Three Very Basic Tips For Writing Stories Within Stories

2015 Artwork Stories Within Stories article sketch

Although they’re fairly rare, I thought that I’d talk today about stories within stories today. As you may have guessed, this refers to a longer story with a slightly smaller story embedded in it. Unlike a sub-plot, a story within a story is actually a full self-contained story in and of it’s own right.

In other words, if you removed the “story within a story” from a novel or a comic – then both stories could still be enjoyed on their own. But, even though these types of storylines are pretty cool, they aren’t really very common.

In fact, the only two examples of proper stories within stories I can think of at the moment can be found in “Hybrid” by Shaun Hutson and in “Watchmen” by Alan Moore. Even though I’ve only seen a couple of these storylines, I feel that I can offer a few basic tips about how to include these stories in your story or comic.

1) It has to be related to the main plot: I know that this might sound counter-intuitive but, although a story within a story has to work as it’s own story, it also still needs to be connected to the main story in some way or another.

This connection can be fairly loose (eg: the “Rime Of The Ancient Mariner”-like story in Alan Moore’s “Watchmen” only has some vague metaphorical connections to the main story) or it can be fairly strong (eg: “Hybrid” by Shaun Hutson is a horror novel about a writer whose latest thriller novel seems to be mysteriously writing itself. We also get to read the thriller novel itself too, since it’s a major part of the main plot). But, regardless, the two stories have to be connected in some way.

This is a good idea because, by connecting the two stories, each one makes the other one more interesting. What this means is that, far from distracting or confusing your readers, a good story within a story will actually make them more interested in both stories.

2) Variety: This sounds like an obvious thing, but it’s important to mention that your story within a story should ideally be in a totally different genre to your main story.

The most important reason for this is that it makes it very clear to the readers that your second story is a different story from your main story. In other words, it adds some variety to your comic or novel and it also stops your readers from feeling confused too.

In addition to this, changing genres can help you to stay interested in writing or making comics – by giving you a break from your main story (and a chance to work on something different) without giving you a break from your novel or comic.

3) Structure: If you’re adding a story within a story to your comic or novel, then you need to pay careful attention to structure. Generally speaking, your story within a story should be carefully spread out within your main story, rather than attached to the end of your story or presented in just one instalment.

There are lots of different ways to do this (eg: you could include one chapter of your second story between every two or three chapters of your main story), but it’s important that your second story is something that your readers encounter occasionally when they’re reading your main story.

If your second story is added to the end of your main story, then it can be easily ignored. If your second story is shown in just one instalment, then it might confuse your audience (and can also be easily skipped too). So, spread out your second story.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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