Episode 194: It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take. (But not really.)

On July 30, 2022, Kasie and Rex continued their trudge through literary devices with frame stories, hyperbole, and irony. Not in the Alanis Morissette way. Here are the show notes:

Theme for the day

Framestory, hyperbole, and irony


  • SCWA’s Annual Conference open for registration
  • Frame story as a structure
  • Hyperbole – it’s everywhere
  • Irony – no, Alanis Morissette, it’s not a black fly in your chardonnay
Photo by Marina Abrosimova on Pexels.com

Link to the podcast

Segment 1

Last week we continued our work with literary devices working on flashback and juxtaposition. We took a little bit of time talking about extended flashback novels like The Orphan’s Tale which is also a frame story. So we’ll start with frame story today.

What is a frame story?

There’s a great video and full definition from the Oregon State University’s English department here. A frame story is a story-within-a-story – think Hamlet and the play happening inside the play, or The Princess Bride where the grandfather is reading to the grandson and over the course of the experience, the grandson changes his perspective on the story – “Maybe you could come back and read it again to me tomorrow?”

The Canterbury Tales may be the most famous of these. It’s Chaucer’s masterpiece that brings travelers together and gets them each to tell a different story so we have the bigger story – the journey and the travelers – and within it, each of the tales, ranging from moral to baudy.

What are the benefits of a frame story:

  • To reiterate or expound upon the theme of the imbedded story – in The Princess Bride we have the grandfather wanting to show love for and receive love in return from his grandson, this underscores Westley’s devotion to Buttercup and the true-love-is-the-greatest-gift theme of the story.
  • To provide various perspectives of the story, or to provide a perspective on the story itself – a position from which to editorialize. (link)
  • To reveal something to the characters that they couldn’t otherwise know – the play in Hamlet does this. The play-within-the-play lets the characters in the play become actors in a new production and their response to that reveals the story’s themes or secrets (link).

Other examples:

  • The musical episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Flash – using the musical magic to reveal secrets that had been festering between the characters on the show. 
  • Itchy and Scratchy are the show-within-the-show on The Simpsons – its role is to diminish cartoons as childish, violent, or nonsensical.
  • In Dead Poets Society, the character of Neil, feeling oppressed by his father and set free on stage as Puck, takes his own life; the theater experience – on stage as an imp (Puck!) – provides both the visibility to Neil’s inner self (by his teacher, Robin Williams and classmate, Ethan Hawke) and infuriates his father for its disobedience.

Segments 2/3

Tuesdays in August are for Short Story workshops. SCWA is hosting Keith Lesmeister in a 4-session series Digging Trenches: An iterative short story workshop. If you’re working to perfect the craft of the small tale, this series is for you. Member rate is just $150 for 16 hours of instruction and critique from a fantastic author. More info here.

Back to the frame story with some “how to” or “think about these” links:

Think you might try a show-within-the-show? Think about these “rules” (link):

  • The characters are involved in the production of the show.
  • The characters are fans of the show, or only see it occasionally.
  • The show-within-a-show is a plot point.
  • The internal show, in either variety, is eerily similar to the real show.

Think you might try a play-within-the-play? Ask these questions (link):

  • Why is the play staged? How does it advance the plot of the overall story?
  • Who is the audience of the play-within-the-play? What should they see on stage?
  • What theme in the overall story is exaggerated by the play-within-the-play? For example, in Shakespeare in Love, the play-within is Romeo and Juliet – forbidden love to underscore the fact that Will and Viola can never be together.

I want to move into hyperbole from here because I think the opportunity of the stage-in-story is the chance to exaggerate what the characters are thinking, feeling, or hiding.

In the Buffy episode, for example, the music reveals things they would have kept buried. So it’s a great device for getting those secrets out in the open. How can you use the pretend  to exaggerate the real?

Romance has a trope – fake relationship – that lets the characters act like they’re in love when they’re not and, while doing so, actually fall in love. Why do we (as readers) like these silly charades? Here’s a video breaking down the trope.

Fake dating allows the characters to bypass the two stages that are most awkward (and skippable) – vulnerability and consent. Vulnerability exists because the person who asks is open to rejection and has to make themselves vulnerable to get an answer yay/nay. Fake dating can provide a free flirt without the vulnerability of admitting you actually like them. Additionally, most romances don’t include “relationshippy stuff” like dates and Netflix and chill, but to “fake date” means they can do that stuff. Fake dating also does away with that super awkward consent thing – characters can get away with touching, kissing, etc. under the illusion of the pretend and don’t have to ask for permission to do those things.

Feel like a romance genre tangent? Maybe, but what it tells us is that the “play within” presents an opportunity for our characters to act out how they really feel without sacrificing their pride. Until they can’t anymore, until they have to admit how they feel and that’s tension that can drive an entire book.

What does this have to do with hyperbole? People act out-of-character or in exaggerated ways when they are pretending to be something or someone else. And pretending can be hilariously exaggerated.

Hyperbole uses:

  • Describe a feeling – “I’m king of the world!” from Titanic
  • Emphasize a point – “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” we could actually fear a lot of other stuff, but you get the point.
  • Comedy – “You’re killing me, Smalls!” no, not actually. But yeah, the one kid, Smalls, is frustrating the other kid, Ham.

Hyperbole can be in multiple levels:

  • Sentence level – I’m so hungry I could eat a horse. That flight lasted forever. I’ve never wanted anything so badly in my life.
  • Scene level – Frasier goes to Bora Bora with a new girlfriend and runs into his ex wife. Really? On the same week? 6000 miles away? What are the odds? It’s not coincidence, it’s an exaggerated circumstance that forces Frasier to confront whether he’s ready for a new, serious relationship. sitcom love this; when things are just so absurd it’s funny.
  • Story level – character – those over-done, exaggerated personalities like Mrs. Umbridge and Professor Snape from Harry Potter. Or settings – those elaborate places like battered old homes, dark cellars, sinister forests.

The pitfalls of hyperbole:

  • It’s everywhere right now. So it feels inauthentic.
  • Overuse can detract from the things that really need to be underscored or emphasized.
  • Exaggeration can be seen as a lie – depending on what you’re writing, exaggerating something might be the equivalent of telling a lie about that thing.

Segment 4

Irony. We were misled by Alanis Morissette but we don’t hold it against her. Irony is a: the use of words to express something other than and especially the opposite of the literal meaning; b: a usually humorous or sardonic literary style or form characterized by irony (link).

There are three types of irony (Oregon State again, work that SEO!): 

  • Situational – when a character’s intentions are foiled and they thing they tried to bring about doesn’t occur. 
  • Verbal – someone tells us something different from what they actually mean; not to be confused with sarcasm or facetiousness, verbal irony is usually delivered without an altered tone or other indicator. Deadpan. Serious. Or dead ser. Like the flaming dog meme “This is fine.” Think “Just a flesh wound.” and “Things only ‘just happen’ when you’re not ready.”
  • Dramatic – dramatic irony occurs when a character is deprived of an important information that governs the plot around them. So Romeo missing the message that Juliet was only faking her death and then he kills himself and she wakes up and … well. Irony. Someone needs to write the story where Juliet walks out of that tomb and lives forever with the heartache of her first love being a lark.

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