Thursday, February 02, 2006

A question for my loyal readers

I have no idea whether most people of the e-cosmos read my blogg, or whether it is limited to the very few, whose bloggs I visit, and read, and delight in adding comments to... But I do have a question, and some of you might comment on it.

I have recently written a short story, of the kind called "frame story" - that is, the main action occurs as a kind of extended flashback...

In the particular case I refer to (starring Joe and Fred, the characters in the above picture), there was not really any good reason to do so, as it was part of a series about the place I used to work, and merely as done to show the continuance of the series, despite the radical changes there...

Ok, but I am not going into all that. I was thinking about other such stories: like the very famous movie version of the "Wizard of Oz" in which the outer "frame" is in black and white - alas, spoiled in some versions by being colourised!!! I think the "Princess Bride" movie is of this type as well. Or the "Alice" stories in which our adventuress wakes up at the end. Or the perhaps even more famous, and framed, Phantom Tollbooth, far more important and valuable than the other two.

Even that great triumph, The Neverending Story (of which I have read, and so am now a part; you ought to read it if you are curious to know more about me - then you will be part of it also, and as I continue to read, I will know more about you too!) is also a frame.

Such stories are as Chesterton says: "Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame." [GKC, Orthodoxy CW1:243] In another place he says something quite similar: "The most beautiful part of every picture is the frame." [GKC, Tremendous Trifles 122] Even more relevant is this profound line: "Every short story does truly begin with creation and end with a last judgment." [GKC, The Everlasting Man CW2:379]

I am having a hard time getting to the question. Sometimes that's just as well, for maybe I will help myself get to the answer. But that's not why I ask the question; it's not that kind of thing. Arrggh. (thinks some more, plays with knife, flips through some books, checks rear-view mirror above monitor... holds hands above keyboard, then:)

Question: Assuming you understand the concept of a "frame story" I would like to know what you think about them: Have you read any such story? Do you like them? Do you find that distracting, disappointing, unimportant - or, as GKC, ornate, illuminating, strengthening? Would you like or dislike such a story?

You see, I have other stories, someday perhaps to be written, and maybe even published! which may depend on how I am able to struggle with this idea.

I thank you in advance for your comments and thoughts.


At 02 February, 2006 20:47, Blogger Nancy C. Brown said...

Dr. T:
It just so happens that I, too, have been thinking about this interesting and thought-provoking question. I was actually toying with it as an idea for a column in Gilbert.

My husband, the photographer, deals with frames all the time. Each picture is a "frame" of film, and we also consistently use mats as "frames" around our pictures, and some, in addition, have a real Frame to "frame" the work.

Frames are important. Like the idea of the fence around the playground, there to keep us safe. Frames make up our everyday lives, like when we drive, the frame is the speed limit sign. Frames are important, and familiar, although perhaps to some only subconsciously; especially those who desire a false sense of freedom and think they can control the "frames" in their lives, when they really don't.

So, I think a story with a frame is only a reflection of life. And in the cases of the stories you mentioned, they happen to some degree without the observer even noticing, or perhaps not until the second or third viewing, as in the case of a movie.

So, please write with frames, I think that's natural and even if people don't pick up on it, it will still feel familiar when they read it.

Now, it is time to go read a story to my daughter. I'll be attentive and see if there are any frames in the book we're reading.

At 03 February, 2006 08:10, Blogger rhapsody said...


First... please put that thingy down- sharp objects make me nervous!

Second- At first I thought I understood what you meant- that the main idea or object is surrounded by or contained within something which is relevant to its setting...

& I have never read the 'Neverending Story,' so I don't relate to that, either.

Then Chesterton's quote confused me- unless he was referring to Christ's Will as our 'Frame'- didn't Chesterton (& maybe you) say something about us being limited by ten-plus commandments- what we ARE permitted to do would be a much longer list than what we mustn't! So, I can only say what I think I understand...

That every story is framed by our imaginations, which are at once infinite, (as in eternal)- but limited. & not only by what we should-or-shouldn't do, but by the fact that we can't imagine everything that is, or is to be.

And every wonderful story takes EACH person to a different place within the infinite 'framed' universe of THEIR unique imagination...

Which is literally neverending.

I don't know if this is what you are looking for, but it is wonderful that you are writing & drawing:)


& I hid your thingy!

Hope you can work without it LOL!!!

At 03 February, 2006 09:29, Blogger Rick Lugari said...

As you know, I am not inclined to read fiction, but I do know what you mean. I think it is a very effective means of story telling (many movies use that method, sometimes they even present the story in reverse chronology, which in my mind makes for a borderless frame - if that makes sense).

Personally, I don't think there is a superior method (frame or no frame). It's part of the character (ambiance, not person) of a story, and it's entirely up to the author to present his story as he would hope it is received and to use whatever tools are at his disposal.

At 03 February, 2006 10:35, Blogger Ria said...

I really like the Phantom Tolbooth and the Princess Bride which you mentioned as examples of framed stories. But I think that many unframed stories are wonderful too. My all time favorite book is The Lord of the Rings and I don't think that is a framed story. So I don't really have a preference between frames and no frames.

At 04 February, 2006 10:08, Blogger Dr. Thursday said...

Thanks very much for these comments! They have indeed been helpful.

"Ria" - I am quite pleased to hear that you like those framed stories and others which aren't. It is enough to know that you like stories: GKC puts it this way:

"we all like astonishing tales because they touch the nerve of the ancient instinct of astonishment. This is proved by the fact that when we are very young children we do not need fairy tales: we only need tales. Mere life is interesting enough. A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door. Boys like romantic tales; but babies like realistic tales - because they find them romantic." [GKC, Orthodoxy CW1:257]

Also, as a fellow traveller in Middle Earth, I ought to point out that there actually is a "frame" to the entire saga, but except for some hints in an appendix it is not visible. The frame-idea is that T. found a copy of "The Red Book of Westmarch" and translated it.... But it is so much of an aside (a footnote, really) that most people are unaware of it - so you are still right.

Ah, yes, the Ring... and soon I will dust off the books and start the Lenten journey to Mount Doom... More on this at the appropriate time.

I think Rick's comment very Thomistic. As GKC would say, in auctore auctoritas [Latin: in the author (is) the authority] A distinct vote of confidence - that is con+fide = "with faith" in the authority... deep and mystical.

Nancy senses the art needed for the author to be able to answer the question: "here is a story: how do I frame or mat or present it?" And her mention of a reflection... that's why I have that rear-view mirror here!

Rhapsody plummets to an amazing depth, uniting in a very Chestertonian paradox with her "limited infinity"! Strange to say, mathematicians understand this; here is a fraction: one third. You can cut a pie into thirds (sorry, I got my knife out again!) and even eat one third of a pie - very clearly a limit - BUT if you want to write it as a decimal, you can NEVER stop writing threes once you first write your decimal point - so very clearly infinite. Limited infinity - it's real. (Math pun intended!)

And though not a mathematician, Tolkien would definitely agree. He called it "subcreation" by which we limited creatures strive to imitate our infinite Creator - in Whose likeness we are made! So the story really is never-ending.

Thanks again!

Note I have not closed the comments; anyone should feel free to say more about this question - as I am still pondering what to do. I hope I will be able to tell you more soon.

At 04 February, 2006 16:26, Blogger electroblogster said...

Isn't every story a frame story? You mentioned some very clear examples, Alice, Princess Bride, all the more clear in the B&W of Oz. But the adventures of Huckleberry Finn would I think qualify. In fact it is a collage of lots of stories in one frame. But then again this happens in all but the shortest stories. And it happens all the time in life. If we told stories about our day we would find ourselves telling lots of stories (I met so and so and he did a cartwheel he was so happy THEN I went to lunch and had the best chicken salad ever. AFTER THAT ...) They are only really connected by us, ourselves. We are the frame for so many stories. Or maybe I don't understand the exact notion of frame. Please let me know if I am off track.

At 04 February, 2006 22:53, Blogger rhapsody said...




Must be the... nevermind!

At 05 February, 2006 07:46, Blogger rhapsody said...

Good morning, Dr. Thursday,

Another thought, (as an 'am ps':)...

Thinking of storytelling techniques, 'The Wonder Years' & 'A Christman Story' are told in flashback, framed by their specific periods of time, & the narrator's pov...

They are both very well done- & very enjoyable! Children love stories being read to them. Many adults these days listen to books on tape or CD- which is sort of the same thing- although I've never listened to one, & I understand that it also depends on who's telling the story.

Maybe another 'flashback' series would be 'Star Wars'...?

Good luck! Can't wait!

At 05 February, 2006 15:04, Blogger Dr. Thursday said...

Strange you mention "Star Wars"... hee hee.

A friend (now deceased, RIP) who read some of the intermediate stories in the saga, said that I should give it that title... of course he was not serious, being a lawyer - so of course I immediately gave it the provisional and working title of Bellae Stellarum, which is more accurately called "Wars of the Stars". However it is not quite that kind of fiction. (Maybe because the stars are not that kind of star!)

Nor is it at all like the Lucas saga, except perhaps for its proposed length.

I understand that both Huckleberry Finn and Winnie-the-Pooh are compendiums of shorter stories - but at least in Pooh's case I do not recall any "framing". This was one of the first books I ever had read to me, and I may have forgotten.

But! In a sense, every story is "framed" by the very act of telling it. ALL stories, including our own as it relates to life in this fallen world, are finite, framed, and limited... That is why GKC wrote about every story starting with creating and ending with the last Judgement.

The deeper and more penetrating - should I say Christian - sense of "story" is that the REAL story is Neverending - and moreover there is only one such story. We are all a part of it, and though we read it and it says "and they all lived happily ever after" as Christians we must take those words literally...

All very good and interesting.

But what I am trying to distinguish is those stories where the TELLING is IN the story itself. The first chapter and the last chapter are "different" from the others, which constitute the "story" - we might add "within a story" but we're not appealing to Hamlet here.

In such a story, the first chapter amounts to: "Wow, what an adventure I've had - let me tell you how it happened..." And the last chapter might be summarized: "...So there you have it. And that's how I got to where I am now."

As I have read your comments and pondered the points in my own particular development, I have begun to see how sometimes a "frame" provides a degree of "stage-setting" which might be hard to do, depending on the nature of the story.

Sometimes, and I am surprised no one has mentioned Homer's Odessey, the trick is to make the hearer THINK he knows the ending, then build up such an amazing adventure or tight circumstances into which the hero is placed - to make things more exciting than if we had no idea what was going to happen at all.

But this study has helped. In my own proposed case, there will be both advantages: an additional degree of excitement, and some assistance with the stage-setting. But before that, I have some other work to do.

Thanks again, and please continue - this is not only useful, but a very interesting discussion. Indeed! Someday perhaps I will attempt more of an explanation of how computer science can help with stories.

At 05 February, 2006 18:38, Blogger Rick Lugari said...

Well Doc, after reading your last comment I am thinking that you may want to consider taking a utilitarian approach to making your decision.

I am thinking that character development may be a deciding factor. For example, do you want to develop the charcter as part of the tale or would it suit your story to have some charcter development prior to beginning the tale?

I don't know for sure if that is a valid consideration, but it sure seems like it to me.

At 05 February, 2006 20:23, Blogger rhapsody said...

I believe that 'Winnie-the-Pooh' was a story-within-a-story... I don't recall it exactly, but I thought it was a series of stories told by the babysitter, featuring the young charge's 'Edward Bear' as 'Pooh.'

I also agree with Mr. Lugari regarding character development- although sometimes the twists a tale takes can be somewhat disappointing. Two writers took this route- making the villain unexpectedly one of the characters who was good throughout the telling. & I will say that one of these authors was GKC!!! & yes I was disappointed. Sort of along the lines of finding out Kevin Costner was a 'mole' at the end of the movie 'No Way Out.' Pardon me- hope I didn't spoil that for anyone. Although, that said, it can be realistic- life can throw curve balls on occasion. It will be 'happily-ever-after' at some point, but in the meantime...

Have read that one famous author who created a famous character, had glaring inconsistancies in the stories- but nobody really minded as his character was too incredibly popular (& still is.)

& if you don't mind, Dr. Thursday, I will comment here on the story that you posted above.

I enjoyed it- it was well told with good characters- & very 'Maltese Falcon'-ish, in my opinion, which I always like. I do not care for cruelness- or sharp objects... although that said I always enjoy a good game of 'Clue'...

Which reminds me-

Whaddayamean you don't play chess?!!!
I would think that would be your game?!!!
Even I can play chess- not well... I can play most games strategically, but chess has me stymied. I know how to move the pieces, but I haven't got a plan... LOL!!! & my dear neighbor (who has since moved) used to beat me at Chinese checkers all the time, too.

Ok, so maybe I'm not so good at ALL strategic games...

Oh, I'm good at Battleship & Scrabble.

Ok, now I feel better...

Anyway, I can't see you not playing chess.

Well, will say good night.
Oh, just one more thing...
That's a neat title you came up with...

& it beats 'Left Behind'!!!


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