I'm writing a work which is bookended by a frame story with an unreliable narrator.

How do I prevent confusion for the reader when the frame narrator interjects? In the framed story, the characters have direct speech (quotation marks) and indirect speech (italics). What if the frame narrator has thoughts or indirect speech? How can I lessen the confusion and improve readability?

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    I'm a bit confused by your question. Could you perhaps provide a short example of what you mean? Mar 6, 2019 at 23:48
  • Story opens with a narrator describing a manuscript written by a protagonist telling a tale of another protagonist with similarities to the first. Sometimes I may want the narrator to interject. What I mean is what are the technically efficient means to easily comprehend who is talking. Mar 7, 2019 at 0:01
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    Welcome. This is not as easy to grok as some of the other questions. But t is a good question. I suggest we allow an excerpt in the question to facilitate answers.
    – SFWriter
    Mar 7, 2019 at 0:06
  • Are you looking for something like the grandfather in The Princess Bride reading the book to the kid, and how to control what comments are the grandfather's and what comments are the narrator's from the book? Mar 7, 2019 at 0:12
  • TheLuckless - Just after I posted my question I realised that The Princess Bride has exactly that. I have a copy somewhere - I will have to look and see how Goldman does it. Mar 7, 2019 at 3:05

1 Answer 1


In The Neverending Story, Michael Ende faces a somewhat similar challenge: the main character, Bastian, gets his hands on a book, and the narrative alternates between the book Bastian is reading, and his own actions - his thoughts with regards to the book, his more mundane actions with regards to skipping school.

Michael Ende solves this beautifully by using two colours: one narrative line is printed in green, the other in red. (And the book Bastian is reading is also printed in red and green, making the whole thing meta.)

If you do not wish to use colours, I would turn to using significantly different fonts. (Which is incidentally how paperback editions of The Neverending Story are printed.) While fonts are more subtle, they still provide a strong visual cue to the reader regarding which layer of the narrative they are currently in.

  • Im not sure what I consider will be a serious literary work will welcome coloured fonts :) A friend last night actually suggested different fonts and I dismissed the idea - I believe it is only suitable for when you may be quoting say a letter or an official report but not for this circumstance. I think what I am looking for is a textually stylistic mechanism for making it clear to the reader who is doing the thinking or talking. Mar 7, 2019 at 3:07

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