mohr are unsurpassed in their marriage of image and text.
The shift from the overt modernist complexities of the Booker prize-winning G to the stories of French peasant life was perceived, in some quarters, as a retreat to more traditional forms. Nothing — to use a phrase that may not be appropriate in this context — could be further from the truth. Berger was 89 on 5 November, bonfire night. He has been setting borders ablaze for almost 60 years, urging us towards the frontier of the possible.
Geoff Dyer received the Windham-Campbell prize for nonfiction. His new book, White Sands , will be published by Canongate in June. Each time a writer begins a book they make a contract with the reader. If the book is a work of fiction the contract is pretty vague, essentially saying: In the contract for my novels I promise to try to show my readers a way of seeing the world in a way I hope they have not seen before.
A contract for a work of nonfiction is a more precise affair. The writer says, I am telling you, and to the best of my ability, what I believe to be true. This is a contract that should not be broken lightly and why I have disagreed with writers of memoir in particular who happily alter facts to suit their narrative purposes.
- ‘Based on a true story’: the fine line between fact and fiction.
- Die Rückkehr nach Hause (German Edition).
- Think It, Be It!
- The Candy Machine: How Cocaine Took Over the World?
- Old, Old Germany (German Edition).
Break the contract and readers no longer know who to trust. I write both fiction and nonfiction — to me they serve different purposes. On my noticeboard I have pinned the lines: In the 12 years since its publication I have continued to explore the themes of civil war, though almost exclusively in fiction. Fiction allows me to reach for a deeper, less literal kind of truth. However, when a writer comes to a story, whether fiction or nonfiction, they employ many of the same techniques, of narrative, plot, pace, mood and dialogue.
This is one reason I think the distinction between fiction and nonfiction prizes is, well, a fiction. These writers have broken the boundaries of nonfiction to reach for the kind of truth that fiction writers covet. It made no sense. We are entering a post-literate world, where the moving image is king.
And more novels than ever before are set in the past. This is largely because the essence of human drama is moral dilemma, an element that our nonjudgmental society today rather lacks. A blend of historical fact and fiction has been used in various forms since narrative began with sagas and epic poems. There is a more market-driven attempt to satisfy the modern desire in a fast-moving world to learn and be entertained at the same time.
In any case, we seem to be experiencing a need for authenticity, even in works of fiction. I have always loved novels set in the past. But however impressive her research and writing, I am left feeling deeply uneasy. Which parts were pure invention, which speculation and which were based on reliable sources? She lives inside the consciousness of her characters for whom the future is blank. The problem arises precisely when the novelist imposes their consciousness on a real historical figure. Restorers of paintings and pottery follow a code of conduct in their work to distinguish the genuine and original material from what they are adding later.
Should writers do the same? Should not the reader be told what is fact and what is invented? The novelist Linda Grant argued that this also gives the writer much greater freedom of invention. Keeping real names shackles the imaginative writer perhaps more than they realise. For a time I even stuck to a pedantic sequence of fiction followed by fact as if it were an unwritten commandment passed down to autodidacts like me. There was also a certain amount of piety involved. Reading should be about learning. Pleasure should be a secondary consideration. I still recall the very first nonfiction book I ever read: The Blue Nile by Alan Moorehead.
Even the most devoted film fan must appreciate the occasional documentary. As for my own favourite nonfiction book, it would have to be An Immaculate Mistake , an exquisite memoir of childhood by Paul Bailey. I often tell book festival audiences that I want to write fiction myself, to which the cynics in the audience suggest I write the next manifesto. I like to think myself as anti-genre-labelling. There is nothing more likely to stunt your creativity than to think of walls between genres. I understand that booksellers, and even readers, need to know if a book is a crime novel or literary or commercial or romantic but for a writer, thinking in those terms is limiting.
Also, at the risk of sounding like a pretentious sixth-former, the divide between fiction and nonfiction is inherently false according to the multiverse theory, in that all fiction is true in one universe or other, so when you write a novel you are writing reality that belongs to somewhere else.
But there is another reason the divide is false, or at least why it creates false ideas. And that is because things categorised as nonfiction can be inauthentic while fiction can contain more truth. The aim of any writer, even a fantasy writer, is the pursuit of truth. I have written nonfiction and fiction. I wrote a science fiction novel that was very autobiographical about my experience of depression, and then I wrote a nonfiction book about depression.
Lost: all the mysteries explained - Telegraph
We need both genres, sometimes at the same time, because the moment we trust too much in one fixed idea of reality is the moment we lose it. But as a reader, I must admit I read more nonfiction than fiction at the moment, because there is so much good stuff around and because I am writing fiction and my mind likes the counterbalance. It might seem logical that nonfiction, with its rigorous foundation in fact, would be a more persuasive instrument of social change than fiction; but I believe this is not the case.
We are feeling creatures, and often it is only our refusal or inability to empathise that allows us to pursue our cruelties. Fiction gets under the guard. It creates empathy, changes fixed opinions and morality, and contributes to reform of law and social practice. The sweatshop is still with us and so are slavery, the denial of rights to women and the sufferings of those swept aside. You will not emerge from these books unchanged. It is, I think, generally true that most writers write either fiction or nonfiction, to the exclusion of the other, most of the time; though it is easy to think of exceptions to this rule.
Nicholas Shakespeare, for example, is a much-admired novelist, but he has also written an excellent biography of Bruce Chatwin. As a writer, I specialise in biography, which seems to suit my interests and aptitudes. Being nosy, I enjoy investigating the lives of others, like a detective, or perhaps a spy. That these others are real people is an essential part of the process. I can imagine a biography of a fictional character, but it would not be the kind of biography that I should want to write. Though I write nonfiction, this does not mean that I do not read fiction: I notice that dedicated readers of fiction tend towards new books.
I am only slightly embarrassed to admit that the novel I am reading at the moment is by Marcel Proust. In any case I feel that those readers who restrict themselves to fiction may be denying themselves pleasure as well as instruction.
Story within a story
I would argue that biography can be as enriching and as entertaining as fiction. At its best, biography teaches us about life itself, just as fiction does. The great man had written almost every type of book, including works of both fiction and biography, so he knew a thing or two.
The goal of every author of every piece of writing is to get the reader willingly to suspend disbelief. Every piece of writing puts forth some logical argument and some theory of cause and effect for the simple reason that words, especially prose words, are sequential. Nonfiction, history, is about what is known to be, or generally accepted to be, accurate.