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Al Stevens
01-15-2012, 12:30 AM
I'm kicking around an idea for my WIP and can't get an objective hold on it. I'd appreciate comments.

The MC, a PI, learns he was adopted and that his birth father, now deceased, was a famous cat burglar and second story man. His birth mother gives him a manuscript of his father's memoirs, written in prison.

In Robbins' "The Carpetbaggers," he inserts the story of Nevada Smith as a novel within a novel.

I'm considering including the cat burglar's memoirs in my WIP much the same way that Robbins did. What do you think? Contrived device? Lame vehicle? Copycat? Good idea?

I'm not married to the idea, but it has been pestering me. I need to re-read Carpetbaggers (it's been years) to see how Robbins handled it. The movie versions did it as two different and unrelated movies.

Susan Littlefield
01-15-2012, 12:50 AM
Al,

I say to just write it and see what happens!

Taytortots
01-15-2012, 12:51 AM
I think having a book within a book could add dimensions. It would be interesting to read.
I haven't read "The Carpetbaggers" so I'm afraid I can't add insight on this front, but i don't think it's 'copycatting'. There are many ideas used in multiple novels, I don't think this is any different.

Saint09
01-15-2012, 01:03 AM
I say do it. If nothing else just so can read it.

song_of_calliope
01-15-2012, 01:15 AM
This sounds like a really good idea to me. I've seen this handled by using different fonts for each book so the reader can tell at a glance which one they're reading. I can't remember where I saw this but it seemed to work very well.

maxmordon
01-15-2012, 01:19 AM
I like the idea. Once I had my WIP reading a story his father wrote, the text from the story within the story was completely bolded. Also, every now and then my MC would skim some bits to both: reminding us he's still there and to move faster some bits giving a deeper idea of this as a book within the story.

Sam K.
01-15-2012, 01:28 AM
You could also possibly read House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, which takes it to the extreme, with a film-within-a-book-within-a-book, and handles it very well.

It's a hard one to decide - maybe write the memoirs as a side project, and see what comes of it? Then you can insert it, see what it's like, and if it doesn't work, it doesn't work. You could also try doing kind of Robin Hobb-esque chapter openings, that start with an extract from the fictional book.

I don't think you need to worry about "copycatting", given that these concepts have been used and reused like nobody's business, so that's not the worry - it's whether it feels right to write it like that.

Leigha David
01-15-2012, 01:28 AM
I'm actually kind of intrigued by this concept and I agree with the others; just go for it and see where it takes you! I think it has potential.

I like song's suggestion. Maybe you could write the MC's parts in regular book format in something like Times New Roman and then write the memoirs with Courier New font and have the paragraphs double-spaced? Not sure if that made any sense (and it's probably a silly formatting idea anyway), but I like the concept of it in my head.

Al Stevens
01-15-2012, 01:32 AM
I like the font ideas. It will be an e-book, so my options are limited. But there is a way to switch Kindle in and out of a Courier font.

Thanks for all the comments.

Aggy B.
01-15-2012, 02:15 AM
This sounds like a really good idea to me. I've seen this handled by using different fonts for each book so the reader can tell at a glance which one they're reading. I can't remember where I saw this but it seemed to work very well.

The original Neverending Story used different font COLORS to indicate which world the story was taking place in. Not something I would specifically recommend, but it was cool in a fantasy.

Aggy, impressed by it when she read it in her teens

The Lonely One
01-15-2012, 02:55 AM
Well, it is a device. I think what you're referring to is some variation of a framed narrative. And don't worry about it being overdone. It's just a technique like any other.

Sounds like an interesting idea, though.

richcapo
01-15-2012, 04:15 AM
Al,

I say to just write it and see what happens!I agree.

My answer to these types of questions are always the same: Just do it. Give it your best shot.

Honestly I don't understand questions like this. They're like the "can ...?" questions I frequently see on these boards -- e.g., Can an author blend science fiction and magic in the same novel? Can switching from third person narration to first person narration work? Can gods work as protagonists in modern fiction? -- they totally baffle me.

Al Stevens
01-15-2012, 04:20 AM
Honestly I don't understand questions like this. They're like the "can ...?" questions I frequently see on these boards...they totally baffle me.
The question wasn't "can I..." I can do whatever I want. It asks for the comments of others who will have an objective view of the issue. And it's about an uncommon device. What's so hard to understand about that?

richcapo
01-15-2012, 04:21 AM
The question wasn't "can I..." I can do whatever I want. It asks for the comments of others who will have an objective view of the issue. And it's about an uncommon device. What's so hard to understand about that?I didn't call it a "can ...?" question.

bearilou
01-15-2012, 04:25 AM
I think it's a fabulous idea! :Thumbs:

Al Stevens
01-15-2012, 04:26 AM
I didn't call it a "can ...?" question.
You said it was like one. What's the difference?

richcapo
01-15-2012, 04:37 AM
You said it was like one. What's the difference?The word like. "What's so hard to understand about that?" They share similarities; they are not the same: Both baffle me. Both garner my same response: Just do it, because both are all about the execution. Everything in writing is all about the execution, which every author should know, I believe.

If you still don't understand me after having read the above, I'm sorry, but I don't think I can help you, and all that's left for me to say is good luck.

Al Stevens
01-15-2012, 04:49 AM
If you are still baffled by my question, I can't help you. I tried. Let's move on.

Springs
01-15-2012, 07:20 AM
I like the idea! It sounds nifty and fun to read. If you're looking for examples of books within books, I can't really think of any in which the author wrote the book him/herself, but in John Green's Paper Towns, the protagonist was reading Whitman's Leaves of Grass in a plot-relevant way, so that might help you get ideas for how to reference the book.

jaksen
01-16-2012, 08:13 PM
Stephen King did it with Misery, and there were times I found the 'interior novel' more interesting than the main one.

Just go ahead and do it.

song_of_calliope
01-16-2012, 10:35 PM
David Mitchell's book Cloud Atlas is a brilliant example of this - it's actually a book within a book within a book within a book.... You have to read it to believe it!

JT Baroni
02-09-2012, 01:25 AM
Hi Al!
I had no idea there were so many stories that had a story within a story plot.
I just had a paranormal novel released that fits this category. For the first three chapters, my protagonist is a sports writer who is in line for a well-deserved promotion, however the Paper grants the promotion to a younger, lesser qualified writer. Outraged, he quits and moves to the country to write fiction. He stumbles upon a lone grave in the middle of the woods and writes the dead girl's story, which is the next nine chapters. The final three chapters is what happens when the little girl doesn't like what he wrote about her.
It turned out rather well, so I say go for it.
Good luck. JT Baroni
www.jtbaroni.com (http://www.jtbaroni.com)

tmesis
02-09-2012, 05:10 AM
It's not unusual by any means, and especially common in postmodern fiction. There are countless examples, both in literary fiction and genre fiction. Its roots go way back. The earliest example I can think of is Frankenstein, where the story is told through a series of letters. No doubt others predate this.

I'd wager that part of the reason is the old adage 'write what you know'. Writers know writing better than anyone. :)

jasonaaronfox
02-09-2012, 06:46 AM
I've been kicking this idea around myself for a series of books I'm writing that cross a period of history that is over 2000 years. I've considered building some of the back story of the empire in a series of small books read by the protagonists.

movieman
02-09-2012, 07:14 AM
I had character #1 reading the diary of character #2 who was reading the diary of character #3 who found a video showing the fate of character #1. But I was just being pretentious and I toned it down in the final draft :).

As others have said, books in books, or stories in stories (e.g. a character in the book telling their story to another character), are common in literature. Maybe less so today than a few decades ago.

blacbird
02-09-2012, 07:38 AM
What you're talking about is a form of "frame story", of which many examples can be found:

The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells
several famous stories by Joseph Conrad
Little Big Man, by Thomas Berger

The degree to which the included story occupies the main text is variable. John Irving included a short ("The Pension Grillparzer") in The World According to Garp.

So, not a problem. You ain't doing nothing new or unprecedented. Go for it.

caw

bellabar
02-09-2012, 12:58 PM
The idea I like but can offer an alternative view on the execution? I think using different fonts to tell different stories is a bit gimmicky, the same as when I read about different characters whose stories are told in different tenses. If the two stories have unique voices, you should be able to trust your reader to make the jump to the other story. You don't need to flag the change from one to another in any other way.

JimmyB27
02-09-2012, 01:08 PM
Also Watchmen/Tales of the Black Freighter.

I agree with richcapo - questions like this are less about whether such a thing can be done, and more about whether or not you can do them. And that you can only really find out by trying. :)

Feaky Snucker
02-10-2012, 10:58 PM
Douglas Coupland's THE GUM THIEF did this nicely. I say go for it.

scottprotege
02-11-2012, 12:28 AM
Sounds like a really interesting idea. As with everything though, its not what you do, its how you do it. Best of luck to you!

bluntforcetrauma
02-11-2012, 05:02 AM
The Body by Stephen King, although a novella, contains two framed stories.

WordCount
02-11-2012, 05:40 AM
Mary Shelley's classic "Frankenstein" also did the story inside of a story type thing. I find it interesting. WRITE IT!

Rooke
02-11-2012, 08:43 AM
I like it too. Some subtle, tie-in themes, counterpoints, comparisons - a nice, double, entwined finale...

Al Stevens
02-11-2012, 10:20 AM
Thanks for all the help and encouragement. I now have both books almost finished.

I think I might put fragments of the memoirs inside the first novel and then publish the novella-length memoirs separately, maybe as a giveaway PDF from my website.

It's interesting to see how writing the memoirs has taken priority in my daily schedule. It's evolved into half the MC's career as a burglar and half a personal journal of his prison time. Not a diary, though, but an account of how things work from the con's perspective and specific episodes that center around drugs, escapes, jobs, a riot, his wife on the outside, solitary, shanks, shoots, and so on. A lot of it comes from stories my Dad told us boys around the supper table each night. He was a guard in a federal prison.

It's a satisfying project. My enthusiasm for it is up.