Monday, April 11, 2016

Where the White Rabbit Leads: Thoughts on Metafiction

As I've explored various stories through writing and reading, I realized I enjoy metafiction quite a lot. If you don't know what metafiction is, here's a quick definition from wikipedia:

Metafiction is a literary device used self-consciously and systematically to draw attention to a work's status as an artifact. It poses questions about the relationship between fiction and reality, usually using irony and self-reflection. It... forces readers to be aware that they are reading a fictional work.

I am familiar with the term "meta" since there is a whole class of gamers called metagamers. Another quick definition from wikipedia:

Metagaming is the use of out-of-game information or resources to affect one's in-game decisions.

As an avid gamer, I make use of metagaming quite often through the use of various resources my characters would not have access to such as walkthroughs, character builds, etc. There are some gamers who do not use these types of things, preferring instead to experience the game without any knowledge beyond what they experience in the game.

Both ways of playing are perfectly fine. There are times I don't metagame at all because I want to experience the story of a game without worrying about the mechanics, but other times I want to know what my character doesn't so I can make the best use of my character's time, resources, and decisions. In short, I don't want my game to be sunk by a poor choice early on.

In some books, the best way to make use of the story's elements is to also think outside-the-page and use metafiction. In the story I created that got me my agent, I wrote about a book that is too tired to tell a story. The first page is a letter to the reader asking them to come back later.

The story immediately jumps into metafiction, but will the intended audience (kids!) really think that way? Some, maybe, but the wonderful thing about children readers is they don't limit there thinking to "meta" or normal. They are much more accepting of all possibilities... even a book writing a letter to them.


Maybe I like metafiction so much because it stretches the imagination of young readers, while respecting the intelligence and experience of older ones.

As a child, my first experience with meta-fiction was The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone. It's a story that stuck with me from an early age and one I've shared with my niece and nephew, who also enjoy it immensely (along with The Book with No Pictures, and other metafiction stories). Why do all three of us enjoy these types of tales?

The humor is probably the biggest draw and interactivity is another. Many metafiction books engage the funny bone and/or involve the reader in some way in the story. They draw us into their blatantly fictional worlds and make us part of them. They help us suspend our disbelief by shattering the fourth-wall between us and the story. They draw us down the rabbit hole... into a Wonderland where anything is possible... a tale about a monster who worries about the monster at the end of the book, a picture book without any pictures in it, or even a book that is too tired to tell a story.

Bunny Run

So, has the white rabbit lead you to any good metafiction books lately? If so, then share them here as I'm always looking for more to read.


  1. I have never defined it this way, but I appreciate how much using a system, whatever system you resonate to, is the key to make consistent work habits.