Metafiction is a term given to fictional writing which self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its status as an artifact in order to pose questions about the relationship between fiction and reality. In proving a critique of their own methods of construction, such writings not only examine the fundamental structures of narrative fiction, they also explore the possible fictionality of the world outside the literary fictional text." -Patricia Waugh

Classical examples

Maybe the two best known examples are Cervantes' Don Quixote and Hamlet by William Shakespeare.

Don Quixote, who goes mad as a result of reading too much, sees reality through the literary conventions of Arthurian legend and other chivalric romances and can not separate fiction from reality. He is often debates literature in the novel. In the second part of the book, he even questions the veracity of the first part of the book, which had already been published in both the real and the fictional world. He also destroys the printing house where an apocryphal version of the second part (which did circulate in the real world too) is being printed.

Hamlet (the character) shows his uncle a play which has a similar plot to Hamlet (the play) itself. He raises many questions about the relationship between an actor and a character and about life and theater, that are applicable to the play. The play-within-the-play features in other Shakespeare plays too, including A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest.

Jorge Luis Borges has argued that Don Quixote reading Don Quixote and Hamlet watching a play similar to Hamlet make us wonder if we, ourselves, are not fictional characters being read about or watched as well.

Examples in modern literature

Metafictive devices

This section was taken from Wikipedia:Metafiction

  • A novel about a person writing a novel
  • A novel about a person reading a novel
  • A story that addresses the specific conventions of story, such as title, paragraphing or plots.
  • A non-linear novel, which can be read in some order other than beginning to end.
  • Narrative footnotes, which continue the story while commenting on it.
  • A novel in which the author (not merely the narrator) is a character.
  • A movie in which a character reads a fictional story
  • A story that anticipates the reader's reaction to the story.
  • Characters who do things because those actions are what they would expect from characters in a story
  • Characters who express awareness that they are in a work of fiction
  • A work of fiction within a fiction
  • A real pre-existing piece of fiction X, being used within a new piece of fiction Y, to give the illusion that Y's fictional world is "our world".
  • A novel that uses itself as a prop (obejct or literary)

Broader use of the term

This kind of writing can be found widely in Baroque, Modernist and Postmodernist literature. However, some critics, such as Paul de Man, argue that all literature is in fact metafictional, since all literary works are concerned with language and literature itself.

Parallel terms

  • Self-consciousness
  • Arspoetics. Used usually for poetry.
  • Reflexivity. Used usually for cinema and television.

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