I want to write a fictional short story where part 2 is embedded in part 1. Has anyone heard of this or tried this?

Any ideas of resources would be greatly appreciated.

Imagine a story where every letter could be turned into another letter (or every word into another word) if the person converting those letters or words had a secret key (a code or password, for example).

Now, imagine if a story, which was written as fiction or literary fiction for example, had a second story, again fiction or literary fiction, embedded within its letters and/or words that, when converted with the key or password, turned into a brand new story—perhaps a continuation or sequel.

  • 2
    Not exactly hidden as such, but Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar is composed of a large number of quite short chapters, and you can either read them in sequence as written in the book, or jumping to a specific chapter as indicated at the end of each chapter, assembling them into an entirely different story.
    – SF.
    Oct 18, 2014 at 22:45
  • SF -- that's a neat idea. Oct 20, 2014 at 13:17

4 Answers 4


You could certainly try, but it sounds like the main story would come out gibberish to me.

The only example of this which springs to mind is the Sherlock Holmes story "The Adventure of the Gloria Scott." A character receives a letter which reads:

"The supply of game for London is going steadily up. Head-keeper Hudson, we believe, has been now told to receive all orders for fly-paper and for preservation of your hen pheasant's life."

Which sounds kind of incoherent. It's actually in skip code, so every third word is the real message:

"The supply of game for London is going steadily up. Head-keeper Hudson, we believe, has been now told to receive all orders for fly-paper and for preservation of your hen pheasant's life."

which is:

The game is up. Hudson has told all. Fly for your life.

I honestly don't know how you'd make a framing story which was readable and had plot and character development while also going through all the coding circumlocutions to create the embedded story. Or conversely, the main story would be readable and the second story would be a short, oddly-worded missive because you could only use the terms from the main story.

It seems like either you'd sacrifice readability of the main story to create the second, or the second would be seriously hobbled by being subject to whatever you could pick out of the main narrative.

  • Thanks Lauren! I guess I'm gonna have to figure out another way of doing this--thought the skip code is a cool idea. Oct 20, 2014 at 14:44

Perhaps something like what you're trying to do could be done by inserting the second story inside the first one, but backwards, starting at the bottom of the last page, and working its way up, maybe combined with one or more skip codes (one specifying skipped words, another skipped pages.) Would the two stores need to be of equal "weight" or complexity? Having both read coherently and "naturally" would require each undergoing some interesting adjustments and compromises in style and readability. I imagine it could be done. But for how many words? I'm sure there are examples of music being written this way, though I can't think of any offhand -- though the idea brings to mind Brian Eno's Driving Me Backwards.

  • Nicole, that's a wonderful idea! I think that's the approach I will take. It's very binary!! Interestingly, I already do something like it when writing stories... I write one story in a spiral notebook opening from the right (the usual way) and leave all the page backs blank. Then I turn the notebook over (opening from the left side) and write the other story on the back pages... I like your idea a lot! Oct 23, 2014 at 17:13
  • Excellent, Anton! Glad I could be of some help. Happy writing. Maybe post us a link when the story/stories are done.
    – Nicole
    Oct 24, 2014 at 21:49
  • You mean like this: genius.com/Jonathan-reed-the-lost-generation-annotated ?
    – Jerenda
    Nov 18, 2016 at 18:37

You are describing a not entirely unheard of method of hiding a coded message in a plaintext. I don't know if it's in common usage by real world spies, but it certainly has appeared before in fiction. I fondly remember once reading a time-travel romance (whose name I've unfortunately forgotten) where the young lovers communicated using overlapping codes.

Can this actually be used for a longer work? It would certainly be difficult since it necessitates a certain level of artificiality and constraint. The technique is described but not (as far as I know) actually used in Daniel Manus Pinkwater's young adult classic "Alan Mendelson, Boy From Mars" in which a dictionary hides not one, but two separate coded messages describing how to develop psychic powers AND transition to alternate realities. The use of a dictionary is probably realistic, in that it doesn't require a coherent plot, and is already divided into smaller sections.

Try as I might, I can only think of one author who has actually used this technique (but with surprising success): Steven Hall. His "Raw Shark Texts" contains 36 ordinary chapters, which contain the entire story, and can be read as given. It also, however, has 36 "negative" chapters which have been hidden in various ways, including being coded into the text of the original chapters (with different negative chapters in different translations of the book, as described here). I believe some of them are coded visually and digitally (rather than in the plaintext), which gives an avenue into making one text do double duty without sacrificing meaning.


There are many ways I've found you can imbed a pattern into a story where the ending, or important pieces of information to figure out the ending, can be revealed to those able to find the pattern and follow it.

One example I'm currently using is that you must take the paragraph number, and count to that word in the paragraph.

You could also have the first word in each paragraph, though that might be a bit too obvious.

Another way that might be a bit more difficult to write but equally difficult to notice would be to use the repetition of words to create a sentence. For example, sentence one might be "The water was cold." Sentence two could be "The air blew cold against my skin." Therefore, the first word(s) in the message would be "cold" or, if you're up for the challenge and feel like including smaller words into the message, "the cold".

I'm not sure if this would quite work to create an entirely different story, but it would certainly work to reveal a new side to the story, or more clarity, to sharp-minded readers.

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