What the Sam-Hill, a Novella Featuring a Story Within a Story?
What is a story within a story? Wikipedia defines it is "a literary device sometimes referred to as a frame story or a frame tale or a frame narrative in which one character within a narrative narrates. The inner stories are told either simply to entertain or more usually to act as an example to the other characters. In either case, the story often has symbolic and psychological significance for the characters in the outer story. There is often some parallel between the two stories, and the fiction of the inner story is used to reveal the truth in the outer story." Within my novella entitled MASKED IDENTITIES, the frame story is a book the protagonist (Brooke) reads to herself. The idea is similar to the NeverEnding Story, the 1984 West German fantasy film based on the novel of the same name by Michael Ende. However, unlike NeverEnding Story, Brooke does not interact with the characters inside the frame story. So, the question I am often asked is why write a story within a story? Like many of my story ideas, the story idea came to me in a dream. During my waking hours, I contemplated the story concept and found a desire to further explore the story idea. Was it possible to expand the concept into a cohesive and interesting story? First, I wrote the frame story. A period tale of Christian and Ezra in 1890 Victorian London. I wanted to separate the two story lines, so they were distinctively different, yet they would have similarities. Two young men became the primary characters, not just any lads, but gay men. The intent was to bring to light homophobia and challenges gay men face in today’s world were not so different 130 years ago.
The timeline of the story was arbitrarily set in the first week of April, for two reasons (1) as springtime is the usually depicted as a season for love and (2) to contrast the freshness of spring against the bleak backdrop of London during the time period. However, I did not want the story to take place on Easter weekend (April 6). I did a little research into theater playbills from April 1890 and found one stage production which matched my intended story. I changed the date to Friday and Saturday, April 18 and 19 which historically coordinated with a popular staged presentation at the Queen’s Palace of Varieties Theatre, Poplar. As with all aspects of the interior story, historical facts and events were important in keeping with the story. I had no intention of changing history, but to use history to further the interior story. After completing the frame story, I wrote the exterior story featuring Brooke and Chase in present-day.
The story begins with Brooke discovering an unusual book in Grandad’s library and begins to read it. At this point, the frame story starts. The manuscript moves back and forth between the exterior story to interior story, all the while Brooke recognizes similarities between her life and that of Christian and Ezra. The similarities are intended to suggest gay and hetero relationships are not as different as one might think. One of many similarities between the two stories is that Brooke cannot understand why she fell for Chase in the beginning. Chase knew from the start he and Brooke were not on equal social standing, but he fell for her, anyway. Ezra falls head-over-heels for Christian even though Christian is not the kind of man he desires. A universal theme here? Love is unexplainable, it happens and it doesn’t always make sense. Brooke’s epiphany comes when it dawns on her that she and Christian are a lot alike, both come from influence and money, along with personal traits. While Chase and Ezra are from backgrounds where money was tight and similar personal traits. Gay and straight similarities again. Tensions rise between Christian and Ezra in the frame story, at which time Brooke realizes she doesn't want to lose Chase and she wants to patch things up with him. She learns a valuable lesson from the tale of Christian and Ezra, to not put off telling someone you love them, or the moment my pass and it is too late. Chase has to make a decision, at a time when he is frustrated and angry. His heart tells him one thing, yet his head says something to the contrary. Earlier in the frame story, Ezra deals with a similar personal dilemma with Christian.
Love is love, no matter if it’s in today’s world or 130 years ago across the big blue pond. Gay or straight, love can be confusing, challenging and frustrating. That is how MASKED IDENTITIES became a genre complicated hetero-contemporary story wrapped around a gay-historical tale. MASKED IDENTITIES is available in ebook and paperback HERE.
Dale Thele fiction with an lgbt twist