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What Is a Frame Story?

Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari

Writers often use various literary techniques to draw the reader into a story and help create a narrative that is compelling and otherwise interesting. One such technique is the use of a frame story. When such a technique is used, the writer will create a story at the beginning that will not generally be the main focus of the rest of the narrative. Instead, this initial story will be used to set up, or frame, the second story, which usually has greater emphasis or importance. The frame story has been used for centuries and remains popular in various forms of literature as well as other media such as television or film.

An example of a frame story might involve a writer developing a main character or narrator who begins to tell a story about himself in the present. This character will often address the readers directly, or otherwise make reference that his or her role is one of storytelling, not necessarily one of action in the story. Once this narrator or character has been introduced, he or she will generally begin to tell another story, thereby essentially inviting the reader to come along with him or her on this narrative journey. The frame story structure may allow the writer to give a reader context for the main story before launching into it.

Writers often use various literary techniques to draw the reader into a story.
Writers often use various literary techniques to draw the reader into a story.

The narrator can also be used as a tool for a frame story by setting up the reader for various short stories. The narrator may appear periodically throughout the text to make references, clarify events, or give expository information that will prepare the reader for the next story. This technique is very often used in film and television, though the roots of the technique can be found in various texts throughout history.

The frame story is well demonstrated in Washington Irving's short story, "Rip Van Winkle." The main focus of the story revolves around the character, Rip Van Winkle, and his experiences in the Catskill Mountains, but the narration is taken up by a character called Geoffrey Crayon. The creation of this Crayon character indicates to the reader that it is not Irving telling the tale of Rip Van Winkle, but instead Geoffrey Crayon, thus removing the actual author from the storytelling altogether as if entreat the reader to consider the narratives real and therefore more compelling. The reader is essentially hearing the tale of Rip Van Winkle through the frame or vision of Geoffrey Crayon.

Discussion Comments


@Ana1234 - Yeah, I was thinking of it as just an introduction, like in the movie Aladdin where that guy in the beginning explains he's going to tell us a story and then it goes into the opening song.

But that's not really a framing story. That's just a narrator, without any character development or plot or anything. In the Princess Bride, if I remember correctly, the boy starts out pretty reluctant and then starts to enjoy the story by the end, making a fairly good character arc. So it's like a miniature story outside the main story.


@Mor - These days I wonder if people might not be more familiar with a modern version of the framing story. Life of Pi has one, for example, with the whole novel being framed as a story told by Pi to a Canadian writer.

Another famous one that I think everyone should know is The Princess Bride. In the film, the story is supposedly being told to a sick grandson by the grandfather and the actual story is interrupted a couple of times by the framing story.


I'd say that one of the most famous versions (and perhaps one of the oldest versions) of this is the story of The 1001 Nights. In this, the frame story is that of Scheherazade who was forced to marry a young king. The king was angry at women because his first wife cheated on him and he had a habit of marrying a young bride just so that he could execute her in the morning.

Scheherazade didn't want to be executed, so she told the kind stories all night, pausing at a good bit at dawn, so the king would want to hear the end and wouldn't execute her.

That is the framing story and contained within the collection are famous stories like Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves and Aladdin and many others.

I actually always found the framing story was my favorite, as I loved the idea of the clever girl saving her own life through telling stories.

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    • Writers often use various literary techniques to draw the reader into a story.
      By: vpardi
      Writers often use various literary techniques to draw the reader into a story.