13 July 2009

Stories within Stories

I've read several submissions recently that have featured a character telling a story about other characters. I find that this technique rarely works in the short story form, either as a way of introducing backstory or as an alternate way of telling the primary story. A few problems are inherent in that technique:
  • The story feels less immediate because the connection with the protagonist is distanced
  • There's a credibility problem: can we believe the character that is telling the story?
  • Formatting can be difficult, especially when you have to use quotes inside quotes
So, if you find a character in one of your stories telling a story, think about taking the "telling" character out and writing the story from the POV of the true protagonist. If the backstory is complex but also essential to the story, then consider rethinking the plot. How can you make it more immediate?


Todd Bradley said...

It may not work in short stories, but boy am I glad it works in film. Otherwise, we wouldn't have "Titanic", "The Princess Bride", "Forrest Gump", "The Wizard of Oz", "Slumdog Millionaire", or - of course - "Army of Darkness."

Betsy Dornbusch said...

I'm still not crazy about the technique, even in film. Of course The Princess Bride is awesome, but it would have been just as awesome without the sick kid getting read to.

Todd Bradley said...

No way!!! I think you need to watch it again. The kid has his own character arc as part of the story. Plus, Grandpa's final line is the perfect wrap-up.

Betsy Dornbusch said...

I know, I've seen it a bunch of times. But I'm a slasher by nature.

Anonymous said...

I think this is an important point.
AND I use this technique. It can be great fun. I loved The Princess Bride and other "Fairytales" told in that fashion.

Sometimes it is very soothing to have a storyteller. But sometimes not.