Making Meta-Fiction

stranger_than_fiction-1-Will_FerrellI’ll take a quick break from the normal literary-technique type blog to do something a little more fun. Pardon my informality.

If you’re not sure what meta-fiction is, I’ll boil it down for you. Simply put, meta-fiction is any story that is aware of itself, or of the role of fiction. Maybe that wasn’t very clear. Let me try some examples to better clarify:

  • A story about a writer writing a story
  • A story within a story
  • A self-aware story (or character that is aware that he/she is a character within a story).
  • A fictional autobiography

Tim O’Brien does this quite a bit, to great success. You can see several stories that fit these descriptions in his collected short stories, The Things They Carried, considered one of the greatest Vietnam books written. But your meta-fiction stories need not be world-changers.

Think of the movie Stranger than Fiction with Will Ferrell. In it, he plays a character who audibly hears the voice of his narrator. Much of the movie hinges on the trite cliché, “Little did he know,” which, in itself, makes a story quasi-meta-fiction.

In Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut goes so far as to put himself into his fictional story, all the while referring to himself as the writer. He even has a Doberman Pinscher chase him over a fence.

Can you think of any other examples of meta-fiction? How might you use meta-fiction in your work? Can you imagine writing a story about a character who refuses to do what the author demands? Or how about a character writing a story about you, the author? Never mind—don’t think too long about that one. I may have to use it.

16 thoughts on “Making Meta-Fiction”

    • I just finished “The Big Over Easy” and “Shades of Gray” by Fforde recently. Just discovered him and need to read more of him. He is so tongue in cheek all the way through his Nursery Crime Division series.

  • It might not technically be meta-fiction, but sometimes the voices of the characters in my head do have a way of interfering with my work…
    “You’re editing my death scene AGAIN? How many ways do I need to die until you’re happy?”
    And that’s just an example. It’s meta-fiction in my imagination, but I took myself out of the story in order to let my characters and my world stand on their own. Whether that goes well or not is up to them.

  • On the third bullet that you put there that says self-aware story, it’s can also be called: breaking the 4th wall.

    I do that sometimes in my stories where I have my character saying something like,”I’m messing up the scene,” or “When will this story end?”

    Only once have I made a story where a character is a writer in the story because I was inspired by a video game.
    I like having my characters being aware that they are fiction (or breaking the 4th wall) and having a character who is a writer writing a story. I find it fun and in my opinion, it’s a way for laughs, making it interesting, and all that good fun. 🙂

  • I like the concept, but I don’t think i’d ever use it, just because making a character aware of their surroundings doesn’t seem interesting in the area I’m writing about, but I can see myself at least trying it one day

  • I know Clive Cussler did it (probably more than once) in a story I read where he arrives on the scene (in the middle of the ocean) in catamaran to aid in the rescue of the protagonist. Stephen King does it in his Dark Tower series. Very interesting scenes that included, if I remember right, his actual hit-by-a-car accident. “Never Ending Story” definitely builds the whole premise on a boy reading a book.

    Thanks for giving a name to a very intriguing concept.

  • I find it somewhat intriguing to write a story like this, but for some reason I just can’t cut the umbilical. Characters live and breathe on their own, and we grow to know them and admire what they’ve become. However, I always imagine a story written like this should be comical, unless the character in your story is observing “you” the author. It would be so much more fun to sit back and watch what the characters do next, or else they tend to fall through the page.

  • I’ve read a story sort of like this with clay dragons, the main character in an author and whenever he wrote something it would happen, or he would add on to an event, he died in the end though and the last book I never read because it was in his daughters view years after he died, but a writer who lived with a family of clay dragons that came to life.

  • I think stories like this would be pretty cool to write. But i wouldnt know where to start. I understand the concept of this way of writing yet i dont. I think meta-fiction would be quite interesting to write or read about/

  • The main form I love to write in is a story within a story. I never know what it was called, but you learn something new every day.

  • I think that writing a meta-fiction story would be really fun. I have never done that kind of story that I can recall, but I’d sure think about it. The way that I would probably do it is maybe writing a story like you said, where the character refuses to do anything I said. It would be pretty interesting.

  • This reminds me of an episode of the TV show South Park. It’s a Christmas special and the main character, Stan, is trying to assist some woodland critters. A narrator speaks in a poetic sort of rhyme and somehow, Stan can hear and understand the narrator. He even tries to go against what the narrator says is going to happen. I personally think that stories like that are interesting and good. They make you ask questions about the story. Any story that makes you curious to know what happens next is a story that I can get into.

  • @John, interesting idea. Do you mean you’d write a meta-fictional story about Jesus? In what ways would Jesus be meta-fictional? Curious.

  • Actually, i was thinking Jesus was literally a metafictional character: a mobile literary devise invented by Judean crisis cultists to relay their doctrinal points.

    I just posted the sketch (link below) and if you’re interested I’d truly love to hear your thoughts. It was originally part of a much larger post that also dealt with the scholarly debunking of the Jesus character as a real person. I’ll work on that part now and get it up in a few days.

    all the very best

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