And I don’t mean framing it in a wooden frame and hanging it on the wall. No siree, Bob! What I’m referring to is a literary technique that makes it possible to include multiple different stories and narrative structures into one without resulting in a mishmash of tales that have no rhyme or reason.
To start off, let me just say that framing is not necessary and should be employed to set a certain mood or accomplish a specific purpose in your story. If you’re a YA fiction writer, framing might not be the best idea because most readers of the genre (myself included) want to be as close to the narrator and to the events as possible and framing tends to have a distancing effect. But that effect might pan out perfectly for murder mysteries, fairy tales, and thrillers. Don’t forget, though, you are the judge of your story and you are the only one who knows what it needs, so take my words with a grain of salt and proceed as you see fit.
Now, I like to split framing into two categories: The Written Word and the Word of Mouth. The two of them can also be combined to create some of the most amazing and complicated story lines known to man (Cloud Atlas, anybody?). In today’s post, I will talk about the first category and show you how it works.
The Written Word
This method is clean and quirky and can pave the way for some very creative book contents (fake letters, diary entries, postcards, etc.)
The written word uses three general methods (I will show you how they can manifest in a story by rewriting the introduction to this post with the framing technique being discussed):
This means framing the story with letters. A famous work of literature that includes an epistolary framing is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, in which Robert Walton writes letters to his sister describing the story told to him by Victor Frankenstein (it goes even further than that but that’s a tale for another post).
Here’s an example of an epistolary introduction.
Dear Mrs. Castell,
I’ve been thinking a lot about what you said a fortnight ago at the Moon Festival. You know, about how my stories seem to be lacking something vital, something interesting. I must admit, it has been weighing on my mind like a damn mountain, so I went to search for answers, for relief from my perpetual disappointment (and yours, I suppose). And I think I found it. Framing! A wise Romani woman told me, you see, enlightened me about the different ways a story can be framed (there are so many, Mrs. Castell) and in turn I will enlighten you…
Yadda, yadda, yadda, you get the idea.
I can’t think of any good literary examples off the top of my head (maybe, Diaries of a Wimpy Kid?) but it is pretty self-explanatory, you have the narrator tell the events of the story through various diary entries.
April 4, 2017
Hi diary, I feel impossibly strange writing another entry here, especially after having neglected you for so long. But today I went to a Magical Writing Conference on the Other Side of the Mirror and we learned about literary framing (pine is the best but birch also works)…
-Book within a book
I don’t think I need to define this one either. Though I have to say that out of all the framing methods, this one is my favorite. Some of the fiction associated with this is The Neverending Story and The Princess Bride.
Chapter 1 How the Scholar Frames It
Yong-Ha lived an ordinary life in Sungkyunkwan University under the reign of King Jeongjo. And more than anything in the world, even more than the political success his parents expected of him, Yong-Ha wanted to write. And not just copy old scrolls in the library but conjure up stories about brave samurai from the islands of Japan or describe Buddhist monks’ solitary journeys in the sunlit woods of Joseon. It was only a dream, an impossibly beautiful dream. That is until the day he found an old scroll for writers, A Guide to Weaving Tales. And soon sleep was replaced by late night trips to the great library where he read the ancient text under a single torch light until the wee hours of dawn.
“In Ancient Times, the art of storytelling was reserved only to people chosen by the gods. Today, not much has changed. To be a great storyteller, you must learn to skillfully frame your tales…”
Do you see now how easily a simple post about literary framing can turn into something curiously delectable. Imagine what you can do with an entire book! Magic, that’s right. Today, I wrote about the Written Word method. Next Monday, I will cover the Word of Mouth (complete with gifs and everything).
Here is a sneak peek of what’s to come:
Word of mouth
So till next Monday, my dear reader. Adieu!
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