I fear that the question sounds vague and confusing, but I can't conjure up the words I need to say exactly what I mean without going into detail.

I thought it would be interesting to have two stories going on at the same time. The main story would be the events as they actually happened. It would be fairly straight forward stock fantasy style.

The second story would be someone several hundreds of years later in a modern time trying to tell someone else the same story. There are several things that were lost, added to or changed in in the telling. The story teller believes that the characters may have been based on real historic people, but it is likely the events were greatly exaggerated or never even happened at all. The story teller also believes that good and evil were very obvious and, simple and complete. In the "real" version, it's much more ambiguous. No one is really good or evil. The second story would be very short. Perhaps it is only a sentence or two long at the beginning of each chapter.

I think I've read a book or watched a movie set up like this. But I can't think of what it could have been. I'd like to know if anyone else might be able to think of an example of this situation so that I could find it. I'd like to read or watch it again to see how it was done.

  • 2
    The Real Story by Stephen R. Donaldson, as well as the two trilogies of his featuring Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever are kind of like this, but structured differently than you describe. The final episode of Babylon 5 is also something like that, if I recall correctly. – Kit Z. Fox Jan 5 '16 at 18:08
  • Hi Keobooks, and best wishes in your writing project. As this is phrased now, it's more of a polling question -- "what are examples of X?" doesn't lend itself to a definitive answer, and it's more about reading than writing. I think you have a writing question in here -- how do you structure a book to tell these two intertwined stories. Answers might cite examples, but the question would be about writing rather than examples. Does that make sense? I'm putting this on hold; normally I'd suggest editing, but since you've got a bunch of answers it's probably better to ask a new question. – Monica Cellio Jan 6 '16 at 1:13
  • A Canticle for Leibowitz has some aspects like this; each part of the book takes place many years after the previous, with people occasionally referring back to previous events (and generally getting them all wrong.) – Beska Oct 10 '17 at 13:05

There are lots of books that are written with two stories interwoven. For example, Cyrptonomicon features the story of Lawrence Waterhouse in WWII and his grandson Randy in present day. These stories end up being connected.

Another example is a mystery novel, "Piece of Her Heart" by Peter Robinson, where there is one story set in 1969 and another in 2009. As with Cryptonomicon, these stories end up being related.

Also, in other fiction, especially fantasy, it's fairly common for a story to be told about what happened in the past, but then later information reveals that truth is different from what is believed. For example, in the Wheel of Time books there was a golden age 3000 years ago, but now it's just legends and little remains known for sure. However a magic artifact grants certain people the ability to see the past through the eyes of their ancestors, and so some knowledge is revealed that contradicts the popular wisdom.

That said, what you're describing sounds somewhat different, in that you plan to retell the story twice. Once accurately, once as myth. The problem here is that you need to motivate the telling of the mythical version. Why is anyone telling it this way, why does anyone care about this story anymore? Most examples I can recall where this sort of storytelling was used, the myth serves as background for some other story that is being told in the present. It's not usually relevant to reveal how accurate the myth is, or to explain just how it's inaccurate. The original story is a story in its own right, but the myth version is a part of the setting of a different story.

  • 1
    I know exactly why the story is retold. The protagonist in the story ends up being a saint in the modern times. There statue of the Saint in front of a church. She has a sword upraised and her foot is stomping down a skeleton, getting ready to stab some evil guy. One girl's grandmother explains that the Saint was a midwife who was famous for ridding the land of necromancers. The little girl thinks it's ridiculous that a midwife would fight and win against an entire undead army and their generals. Why would a midwife have a sword in the first place? So the old lady tells the story. – Keobooks Jan 5 '16 at 19:53
  • 1
    @Keobooks The point I'm trying to make is that myths are usually short and they are meant to be part of the setting of the story. It would be fine if, say, the main story was introduced by the short myth, or if each chapter contained a brief introductory sentence or two that was the storyteller telling the myth. But if the myth version is as long as the true version, it competes with the reader's attention. It's not really providing any value to the reader or to the people in the "present" who are hearing the story told. The reader doesn't want to keep reading the same story over and over. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Jan 5 '16 at 19:57

The classic example of this type of story is the period drama film, Rashomon, directed by Akira Kurosawa. The film is based on two short stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa.

The film focuses on one significant event, as recounted by a series of characters. Each telling is starkly different, revealing the biases and intentions each character.

The film is widely used in academia to teach students about this phenomenon. I've heard it used in discussions of law, philosophy, literature, and the social sciences as a byword for subjectivity.

The Man In the High Castle series, recently released by Amazon and based on a story by Philip K. Dick, seems to use the shift in perspective over time that you mention in your question.

I haven't watched the series yet, but the trailer reveals a discrepancy between two versions of the past. The contrast reveals a lot about what has happened during the intervening period, that "History is written by the victors."

  • 1
    "History is written by the victors." That's exactly why I wanted to write it. Because she starts off as a very heroic shiny good soul out to save the world but ends up believing that the ends justify the means and does awful things to ensure that the necromancers she's tracking down will be caught and executed. The necromancers only use their magic in combat and they have a very strict code of ethics that only allows them to use it on the battle field. So the MC ends up working hard to make them break their rules. Eventually she uses sabotage and kills her own people. But she's a hero to them. – Keobooks Jan 5 '16 at 21:49

1) A similar but not exact iteration of this is the Water! trilogy by Gael Baudino. It's not well-known and I found the experimental format exhausting. Still, Your Mileage May Vary.

In the three books (O Greenest Branch, The Dove Looked In, Branch and Crown) there were three alternating narrative styles: parts were standard narration (typical sword-and-sorcery fantasy), then parts were being told by a marketing guy in the present day as his career collapsed and he went from Muckety-Muck to losing his job to getting mugged, and then parts were a stone-cutting manual which was increasingly crossed out and being used as a religious text.

The story parts didn't really overlap; each subsequent part of the story was told in the next style.

2) Something closer to what you're describing happened in two Star Trek: Voyager episodes, "Living Witness" and to a lesser extent "11:59." There are "present" events and then how the characters interpret those events from a distant future.

  • 1
    I loved that Voyager episode! Hmm. I think that as tempting as it sounds, it may be a little beyond my reach at this time. I think I may just wait until the whole "real" story is within a final few edits of being finished before I try to weave in a second story. That should give me a year or two to improve my writing skill enough that I may be able to attempt to pull it off. – Keobooks Jan 5 '16 at 20:26

The short story Titanium Mike Saves the Day is a series of five stories about a man named Titanium Mike, each told at a different time in human history.

It's free to read at the link above.


I think the The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner may be the canonical example here. It has four sections in which many of the same events are related but from different — and unreliable — perspectives.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.