The Writer’s Toolbox: Frames

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Frames force the viewer to focus on what the creator chooses. Think of the way photos are taken. The photographer chose something or somethings she wanted you to see in her photo. A writer does the same with their storytelling.

As writers, we decide what to show our readers and what to leave out. This is our frame—our shot. After you decide what to write about, you have to decide how you will write it. Much of the time, the story itself will tell you how it wants to be told. But if you need some ideas, check these out:

#1 Story in a Story

If you’ve read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, you’ll recognize this one. It’s a story told within a story. In Frankenstein, the reader is given the tale by a character in the story. This allows the author to do many things. The character telling the story could have a bias that affects the way the story is told. The author, through the way the character tells the story, can create an atmosphere the narrator gives the story.

The possibilities are bountiful. Imagine how the person telling the story would change or spin it as they went on. What did the character miss in their own story? What are they predisposed to think?

#2 Dear John

This one is similar to the last. Our letters, diaries, journals all tell our stories for us. This has been utilized throughout literary history. Think Dracula, or Go Ask Alice. These stories are also told through a character who acts as the story’s narrator, but it has a different feel to it. It is a little more personal. It gives us more insight into what a character is thinking. Or, maybe not? Maybe that character is lying to themselves or to whomever the recipient of the letter is. That part is up to you.

#3 See the Forest

Frames #1 and #2 offer limited frames. Technically, all frames are limited. If they weren’t, readers would pass out from us trying to force all information into their heads. But, as writers, we are the videographers of the stories we tell. It’s up to us what is captured in the frame—what we focus on.

Third-person omniscient narratives allow the greatest freedom of that camera. This point of view means that the narrator can enter any character’s mind, see every detail, travel through space and time—you get the point. The all-knowing narrator in the sky can tell the story any way it pleases. You, dear writer, can use this to tell your story any way you please. Use this to tell us what you think we should be focusing on.

#4 Back to the Future

Start the story at the ending. Put your character at the end of their path before readers get to travel down it. From here, you can use a dangerous, but effective tool: the flashback.

I say dangerous because it’s difficult to pull off without being corny. That’s my opinion. But, I have seen it done and I have seen it done well. Have the narrator of the story bring us up to speed through flashbacks, thoughts, him or her telling a story. By the end of his or her story, the reader will be back where they started from, but this time much wiser and cognizant of what is happening.

Try whatever method works best for you. Try telling the same story in multiple ways to see which is most effective. Maybe writing it from another direction will change the story and you’ll find it improved. Experiment! Whatever you do, never stop writing.

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About Author

John Paul Schmidt is a former news journalist. Now he's a freelancer by day and bartender by night while he works on his novel.

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