Definition of Frame Story
Frame story is a story set within a story, narrative, or movie, told by the main or the supporting character. A character starts telling a story to other characters, or he sits down to write a story, telling the details to the audience. This technique is also called a “frame narrative,” and is a very popular form of the literary technique employed in storytelling and narration.
Frame story usually is found in novels, plays, poems, television, films, musicals, and opera. It is a unifying tale within which one or more related stories appear. For instance, in Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus tells about his wandering experience in the court of King Alcinous or his visit to the island of a sorcerer.
How to Write a Frame Story?
When you want to write a frame story, consider the following points in mind.
- Create a plot and storyline in your mind.
- Think about another parallel story that could be its allegory or even extended metaphor.
- Join both of them but put the small story as the frame story in the beginning and make it go side by side with the main story.
- End both at the same point having clear similarities.
How does the Frame Story Structure Create Tension?
The main question with the use of the frame story is how to create tension in the story which is the critical component of story writing skills. As tension is created through suspense that builds up gradually around or with the actions of the protagonist as the situation changes. The information is either released or withheld to create this tension. In the case of the frame story, however, the same information is either released, withheld, or kept secret so that the tension continues. There are three major steps to create tension in the frame story.
- Relate the frame story with the main story.
- Create a tense moment between its characters.
- Keep that moment or tension parallel to the main story and continue it unresolved.
Examples of Frame Story in Literature
Example #1: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
There are several examples of this technique used by Mary Shelley in her novel, Frankenstein. She has given multiple framed stories in this novel. For example, Robert Walton describes a story – told by Frankenstein, – in the letters that he writes to his sister. Frankenstein’s story contains the tale of a creature, and the creature’s story briefly contains the story of the family with which he has been living.
Example #2: Inception by Christopher Nolan
In the film, Inception, Leonardo DiCaprio enters into a dream of Cillian Murphy to embed an idea into his subconscious. Leonardo puts him to sleep in a dream, following him to a second layer of the dream that soon gives way to another dream. In the innermost dream, Leonardo is blown out and enters into an endless dream – “limbo” – which could last for eternity, but only a few seconds pass in the real world. Leonardo, eventually wakes up through layers of dreams, feeling as though years have passed away, returning to his waking life.
Example #3: Titanic by James Cameron
In the movie, Titanic, an elderly woman Rose begins the movie by telling a story of her voyage in the Atlantic Ocean. When the reader gets into her narrative, he finds himself in the year 1912, where the story begins. Only a few times do readers return to the elderly Rose to get in touch with her experience; however, the movie ends as it begins. This is called the framing technique in which the writer tells a story within a story.
Example #4: The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
In Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer has used frame narrative, bringing different characters, each of whom tells a story. This pilgrimage frame story brings together a number of storytellers, who appear with vivid personality traits, and build up dramatic relationships with one another and with the tales they tell. General Prologue is the section of this poem that deals with a frame narrative.
Example #5: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Wuthering Heights, like Frankenstein, also has frame stories. Emily Bronte introduces Mr. Lockwood as the first narrator, who depicts his visit to Wuthering Heights, and the narration switches to the perspective of Mr. Dean, who describes the estate’s history. Readers are introduced to all the major characters.
This switching in narration is very helpful, as it connects the present with the past. Mr. Lockwood tries to find out what could have happened in the past that made the current dwellers of the estate depressed and stubborn. Mrs. Dean, however, provides information about the past, which caused the characters to transform in this way.
Example #6: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
In Conrad’s novel, Heart of Darkness, there are two narrators: (1) the anonymous passenger traveling on a pleasure ship, listening to the story of Marlowe; and (2) Marlowe himself. The first narrator, on the behalf of four other passengers, uses the first person plural. Marlowe, on the other hand, narrates his story in the first person, describing whatever he has seen and experienced. This provides a commentary on the entire story, acting as a frame story.
Function of Frame Story
This literary technique uses embedded narratives, which provide readers with a context about the main narrative. Frame story leads the readers from the first story to the other one. This is a sort of guidance, which establishes the context for an embedded narrative, helping the writer to create a context for interpreting a narrative. It also offers multiple perspectives to the readers within a story, as well as about the story. These multiple perspectives give the readers more information about the characters regarding their feelings, thoughts, and motivations.