The Hidden Mystery Behind Frame Story

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ian valerio CAFq0pv9HjY unsplash

Picture this: you’re watching a show on TV, but the protagonist is talking to you. 

You think to yourself, “I must be missing something this time”, but the protagonist doesn’t seem to notice.

 That is because he or she knows that their story will end in a happy ending.

So, they proceed to tell their tale.

“All right, then. I guess I should start from the beginning. Let me see . . .”

He/she continues talking with the camera in the room, telling you what happened in chronological order.

 He even gives you an idea of when this happened in the present time, how long it took to happen, and when it will end.

 He tells you about characters who are coming in later, but are still important to the story anyway. 

You’re just stumbling through that part of his story—you only get bits and pieces of it—while he/she seems to know everything already before it happens.

He/she gives you the idea of what might happen in the future. You think, “This story is so interesting! I can’t wait to see how it ends!”

But then, suddenly, there is a part where time seems to slow down. 

At first, you don’t mind this—the story is still moving forward—but then the camera switches to another room, where another person is telling another story. 

You can tell that this narrative will be important somehow.

When you see that person tell their story too, you find yourself a bit confused.

how does the frame story structure create tension

 The main character is still there, in the other room, but he/she doesn’t seem to notice the new narrative.

 The main character continues talking to you, telling another part of his story.

The other person continues talking to someone else without knowing what the main character is doing.

 You start feeling like you’re missing something important there because the two narratives don’t seem connected at all.

When the show starts interjecting other characters telling diverse narratives for seemingly no reason at certain times,

 that is when it draws its listeners into a frame narrative universe.

A frame narrative is one of the most fundamental storytelling devices used in fiction.

Without it, it would be impossible to tell many stories at all. 

Here are some examples of how it is used.

The basic form looks like this:

 Main character A starts telling narrative 1 , Main character B interrupts and speaks his/her own story 

 Main Character C interrupts again , Main Character D interrupts again 

 Main Character E announces an ending for Narrative 2 , Main character F tells his/her own story after part E 

F2: Main Character F stops at the end of his/her story G3-5 etc. etc. etc.

In this example, A1 relates to the narrator of the story being told.

 B1 is a character from that story who interrupts to tell a different narrative which is important to the story, but not as important as A’s narrative.

 It represents a distinct shift in tone and genre from A’s narrative, and it will take up a big chunk of the show.

 C2-5 are also characters from the story who interrupt the narrative at different points to tell their stories as well.

In other words, this form shows how there isn’t only one narrator telling his/her own story,

 but it also illustrates several other stories that are being told at once which are either related to the one being told or not related at all.

Within each segment, the narrator is always there. 

However, each time the narrator is interrupted (B1, C2-5), he/she is either absent or not aware of what is happening for a period of time.

The main character might be the narrator for one situation and a character in another situation. 

Each shift in his/her role starts a new narrative.

There are several popular works that use this device to tell their stories today: Sherlock Holmes , The Three Musketeers , Les Misérables , The Count of Monte Cristo , Ulysses , Huckleberry Finn , Finn Family Moomintroll , The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy …

The list goes on and on.

The reason for this lies in the fact that there is a different narrator and several other characters, but they all connect to the overall story.

Imagine how the show could not go on if each of these characters did not interrupt one another at some point.

 If they didn’t, it would be hard to tell if the other characters were even vital to the story because their narratives were happening by chance.

 The main character might even forget about them, especially if his/her own narrative was very long.

The connections between each part are important too and  can be basic or complicated.

Usually, they’re not too complicated—if there’s a character who is important to the story of another character, then it’s simple.

But you can make it more complex if you want to.

 Each character can have an element that connects them to one another a particular point in time or a certain object, for example. 

If those elements are used as proof of their connections, then each part will feel more meaningful and significant.

This is why any story that tells you how some things happen as well as what other things might happen feels natural and enjoyable because of

 the way they intertwine the different narratives together.

If each character tells the story from his/her own point of view, and you can see how they all connect,

 then it is like watching a pair of double doors that lead into another world.

The frame narrative has been used in storytelling for a long time, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be used effectively in anime.

We could consider the beginning of Neon Genesis Evangelion as an example here.


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