So, I'm writing a novel where MC believes he is influenced in some way by an entity he calls Common Sense. He suspects (yet that is weaker than belief) that he is Common Sense's hand in this world, something like an avatara in Hindu.

But the book starts with the story of Common Sense himself, not of MC. And that frame story about Common Sense is quite lengthy, around 10 pages.

I'm not going to get rid of this frame story from my work, at most I can only move it to the middle. But I thought this story in the middle will not be as good because it describes events happened far before the main story.

I don't have a problem to "justify" this story in the middle. I simply try to decide if it is more appropriate in the middle or in the beginning. Will it be repulsive if I tell a frame story first and then the main story begins or is the alternative even worse?

P. S. This story explains much of MC behaviour and worldview, that's why I wish it to be a part of the novel.

  • Does the MC know this story? Could they retell it to someone else while we listen in? It's nice if you don't confuse the reader about who the MC is. Best to introduce them at the start. Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 11:46
  • @candied_orange Yes, MC knows it. MC is the narrator.
    – rus9384
    Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 11:51
  • 1
    @rus9384 so the MC narrates the frame story which then contains the main narrative? that sounds like it might get confusing! Perhaps not Donald Westlake-confusing but still! Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 11:55
  • Could you use the "frame story" about Common Sense as a prologue?
    – Artsoccer
    Commented Dec 6, 2018 at 2:54

2 Answers 2


You must decide first and foremost how you want your readers to initially treat your MC's belief that he is influenced by an "entity". If you tell the readers right from the start that the entity in question exists, they are going to view everything differently from if you allow them to assume at first that no such entity exists (as would be more realistic). I think that should be what guides your decision of where to put the story of the entity.

As for starting with the frame story in general, I haven't heard of anyone being put off by the One Thousand and One Nights starting with the frame story. Or The Canterbury Tales, or The Decameron, for that matter. Good Omens starts at the creation of the world, ~6000 years before the birth of the MC. 2001 A Space Odyssey starts with prehistoric proto-humans. The distant start serves the story and its themes in all those cases. What serves your story? What are the themes you wish to explore?

As long as the narration is interesting, as long as the story is entertaining, I don't see your readers running away because of where you chose to start.

  • One Thousand and One Nights is a collection of frame stories, so, I'm not sure if that's a good comparison. However, other works probably are the ones I can relate to.
    – rus9384
    Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 12:00
  • 1
    @rus9384 I think you may be misunderstanding the term "frame story" One Thousand and One Nights is a collection of stories contained within one frame. An example of a frame story with a single story contained within it would be Princess Bride Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 12:11
  • @motosubatsu certain versions of 1001 Nights are frame story within frame story within frame story ("scheherazade tells the story of the fisherman who tells the story of the princess who tells the story of the mountain wherein which there is a story" etc) so that may be what they are referring to.
    – Kitkat
    Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 19:52
  • I'm glad you brought up Good Omens. When rus9384 started describing his story, this is where my mind went. Rus, if you haven't read Good Omens, you should.
    – IchabodE
    Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 21:29

Like any similar technique the outcome of using a frame story depends on the quality of the execution.

If the frame ties well to the main narrative and the switch in perspective makes sense to the reader - IMO it also needs to bring value to the telling of the main narrative. Whether that's simply to set tone or whether it's to provide the reader with knowledge or perspective that the main narrative's point of view is unable to do cleanly but that is required to properly appreciate the main narrative.

The important thing is to ask yourself why you are doing the frame - and what the main narrative loses if left without it.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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