Specifically, I am thinking of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, in which there is a 3rd person narrator referring to the Ancient Mariner who is telling a story to somebody else. The whole story is basically the Ancient Mariner's but told in this fashion via a 3rd person.


The literary work used _______ ; a method of telling a story within a story

  • ah, it appears that it may be called a "frame story" can anybody verify this? – Blaine Oct 30 '16 at 13:34
  • What about meta-fiction or a story within a story – BladorthinTheGrey Oct 30 '16 at 13:36
  • Metafiction seems to be more a form of satire? I was hoping for a more literary term than "story within a story", but that might be the most accurate, haha – Blaine Oct 30 '16 at 13:43
  • Well, those are the two that spring to mind. I'll turn story within a story into an answer. – BladorthinTheGrey Oct 30 '16 at 13:44
  • You might also want to read frame story – BladorthinTheGrey Oct 30 '16 at 13:46

A story within a story might seem a bit simplistic but hits the nail on the head. The Wikipedia page also refers to the phenomenon as a 'nested story'.

If you want to seem a bit more academic, then the term I recommend is embedding.

The most widely-accepted use of the term 'embedding' in the context of narrative theory is to designate the literary device of the 'story within a story', the structure by which a character in the narrative text becomes the narrator of a second narrative text, framed by the first one

(Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory)

The same encyclopaedia also talks about 'frame theory' which is worth a read.


The mise-en-abyme is the literary term for a story within a story.

image within an image : story within a story

  • 1
    Welcome to ELU, please add sources to support your answers. – JJ for Transparency and Monica Apr 3 '18 at 18:01
  • While I can't comment on this as jargon, I can say with certainty that I wouldn't recognize or understand it in normal speech. I'd be more likely to think you sneezed. – Kamil Drakari Apr 4 '18 at 16:06

There's also: frame narrative
frame story

Frame narrative: A story in which another story is enclosed or embedded as a ‘tale within the tale’, or which contains several such tales.
The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms

Frame story/narrative


"We have already introduced the general notion of enunciative level, relative to the use of direct speech in a text. Narrative levels are simply enunciative levels where the quoted speech is a narrative. A character in a story tells a story (about his past, for instance, or a fictional story) and that story is situated at a narrative level which is secondary with respect to the main story.

What Genette calls intradiegetic story is a story within a story,

not only in the sense that the first frames it with a preamble and a conclusion . . . but also in the sense that the narrator of the second narrative is already a character in the first one, and that the act of narrating which produces the second narrative is an event recounted in the first one." (https://www.unizar.es/departamentos/filologia_inglesa/garciala/publicaciones/structuralnarratology/4.Narration/4.6.Embedding.html)

These are notes from the above link, I hope they help in answering the question.


Consider calling it a nested narrative.

One of the most captivating ways to spin a yarn is to unfold it through a nested narrative, like pulling a series of smaller Russian dolls out of larger Russian dolls. The nested narrative is also known as a story within a story. - Narrative Structures: The Nested Narrative, Or Story Within A Story by James Powell


I don't know if this will help, but it sort of explains everything pretty well:

Also: Definition of Frame Story

Frame story is a story set within a story, narrative or movie told by the main or the supporting character. It occurs within the story or the movie or the narrative and audience comes across it when reading a book or watching a movie. A character starts telling a story to other characters, he would sit down and write a story. This technique is called a frame narrative, or frame story. It is a very popular form of literary technique employed in storytelling and narration.

It is usually found in novels, plays, poems, television, films, musicals and opera. It is a unifying tale within which one or more related stories appear. For instance, in Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus tells about his wandering experience in the court of King Alcinous, or his visit to the island of a sorcerer.

Source: Literary Devices

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