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Frame story: Editor's Notes #308
March 04, 2020

The first sentence of every novel should be:
“Trust me, this will take time
but there is order here, very faint, very human.”

—Michael Ondaatje

In this issue:

1. Frame story
2. Tickled my funny bone
3. Interesting Web site
4. Writing prompt

1. Frame story
In its simplest form, a frame story is two stories in one in which one story opens and ends the tale and the main story fills in between the parts of the frame. Even if you’ve never heard the term before, you almost certainly have experienced frame stories.

Storytellers use frames for a variety of reasons:
  • Perhaps the reader will not care enough about the main story and needs a point of contact. (The Princess Bride)
  • The story needs to cover time and distance. (Titanic)
  • There are multiple perspectives. (Frankenstein)
  • There are multiple story-tellers. (Canterbury Tales)
  • There are many stories. (One Thousand and One Nights)
  • The main story benefits from a context. (Wuthering Heights)

To be a true frame story, the frame provides a reason for the main story. Sometimes the frame is only at the beginning and the end of the main story, but sometimes it reappears throughout the main story to hold interest, to highlight a different point of view, or to show potential flaws in the main story.

Some frame stories are simple, and some are complex. Some stories, like Frankenstein, have stories within other stories, creating a nested doll effect.

I particularly like one series of fiction/nonfiction stories. The Magic School Bus introduces a classroom full of characters who ride a magic bus with their quirky teacher into impossible places to learn scientific facts that impact their real world. So, frame stories do not have to be limited to literary tales.

If you are stuck for a way into one of your pieces, consider a frame as a way for you and your readers to jump the fence into the main action. Just be sure to link the frame with the main story in a way that matters.

2.Tickled my funny bone
With thanks to S.

Is it good if a vacuum really sucks?

3. Interesting Web site
Ten good tips for writing good stories.

4. Writing prompt
Both a verb and a noun, the word frame gives you options as a launching pad. What can you write about frames?

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