— at its simplest and most basic, meta-fiction is fiction, about fiction —
(See below for an incomplete list of elements that make a work meta-fiction)
One of my greatest loves is a good ol’ meta-fiction novel. Meta-fiction refers to fictional works that draw attention to the fact that they are a work of fiction.
Wikipedia’s definition: ‘Metafiction is a form of fiction in which the text – either directly or through the characters within – is ‘aware’ that it is a form of fiction.’
I’ve begun a list of female meta-fiction authors here, as mentors for my own writing.
My favourite meta-fictional work, At-Swim-Two-Birds, is a meta-fiction-feast – a story within a story within a story within a story within a story. And my favourite section of AS-T-B has the characters of one story give the writer a good beating. It’s not so much the thrashing I love, but that the characters take revenge on the author. It’s a scenario that I’d love to include in my own novel one day.
And I couldn’t help myself, I’ve written my own little meta-fictional work, but it doesn’t have an author beating. At present it’s doing the rounds of agents, so wish it luck will you? The main character, a homeless man, (male mental health is a theme that runs through all my books to date) befriends a woman who is a struggling author. She steals his life story to use as a novel, and as the story unfolds, it becomes apparent this story is the novel itself.
Over the years I’ve read a few meta-fictional works that I’ll list elsewhere on this blog. I’m gradually adding the notes that I made at the time of reading, not reviews of the books, but simple notes that I made with no intention of blogging – at the time there was no such thing as blogging, let alone an internet.
As a bit of a guide to understanding meta-fiction Wikipedia lists these common meta-fictive devices in literature:
- A story about a writer who creates a story
- A story that features itself (as a narrative or as a physical object) as its own prop or MacGuffin
- A story containing another work of fiction within itself
- A story addressing the specific conventions of story, such as title, character conventions, paragraphing or plots
- A novel where the narrator intentionally exposes him or herself as the author of the story
- A book in which the book itself seeks interaction with the reader
- A story in which the readers of the story itself force the author to change the story
- Narrative footnotes, which continue the story while commenting on it
- A story in which the characters are aware that they are in a story
- A story in which the characters make reference to the author or his previous work
A related genre is the self-reflexive novel: a fictional work in which the author refers to themselves in the work, and/or refers to the work itself.
And then there is the anti-novel which is better described as a more experimental work. Dictionary.com defines anti-novel as, ‘traditional elements novel plot and
Of course, a novel can be one or all of the above, makes definitions complicated, doesn’t it.