Frame Story in Literature: Definition & Importance
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 5 min read


  1. What is frame story in literature?
  2. Why does frame story matter?
  3. How to identify a frame story
  4. Examples of frame story in literature
  5. How to use frame story in your own writing

Imagine settling down with a book, only to discover a story within a story—like finding a hidden gem nestled within a treasure chest. That's the beauty of a frame story in literature, a crafty narrative technique that's been used by authors for centuries. Let's peel back the layers and explore the definition of a frame story.

What is frame story in literature?

A frame story, also known as a frame narrative or story within a story, is a literary technique where a main story is used to organize and present a series of shorter stories. It's like a picture frame that holds and presents the pictures (the smaller stories) inside it. Now, let's dive deeper into the details and understand this concept better.

The Structure of a Frame Story

Typically, a frame story starts with an introductory narrative, which is often called the "outer frame." This outer frame sets the stage for the "inner frame" or the enclosed stories. Here's how it usually goes:

  1. The outer frame begins — imagine it as the opening scene of a movie.
  2. The characters or narrator in the outer frame start to tell the inner stories — that's your movie-within-a-movie moment.
  3. After the inner stories are told, the outer frame concludes, wrapping up the narrative neatly — it's the closing credits, letting you know the experience is complete.

Why Use a Frame Story?

Why would an author choose to use this narrative technique? Well, first off, a frame story can make a narrative more interesting. It's like a surprise gift within a gift, making the reading experience more engaging. Secondly, the outer frame can provide context or a perspective for the inner stories, adding depth and meaning. So, in short:

  • A frame story can entertain you with multiple narratives.
  • It can also enrich your understanding of the inner stories.

With this understanding of the definition of a frame story, you'll now be able to spot them in your favorite books, movies, and TV shows!

Why does frame story matter?

Now that we've explored the definition of a frame story, you might be wondering, "Why does it even matter?" Well, let's put our detective hats on and solve this literary mystery!

Creating a Deeper Connection

Firstly, a frame story can create a deeper connection between you, the reader, and the story itself. It's like being invited to a secret club, where you get to witness multiple stories unfold within a single narrative. You're not just an onlooker, but an active participant, discovering each layer of the story with every turn of the page.

Adding Context and Perspective

Another important aspect of a frame story is that it can provide additional context and perspective to the enclosed stories. Think of it like a guide, providing you with valuable insights about the inner tales. It's kinda like having a backstage pass at a concert — you get to see all the behind-the-scenes action that adds depth to the main event.

Enhancing the Narrative

Lastly, but certainly not least, a frame story can enhance the overall narrative, making it more intriguing and captivating. It's like adding a twist to a magic trick — just when you think you've figured it out, the story takes an unexpected turn, keeping you hooked till the very end.

  • So, a frame story can help you connect better with the narrative.
  • It also provides additional context and perspective.
  • And most importantly, it makes the story more captivating and intriguing.

So, the next time you come across a book or a movie that uses a frame story, remember — there's more than meets the eye!

How to identify a frame story

Let's say you're halfway through a novel when you realize, "Hey, I think this might be a frame story!" But how can you be positive? Here are some simple and practical ways to identify a frame story:

Look for a Story within a Story

The most straightforward sign of a frame story is the presence of a story within a story. It's like a Russian nesting doll, where each smaller doll is hidden within a larger one. So, if you find one tale enclosed within another, that's a strong clue that you're dealing with a frame story.

Check for Distinct Narrators

Another good indicator is the presence of different narrators. In a frame story, there's usually a main narrator who tells the primary story, and then one or more additional narrators who relate the inner stories. So, if you notice a change in narrative voice or perspective, you might just have stumbled upon a frame story.

Pay Attention to the Bookends

Frame stories often begin and end in the same setting, with the same characters. These "bookends" enclose the inner stories, creating a frame around them. So, if the story starts and ends in a similar way, you're likely reading a frame story.

  • Look for a story within a story.
  • Check for distinct narrators.
  • Pay attention to the bookends.

Identifying a frame story isn't always easy. But with these tips in your literary toolkit, you're well on your way to becoming a frame story detective!

Examples of frame story in literature

Now that you have a toolbox to identify a frame story, let's put those tools to use. Here are some examples of frame stories in literature that you might already be familiar with:

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Did you know that the story of Frankenstein is actually a frame story? It begins and ends with letters written by Captain Robert Walton, but the main meat of the tale — the narrative of Victor Frankenstein and his monster — is sandwiched in between. Cool, right?

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

The Canterbury Tales is another classic example. The larger story is about a group of pilgrims traveling together and telling tales to pass the time. But each pilgrim's tale is its own mini-story, adding layers within the larger frame.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Wuthering Heights is a bit more complex. The story begins with Mr. Lockwood renting Thrushcross Grange and asking his housekeeper to tell him about the former inhabitants. Her tale gives us the passionate and tragic story of Heathcliff and Catherine, a perfect example of a story within a story.

  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  • The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

So, next time you pick up a book, keep an eye out for these tell-tale signs of a frame story. You might be surprised at how common this literary technique actually is!

How to use frame story in your own writing

So, you've got a handle on the definition of frame story, and you've seen some examples of how it works in literature. But how can you use this technique in your own writing? Let's break it down:

Create a larger narrative

First, start by crafting a larger narrative — this will be your 'frame.' It can be as simple as a conversation between two characters or as complex as a journey across the world. The key here is that this narrative should be engaging enough to hook the reader.

Insert smaller stories

Next, identify places within this larger narrative where you can insert smaller, self-contained stories. These could be flashbacks, tales told by your characters, or even dreams. Just remember, these smaller stories should serve to enhance or deepen the main plot.

Connect the dots

Lastly, make sure there is a clear connection between your frame story and the stories within it. They should relate to each other in meaningful ways, whether thematically, through characters or setting, or through the progression of events.

So, why not give it a shot? With a little practice, you can start weaving your own intricate tapestry of tales, enriching your writing with the engaging and multi-dimensional technique of frame storytelling.

If you're intrigued by the concept of frame stories in literature and want to explore how this technique can be applied to visual storytelling, check out Mirelle Ortega's workshop, 'Storytelling In Illustration.' This workshop will help you understand the power of storytelling in illustration and how you can create captivating visuals that tell a compelling story within a larger narrative.