I am writing a review of a novel, which I guess is postmodern in a nonstrict way. And I need help with terms.

How do you call a technique when the main character is the author of the novel and along the plot he writes the novel itself, discusses excerpts of it with other characters, doubts what to write and what not to write etc.? When the novel is part of its own plot. The narrative is first-person, however the novel is not in a form of diary, rather memoirs (not exactly, but close).

And also, what brightest examples of such technique from authoritative writers can you name as an exemplar?

  • Not sure if this question belongs to writers.stackexchange.com, but it looks like SE doesn't have a site for general literature questions yet.
    – Hnatt
    Jan 25, 2014 at 6:07
  • 3
    The site about naming everything but super-obscure subjects is EL&U. Still, naming a technique used in writing seems quite on-topic here. Also, on topic: If you reference the book itself, it's frequently called "going meta". If your characters address or mention your readers, this is "breaking the fourth wall".
    – SF.
    Jan 25, 2014 at 14:31
  • This reminds me of the movie adaptation. It was a movie about writing its screenplay which was supposed to be about a book with no plot. I think the movie had a plot.
    – hildred
    Jan 26, 2014 at 4:24
  • I know there are many examples of this kind of work, but to me "The Orchid Thief" is a good representation of this. If you want to go all Eugene O'Neill and get emotionally waterboarded for three hours, "Syncedoche, New York" is a very intense specimen in this genre.
    – lonstar
    Jan 28, 2014 at 18:31
  • @Hnatt - Questions like this are only on-topic here if they're relevant to a writing project. Can you clarify if this is the case? If not, I'll ask EL&U if we can migrate this there. Jan 28, 2014 at 23:34

3 Answers 3


The technical terms in literature and art theory used in relation to this are "mise-en-abyme", "metafiction", and "self-referentiality". All may denote slightly different aspects of the phenomenon, depending on the definitions used by the respective theorists.


I keyed into Google "A movie about itself", and I got this link to Wikipedia:

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meta-reference .

    Metareference, a metafiction technique, is a situation in a work of fiction whereby characters display an awareness that they are in such a work, such as a film, television show or book. Sometimes it may even just be a form of editing or film-making technique that comments on the programme/film/book itself. It is also sometimes known as "Breaking the Fourth Wall", in reference to the theatrical tradition of playing as if there were no audience, as if a wall existed between them and the actors.

    Metareference in fiction is jarring to the reader, but can be comical, such as in Jasper Fforde's novel Lost in a Good Book. The character Thursday Next remarks to her husband that she feels uncomfortable having sex in front of so many people; he is confused since they are alone in their bedroom, so she explains, "all the people reading us".

  2. Which led to this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metafiction

    "Metafiction" is the literary term describing fictional writing that self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its status as an artifact in posing questions about the relationship between fiction and reality, usually using irony and self-reflection.

  • I don't know why I didn't manage to google "a book about itself" which would lead me down the same road. Live and learn. I'm accepting what's answer only because he was first.
    – Hnatt
    Jan 26, 2014 at 17:13

Some of the later novels of Jerzy Kosinski are good examples of metafiction, as is Příběh inženýra lidských duší (The Engineer of Human Souls), 1977, by Josef Skvorecky.

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