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Metafiction: A Literary Experiment: What is Metafiction?

If you're studying your MFA in creative writing, or literature or are interested in postmodern literature, you may have heard of the term "Metafiction". In this post, we will define, understand, and analyze metafiction through examples. We will try to understand what is it, the history behind it and how can we use it in creative writing and in my case in Transgressive and postmodern fiction. Simply put, metafiction refers to a form of fiction that self-consciously acknowledges its status as a constructed literary artifact. It is a type of writing that is aware of itself as a story and addresses the conventions of storytelling and literary devices. This genre of writing is marked by a deliberate departure from traditional narrative techniques and conventions, blurring the lines between reality and fiction.



Definition


Metafiction is a type of fiction that focuses on the act of writing, blurring the lines between fiction and reality, and calling attention to its own artificiality. It is a style of writing that is self-referential and often uses elements of metanarrative, where the author comments on the process of writing and the story itself. This style of writing is meant to challenge the reader's perception of what is real and what is fiction, and to encourage them to question their own assumptions about the nature of storytelling.


History


The term metafiction was first introduced by William H. Gass in 1970. He was a novelist, short story writer, essayist, critic, and philosophy professor from the United States. He wrote three novels, three short story collections, a novella collection, and seven volumes of essays, three of which received National Book Critics Circle Award nominations and one of which, A Temple of Texts (2006), received the Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism. His novel The Tunnel, published in 1995, won the American Book Award. Middle C, his 2013 novel, won the William Dean Howells Medal in 2015.

The roots of metafiction can be traced back to the works

of writers such as Laurence Sterne, who wrote the novel "Tristram Shandy" in the 18th century. In this novel, Sterne subverted traditional narrative techniques and called attention to the process of storytelling, making it a seminal work in the history of metafiction. Other writers who have been associated with metafiction include Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino, and John Barth.


Stylistic Features


Metafiction is characterized by a variety of stylistic features, including self-referentiality, irony, and intertextuality. The author often breaks the fourth wall, acknowledging the reader and the fact that they are reading a work of fiction. The narrative may also be fragmented, non-linear, and self-contradicting, which serves to emphasize the artificiality of the story. Metafiction also frequently incorporates elements of metanarrative, where the author comments on the process of writing and the story itself.


Examples:

Some well-known examples of metafiction include "The Crying of Lot 49" by Thomas Pynchon, "If on a winter's night a traveler" by Italo Calvino, and "Slaughterhouse-Five" by Kurt Vonnegut. Each of these works challenges the reader's understanding of reality and the nature of storytelling, using elements of metafiction to create a unique and thought-provoking literary experience.

Forms of Metafiction


These forms of metafiction are not mutually exclusive and many works of metafiction incorporate elements from several of these forms. The use of these forms varies from author to author and can be used to create a wide range of different effects, from humor and irony to more serious meditations on the nature of reality and storytelling. Forms of Metafiction can be as followed:

  • Self-Referential Narratives: In this form of metafiction, the author refers directly to the story itself and the process of writing, calling attention to the artificiality of the narrative.

  • Intertextuality: This form of metafiction incorporates elements from other texts, often in a self-referential manner, to comment on the nature of storytelling.

  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: This is a form of metafiction in which the narrator or characters directly address the reader, acknowledging their presence and role in the story.

  • Non-Linear Narratives: Metafiction often employs non-linear or fragmented narratives that challenge traditional storytelling structures and conventions.

  • Parody and Satire: Metafiction often uses humor, irony, and satire to comment on the conventions of storytelling and the narrative itself.

  • Magic Realism: This form of metafiction incorporates elements of fantasy and the supernatural into the story, blurring the lines between reality and fiction.

  • Hyperreality: This form of metafiction explores the relationship between reality and media representation, often incorporating elements of media and technology into the story.

  • Experimental Narratives: Metafiction often employs unconventional narrative techniques and styles, breaking away from traditional storytelling structures and conventions.

Tips for how to write metafiction


Metafiction is an experimental form of writing, and there are no strict rules to follow as a form belonging to postmodernism (I explained about this in "Decoding the Complexities of Postmodern Literature: Themes" article and "Transgressive Literature vs. Postmodern Literature: Challenging Norms and Conventions") The most important thing is to have fun with the process and allow yourself to experiment with different forms and techniques. For now, here are some tips for writing metafiction:



  1. Experiment with Narrative Structure: Metafiction often employs unconventional narrative structures, such as non-linear storytelling or fragmented narratives. Consider experimenting with these structures to challenge traditional storytelling conventions.

  2. Self-Referentiality: Use self-referential elements in your writing, such as acknowledging the reader, breaking the fourth wall, or commenting on the process of writing.

  3. Play with Reality and Fiction: Explore the relationship between reality and fiction in your writing, blurring the lines between the two and calling attention to the artificiality of the story.

  4. Incorporate Intertextuality: Consider incorporating elements from other texts, such as references to other works or literary devices, to create a sense of intertextuality and comment on the nature of storytelling.

  5. Use Irony and Humor: Metafiction often employs humor, irony, and satire to comment on the conventions of storytelling and the narrative itself. Consider using these elements in your writing to create a sense of self-awareness and distance from the story.

  6. Experiment with Point of View: Consider experimenting with different points of view, such as first-person or second-person, to create a unique and self-referential narrative.

  7. Embrace Ambiguity: Metafiction often leaves room for interpretation and ambiguity, so consider leaving some elements of your story open to interpretation.

  8. Revise and Refine: Metafiction often requires a great deal of revision and refinement, as the author works to balance the self-referential elements with the story itself. Take the time to revise and refine your writing to ensure that the self-referential elements enhance the story and do not detract from it.

Metafiction is a fascinating and innovative form of fiction that pushes the boundaries of conventional storytelling. By calling attention to the process of writing and the artificiality of the story, it invites the reader to question their own assumptions about reality and the nature of fiction. Whether you are a fan of this genre or not, it is undeniable that metafiction has had a profound impact on modern literature and continues to inspire new generations of writers. Tell us how your writing is related to metafiction?

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