I am trying to find the term for a story that exists on the side, in the background, or margin of another story but may or may not be related to it. The only examples I can think of are in comics or TV.

  1. Cartoons by Sergio Aragonés that appeared within the margins of Mad Magazine and are referenced by Wikipedia as "Marginals".
  2. The ongoing saga of Itchy and Scratchy that exists within each Simpson's Episode, I guess could be called a "Running Gag".
  3. Another one is the Thomson & Thompson "side story" that usually appear in Tintin Adventures, although those are generally still related to the main plot.
  4. The best and most precise example of what I am trying to term is the Belgian comic Leonardo, which have a cat and mouse character that engage in their own story in each panel completely independent of the main story.

I am looking for an alternative term to Marginal, Side Story, or Running gag if one exists that could define all of these variants.

If anyone has better examples in writing or other media, I would appreciate it.

  • 1
    A story within a story is a literary device in which one character within a narrative narrates. Mise en abyme is the French term for a similar literary device. I suppose The Canterbury Tales would be an example where the pilgrimage itself is the "containing" frame story, but I don't know if there's a specific literary term for the "sub-stories" (I think in Family Guy they call things like this cutaways). Jul 15, 2016 at 21:24
  • 2
    The 'modern' term (since about 1890) is subplot. I prefer the older term by-plot, which better accommodates side stories which are very loosely (or not at all) integrated into the main plot. Jul 15, 2016 at 23:44
  • 1
    I call it a 'story within a story'.
    – user180089
    Jul 15, 2016 at 23:50
  • @StoneyB both of those terms seem to be tied to the main plot, although I guess by-plot is closest to what I am going for.
    – Drai
    Jul 16, 2016 at 1:22
  • @FumbleFingers the problem with story within a story is that what i am looking for can exist outside of the story. It is like layered but separate stories, they only share the physical format.
    – Drai
    Jul 16, 2016 at 1:22

3 Answers 3


You should check parallel narrative:


Example usage in academia:

Parallel Narrative Structure in Paul Harding’s Tinkers

Some more from Wikipedia (interestingly this is a result thrown on search of parallel narrative):

Nonlinear narrative, disjointed narrative or disrupted narrative is a narrative technique, sometimes used in literature, film, hypertext websites and other narratives, where events are portrayed, for example out of chronological order, or in other ways where the narrative does not follow the direct causality pattern of the events featured, such as parallel distinctive plot lines, dream immersions or narrating another story inside the main plot-line.


Marginalia refers to text in a text which is in the margins of the primary text. As it does not connote any specific kind of text there, narrative in that space would qualify as marginalia.

One example of this is in the short novel The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker, where the narrator occasionally breaks out into full anecdotes in the footnotes which accompany the narrative, ostensibly supplied by the narrator - who is himself a character in the story, as it is a first-person narrative.

  • I really like this except that it seems to reference notes or illuminations made in the margins of existing texts afterwards and not as part of the main work. Are you sure it would cover what I am talking about? I appreciate you pointing me in this direction since Illuminated text hadn't even occurred to me.
    – Drai
    Jul 16, 2016 at 1:26

I found (and like) the term “nested story” for tales like the Grand Inquisitor in Brothers Karmazvov

  • An answer should answer the question as an expert would, with explanation, context, and any supporting facts that are necessary to show that it is right. Personal opinions, speculation, anecdotes, and general discussion are welcome in English Language & Usage Chat. As it stands, this is purely anecdotal. Please edit and let the world know -- where did you find it? Why is this the correct answer?
    – MetaEd
    Oct 4, 2017 at 19:31

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