Tag Archive: Frame Stories

The Princess Bride: A Frame Narrative Worth Studying

the-princess-bride_-a-frame-narrative-worth-studyingGrab your black mask, strap on a sword and beware of Iocane powder. Westley, Buttercup and the rest of the Brute Squad are romancing the blogosphere with THE PRINCESS BRIDE Linkup Party. This weekend blogs everywhere will be sharing their favorite bits and bobs about the movie and the book. You’re invited to take part in festivities by adding your related blog post link below.

Or you can just sit back and enjoy the party by following the links and reading along with us.

Either way, you are sure to discover something new about THE PRINCESS BRIDE.

A Frame Narrative Worth Studying

This story is all about Love! Yes, I said Love, with a capital L! Yet it’s not a traditional romance. It follows few of the typical kissing book tropes. And I think there may lie the source of its overwhelming popularity.

I expect most people reading this post know this story by heart, but to sum up:
Buttercup is a lovely young woman who falls in love with Westley, a farm boy who works for her parents. When Westley leaves to seek his fortune, Buttercup receives notification of his death. In her despair, she agrees to marry the ruthless Prince Humperdinck. However, Westley lives. What results is a tale of their repeated efforts to reunite, defeat obstacles and find their happily ever after.

But that is the inner story, THE PRINCESS BRIDE (movie and book) are frame tales. They represent one of the best modern examples of using the frame narrative a writer can study.

A frame story (also known as a nested narrative) is a technique of putting a story within a story. The outer frame creates the introductory or main narrative. At least in part, the outer frame also sets the stage and binds together with the inner narrative to create a single message. If you really have no clue what a frame story is, you might want to start here with our post, Tips for Crafting a Frame Story.

I’ve decided to focus mostly on the outer frame and on what I feel is the main message of the story: generational love, the love of family.

Because it’s a more compact version of the story, I’ll be using examples from the movie. However, it should be noted that the same message is presented in the book. And because the book version gives more attention to the outer frame, it plays an even larger role.

The first indication that generational love is the message of the story is the selection of the protagonist. While the father is the protagonist in the book, the grandson plays this role in the movie. Yes, I expect this to shock most people, but let’s look at the evidence.

The grandson is the only character to experience any form of meaningful character change. While Westley and Buttercup love each other from their first scenes, the boy views his grandfather as his antagonist. He hates that his grandfather has all the power in the relationship. He can force their togetherness with the support of the boy’s mother.

the-pinchThe grandfather confirms the grandson’s perceptions of their combative relationship by pinching the boy’s cheeks and devaluing the boy’s TV watching. When he wants to read to him, the grandson dismisses the plan by saying he will try to stay awake and also by showing his displeasure over the selection of a “kissing” book.

The boy might love his grandfather, but they have no common ground and there is no respect, or appreciation of the older man’s attentions.

Through hearing the inner story the boy is exposed to two contrasting versions of family love: 1) the intense love, portrayed by Inigo Montoya, and 2) the lack of love, represented by Prince Humperdinck.

Inigo expresses his family love in his need to avenge the death of his father. His revenge quest replaces his natural grieving process and gives him a way to memorializing his father. His character gathers strength and determination from this childhood loss. He is willing to forgo his own life goals for the sake of finding justice for the father he loved so dearly.

Humperdinck, whose father is still alive but addled, shows no interested in the man. The old king is a figurehead, someone Humperdinck brings out for events and tucks away out of sight the rest of the time. Humperdinck is unmoved by Buttercup’s love for Westley, or for her affections for his father. The Prince is mostly a loner, and he uses fear, not love, as the only method of enforcing his rule.

When Inigo kills Count Rugen, aka the six fingered man, Humperdinck is left completely alone. The Prince has lost his only friend Count Rugen and also his political tools, Buttercup and Vizzini. Inigo is hurt, but he still has the support and love of his tight-knit family of friends. His side is the victor in every way. Love in all its forms – family, friendship and romantic – has triumphed over adversity in the inner story.

In the outer story the boy has internalized the story and made a change. He relishes the time he just spent with his grandfather and invites the man back the following day to reread the book with him. There is a clear indication the boy now sees the value of his grandfather and their relationship is headed in the right direction.

THE PRINCESS BRIDE is written for the child; it’s all about convincing the child in the outer frame to change his perceptions. The inner story is the device used to achieve that end result. In both the book and the film, the story is about creating common ground for the generations to converge and to remember the value of family.

Come back on Sunday, September 25 when Heather will be talking about gender-swapping characters in The Princess Bride!

Let me know if you agree with my interpretation in the comments.

You can also follow in real-time by using the #PrincessBrideParty hashtag on Twitter.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/the-princess-bride-frame-narrative/

Tips for Writing Non-Converging Parallel Plotlines

Sliding DoorsAs some of you might know, the book I’m currently writing is a frame story – a story within another story. For this project, I wanted two parallel plotlines, but with one important change. In my project the two stories never converge, not even at the climax as a traditional duel plotline will. This is not a story structure many writers use, and even fewer offer advice on how to use it correctly. So when looking for help with this tricky story, I turned to movie and TV screenwriters for inspiration and guidance.

By studying the six types of parallel narrative structures in screenplays and by reading scripts, I’ve gleaned 4 tricks that will strengthen any novel with two or more non-converging plot lines.

  1. Create linkage between the plots
    Something must bind the plots. In my case, one storyline takes place in the past while the framing story takes place in the present. I used the setting as the tool to bind them together. Both stories take place in the same small fictional town and the landmarks and geography of that town became the physical anchor for the two plots.

  2.  Mirror the themes and metaphors
    I did this in a few different ways. First, I repeated the number of characters in each storyline. Both have ten characters. I also repeated relationship patterns. For example, both plots have one set of siblings and a former romantic couple. They also share a creepy tone.

  3. Make key plot points correspond
    Although the inciting incidents worked out fine, I’m still struggling with making the midpoint reversals happen at about the same time. Also, synchronizing the climaxes is not going to be easy. I’m not there yet, but I can already tell I’m going to need to make some story adjustments.

  4. Use different but compatible goals for each storyline
    One protagonist wants to set right a mistake and mend a broken relationship, while his companions want to escape a winter storm that has them trapped. In the other storyline, the protagonist wants to break a curse, thereby freeing herself, but also damming her companions. Freedom, forgiveness and release become the reoccurring goals in both plots.

    The structure I’m using in my project is closest to what screenplay writers call tandem narrative. Some examples of tandem narrative are the films Sliding Doors and Traffic. I also found reading the script for The Princess Bride very helpful.

    Since I feel like I’m on fresh ground with my parallel non-converging plots, I would love to hear from anyone who has more tips to share.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/tips-for-writing-non-converging-plotlines/

Tips for Crafting a Frame Story

AframeAs you may have figured out from my post last week, 6 Tips for Re-imagining a Classic Story, I’m working on a project for NaNoWriMo that involves a reinterpretation of a classic tale. In my case I’ve decided to tell it a frame story. This is a literary device using a narrative structure to tell a story within another story. It’s also sometimes called a frame narrative, a frame tale or a nested narrative. This is a very old form of narrative structure (it shows up in stories from ancient Egypt) and it’s been used by too many authors to count from Shakespeare to Michael Crichton. It’s also the darling of films (Titanic) and TV shows (How I Met Your Mother.)

There are two basic styles of the frame story.

In both cases the writer needs to have a pretty good reason for going this route. Frame stories are notoriously hard to get right. Some reasons to try this type of story structure are:

  • To experiment with different ways of expanding a central theme.
  • To incorporate changes to the central theme over time.
  • To connect a large number of short stories into a single narrative.
  • To play with the role of the narrator, perhaps to trick the reader into buying into the narrator’s version of events.
  • To change the point of view so different characters can give their own interpretations of the same key event.

For my project I’m doing the second type, with the cyclical frame. I’m using The Decameron as my retold story. For those who are unfamiliar with the story it’s about a group of nobles who hide out in the Italian countryside during an outbreak of the Black Death. To amuse themselves and each other they tell stories each night and the stories reflect and expand on the noble’s concerns about the world they live in.

Some of the tips for writing a frame story I’ve picked up along my journey are:

  1. Firm up the themes.
    It’s easy to get lost while you’re creating each short story and forget the theme. I’m working with betrayal as my central theme, so each of my stories deals with how someone reacts to a betrayal.
  2. Find ways to fuse the frame and the inner stories together.
    Aspects from each part should either contrast or complement the other. In my case, each narrative plays off the same location and setting. Also each of the frame characters has an echo character in the inner stories.
  3. Form a plan for keeping voices distinct.
    I created a set of vocabulary notes for the frame narrative’s voice, then another set for the storytellers in the inner stories. In my case this created an extra level of planning. I’m sure I’ll have a lot of cleaning up to do, but I didn’t want each story to sound like the same person told it.
  4. Plot all the timelines.
    The frame narrative and the inner stories need separate timelines. I’ve already started to get a tad out of order with my inner stories and it’s only a few days into NaNo. I messed up by creating a single timeline for the project and I needed to backtrack. Now if I want to reorder something from the inner stories I can figure out where it goes back into the frame narrative timeline without messing everything up.
  5. Pull it all apart.
    Even though I don’t plan on anyone reading my story this way, I feel the frame story should be able to stand alone. In hindsight I think I should have written the frame first. Since I missed that step, the best I can do is read the frame separately and see if it would make sense as a solo piece. If I’ve failed, I’ll have to go back in and rework it. I’ve also followed in the footsteps of other cyclical frame authors and attempted to create inner stories that can stand alone.
  6. Read some narrative frame stories.
    It’s amazing how many frame stories are out there. Study how different writers use this device and you will learn a lot. I think one of the most difficult aspects of the frame story is keeping the main narrative story sounding fresh when the ending is partly known. Sometimes the closing frame needs a little unexpected punch. Rose drops the necklace everyone is looking for over the side in Titanic. In Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King, Carnehan shows the narrator Dravot’s severed head, still wearing his golden crown.

If anyone out there has some experience crafting a frame story, please share your tips and tricks for making it work in the comments. With the month ticking away on me, I need all the help I can get.


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