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April 15, 2016

What Is Metafiction And How Can I Use It In My Story?

Metafiction is fiction in which the author consciously intrudes on the work of fiction and draws attention to himself and the fact that what you are reading is a work of art, artifice, and is, therefore…you guessed it, artificial.

Examples Of Metafiction

Metafiction has a long history and appears in works as old as Don Quixote and Henry Fielding’s The History Of Tom Jones.

Some more contemporary examples include Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude which makes use of metafiction in a number of ways such as Gabriel García Márquez himself  face-417825_1920appearing as a character in the novel.

The novel, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, by Italo Calvino starts out with the sentence “You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler”. Obviously informing the reader that he is reading a metafictional or self referential work.

The narrator introduces himself and says he’s involved in a plot that he doesn’t understand and, just as things get interesting, the story is derailed due to an error with the book’s printing.

The story, not that story but a new story, continues with you, the reader, returning to the bookstore where you bought it.

As the novel progresses one story cuts off abruptly and becomes another story until you, the reader, go to the book’s publisher demanding an explanation.

Fun stuff.

Well, Why Would You Use Metafiction?question-mark-1019983_1920

Good question.

In a nutshell, because you want to draw attention to the nature of reality.

For example, you might mention that reality is stranger than fiction and that, if you were characters in a book, no one would believe you in a conversation with friends. This is a common enough occurrence and I’m sure you’ve had this type of conversation before.

However, if a character in a novel makes mention of this, it takes on a whole other dimension as now the characters know they are characters in a novel. What does this say about us and our reality?

Well, it really depends on the writer and the story he wants to tell.

Schrödinger’s Cat

Schrödinger’s Cat is the name of a very famous thought experiment by the physicist Erwin Schrödinger. In it a cat is imagined as being enclosed in a box and, depending on the circumstances of the experiment, the cat is either dead or alive.

I won’t bore you with the details but, if you don’t believe me, Erwin Schrödinger won the Nobel Prize. So take your complaints up with the folks in Sweden.

For the sake of our conversation though, the experiment suggests the possibility of alternative realities and parallel universes.shield-492996_1920

In Robert Anton Wilson’s Novel Schrödinger’s Cat he uses this concept to talk about a society similar to ours. Here the Alpha males of the society are referred to as Alpha males(rather than generals, politicians etc).

They are portrayed performing their social duties as Alpha males of the pack rather than generals, politicians and other titles that our reality gives to the Alpha males of the pack.

In this way we are able to see our reality in a whole new light. It is a way that just telling a story traditionally would not have allowed us to.

So use this technique when you want to question the very nature of this thing we call reality, just like a fish might use it to question a substance called water that may or may not exist.

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  1. shaun wright July 5, 2016 3:02 am

    If metafiction, or self referencing, is done incorrectly, could it confuse the reader so much so that they just stop reading the story? Or possibly continue reading the story but get another meaning from it?

    • Jim Conway November 5, 2016 4:17 pm

      Yes and yes. Metafiction is probably best used like a potentially overwhelming spice in a recipe. Use it carefully.

      When I received the first reviews of my first book I was surprised by comments that some readers took something way from the novel than I was thinking. The meaning of a book will change with your perspective.

    • SuperMansBestFriend June 9, 2017 8:57 pm

      If anything is done poorly enough it can confuse the reader enough to have them stop reading your book. Think about it: diction, point of view, setting, etc. If you start the scene at night, clearly saying that it is night, then once in a while refer to it as evening…well is it night 9the time past evening) or is it evening (the time generally thought of as being very late afternoon)? See what I mean?

  2. EZ ID December 14, 2016 5:52 am

    Metafiction is a narrative technique that plays a very tough role in novel. Because with the help of this technique the author self-consciously and systematically draw attention to a work’s status as an artifact. It poses question about the relationship between fiction and reality


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