Created By: Shnakepup on March 14, 2012 Last Edited By: Shnakepup on November 30, 2012

Ascended Frame Story

When the frame story becomes the main story

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Main
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Trope
A Framing Device is most commonly represented as a "story within a story": the main story exists as a tale being told within an overarching frame story. For example, a mother telling her child a fairy tale or an old man recounting his memories of a war.

Usually, the main story takes up the majority of the narrative, with the framing story just being a shell - in other words, the only purpose of the framing story is to give structure and context to the main story, analogous to a literal picture frame that holds a photograph/illustration.

This trope, however, is when the frame story suddenly takes over, replacing or becoming the main story. When the story of mother and the child becomes the main focus, showing that the fairy tales are their way of coping with the poverty of their real lives, or when the story of the war veteran takes over, showing how the old man struggles to relate to a world that seems to have moved on and forgotten his sacrifices.

Compare In Medias Res and How We Got Here.

Examples:

Film
  • The film Forrest Gump starts off with Forrest recounting his life story to the strangers sitting next to him at a busstop. In this way, the movie is primarily a series of flashbacks, with the Framing Device being Forrest talking to people at the busstop. 3/4ths of the way through the movie, though, Forrest suddenly realizes he doesn't need to ride the bus anyway. The movie then starts following Forrest's life in the "present".
  • The Emperor's New Groove spends most of its runtime explaining how Kuzco became a llama and stranded in the jungle during a rainstorm. The remaining 1/4th involves Kuzco and Pacha reconciling and looking for a way to restore Kuzco's human form.
  • In the short film The Cat with Hands, the movie starts off with an older gentleman telling his younger companion the story of the eponymous cat. The film ends with the cat getting the last part he needs from the narrator.
  • A Cock And Bull Story is a Mockumentary about the making of a film adaptation of novel Tristram Shandy, which is itself a book about writing a book. The film begins focusing on the story of Tristram Shandy then gradually shifts to being about the problems of making the film itself.
  • In Heavy Metal, the young girl who's being terrorized by the Loc-Nar's creepy stories inherits Taarna's role as a protector/avenger at the film's end, and the resulting resonance between her ascension and Taarna's Heroic Sacrifice destroys the evil sphere.

Literature
  • The novel Hyperion by Dan Simmons uses the framing device of a series of passengers on a journey telling each other their stories, a la The Canterbury Tales. The entire novel is taken up by their flashbacks, taking place in the past. However, the sequel, The Fall Of Hyperion, then follows the pilgrims in the present, showing what happens after their journey.
  • Interview with the Vampire: After the titular interview, the interviewer begs to be made a vampire himself, gets attacked by Louis. AND The Queen of the Damned, the direct sequel to The Vampire Lestat (which has a framing device which ends in a Cliffhanger), drops the framing device of the previous book entirely.
  • In Michael Flynn's The January Dancer, the harper arrives at the bar to tease an old story out of the scarred man. It slowly becomes clear that she is looking for her own history and for information she needs to do something now.
  • The Arabian Nights may qualify, depending on how you measure the significance of the frame's ending (when its a Happily Ever After conclusion).

Videogames
  • Assassin's Creed. While the individual games are about Desmond's ancestors Altair, Ezio, and Conner, the series itself is about Desmond. The stories of Desmond's ancestors only contribute to the finale of Desmond's own story.
  • The Infocom text adventure A Mind Forever Voyaging. The player character is an AI which is able to accurately simulate the future to see how the government's economic plan will work out. Most of the game takes place in the projected future, then the finale takes place in the complex that houses the AI.

Western Animation
  • "Gump Roast" from The Simpsons starts off with Homer telling Chief Wiggum about his past, before being taken to a roast at the Friars' Club for the remainder of the episode. The first part is modelled after the Forrest Gump example, so of course it is lampshaded by Wiggum, who addresses Homer as "Forrest Plump" and tells him it's illegal to impersonate movie characters.

Needs More Examples. Probably Needs a Better Name.
Community Feedback Replies: 33
  • March 14, 2012
    Aries
    • Assassin's Creed is a subversion. While the individual games are about Altair and/or Ezio (and now Conner), the series itself is about Desmond. The stories of Desmond's ancestors only contribute to the finale of Desmond's own story.
  • March 14, 2012
    Treblain
    The name is a little misleading; I thought it meant that over time the frame story got used less and less, rather than the frame story taking over.

    I think Final Fantasy X is another example, but someone else is going to need to provide the details better than me. Heck, a lot of How We Got Here stories would count.
  • March 15, 2012
    Duncan
    I agree the name is misleading, it makes me think of the Christopher Sly frame story from The Taming Of The Shrew, which is just never resolved. Maybe Ascended Frame Story would be good?

    • Interview With The Vampire: After the titular interview, the interviewer begs to be made a vampire himself, gets attacked by Louis. AND The Queen of the Damned, the direct sequel to The Vampire Lestat (which has a framing device which ends in a Cliff Hanger), drops the framing device of the previous book entirely.
  • March 15, 2012
    Shnakepup
    Ah, I hadn't considered the other implication of the name. Yeah, I'll go with Ascended Frame Story for now.
  • March 29, 2012
    Alvin
    Not to be overly critical, but unless the frame story is simply dropped, like The Taming Of The Shrew mentioned above, wouldn't the frame story have to 'ascend' at the very end to, well, end? Possible examples of what I mean: Literature: One Thousand And One Arabian Nights, has, I think, a coda at end telling us the caliph/sultan/dunno dies somehow and Scheherazade and her sister survive . Live-Action Movie: Tales Of The Darkside has a, in a way similar, frame story in which a boy reads a housewife stories from one of her favorite books so she won't [[cook him just yet: I Am A Humanitarian]] . When she's had enough stories he tries something else which succeeds . Maybe it matters how much care the creators take in wrapping it all up?
  • March 29, 2012
    Alvin
    Me again, an example which I think bypasses my previous criticism: Live-Action Movie: the original Creepshow had as its framing story a kid reading the other stories in a EC-type horror comic. The movie ends with the kid buying a voodoo doll from the ads and using it on his father, I think, and something happens to the comic.
  • March 29, 2012
    Koveras
    Kinda what happens in Max Payne 2: Max narrates how he ended up in the Manor, but the Narrated!Max first explains how he ended up in the hospital. When the Narrated!Narrated!Max finishes his story, the Narrated!Max starts kicking ass in Max's story, eventually ending up in the Manor.
  • March 30, 2012
    Shnakepup
    To clarify: this isn't "something happens in the frame story at the very end" (like in Alvin's Creepshow example), this is "the frame story becomes the main story".
  • March 30, 2012
    Duncan
    The film Cat's Eye, based on 3 Stephen King short stories [1], has a framing device of a cat traveling a long distance, and who gets tangentially involved in the first two stories, but then is a major character in the 3rd story.
  • March 30, 2012
    cygnavamp
    • The Neverending Story. Sebastian learns he's the hero the characters in the book he's reading are looking for.
  • March 30, 2012
    MorganWick
    Needs to be distinguished from stuff that just starts In Medias Res and then has a flashback (I thought we had a trope for that...)
  • April 5, 2012
    WackyMeetsPractical
  • April 9, 2012
    Shnakepup
    @MorganWick - Any suggestions on how to do that? To me they seem clearly different, but I can't think of a way to articulate it...best thing I can think of is that In Medias Res and How We Got Here necessarily involve flashbacks, usually involving the same characters (or at least taking place within the same world).

    The trope that I'm going for here is a bit more general, since it doesn't require that one story be a flashback or something.
  • April 9, 2012
    NESBoy
    The Emperors New Groove spends most of its runtime explaining how Kuzco became a llama and stranded in the jungle during a rainstorm. The remaining 1/4th involves Kuzco and Pacha reconciling and looking for a way to restore Kuzco's human form.
  • June 19, 2012
    Shnakepup
    Bump...
  • June 20, 2012
    surgoshan
    In Medias Res and How We Got Here can both be framing devices.

    In Medias Res can be "start at the middle, go back to the beginning, then wrap it up", in which case it's a framing device. You can in fact set the middle opening so late in the story that it's just a modified "I'm here to tell you a story" frame, only the author might dispense with the hero (or narrator) telling the story and rely on the medium making the flashback nature of the frame clear (ie. "three weeks earlier", with a swish-pan).

    However, In Medias Res need not qualify; Kill Bill Vol 1 begins IMR, then flashes back to the beginning, then catches up to the opening, but the film ends, and Vol 2 picks up where 1 left off. Whereas Pulp Fiction definitely begins IMR, but doesn't count as a framing device because it's really two stories only tangentially related through a tertiary character told in Anachronic Order.

    A Framing Device bookends your main story. Ascended Frame Story would be when the back half of the frame has its own climactic event, or even the only climax of the entire story. If the kid goes to Fantasy Land and comes back with confidence, which he only demonstrates by making a sweet jump with his bike... not an Ascended Frame. If he makes that sweet jump, then deals with his bullies, then stands firm to his overbearing parents, then deals with the mean teacher... that still might not qualify, unless one of those is clearly his principal antagonist and the resolution clearly a climactic event.

    In short, the back half of the frame cannot be a mere coda, epilogue, or single chapter. It has to be multiple chapters indicating that the main thread of the story should be considered to have occurred within the frame. It's a judgment call, of course, but a good rule of thumb: Forrest Gump, ascended frame, The Pagemaster, not an ascended frame.

    It'll need a better example than The Pagemaster; I doubt that's popular enough to be a good example.
  • June 29, 2012
    Goldfritha
    Literature
    • In Michael Flynn's The January Dancer, the harper arrives at the bar to tease an old story out of the scarred man. It slowly becomes clear that she is looking for her own history and for information she needs to do something now.
  • July 16, 2012
    Shnakepup
    Bump
  • August 2, 2012
    Doxiedame
    This can even happen in short films. In "The Cat With Hands", the movie starts off with an older gentleman telling his younger companion the story of the eponymous cat. The film ends with the cat getting the last part he needs from the narrator.
  • August 29, 2012
    NateTheGreat
    Is this about frame stories or flashbacks? 'Cause they're not exactly the same thing.
  • August 31, 2012
    Shnakepup
    It's not either/or. Frame stories can involve flashbacks. The trope I'm going for here is when the frame story becomes the main story. So the story may initially start of with flashbacks but then move back into the present and continue on from there (like the Forrest Gump example).
  • September 14, 2012
    abk0100
    I don't get the Assassin's Creed example. Why is that a subversion, and not just a straight example?
  • September 15, 2012
    robinjohnson
    • A Cock And Bull Story is a mock-documentary about making a film adaptation of Tristram Shandy, which is itself a book about writing a book. The film begins focusing on the story of Tristram Shandy, then gradually shifts to being about the problems of making the film.
  • September 15, 2012
    robinjohnson
    • The Infocom text adventure A Mind Forever Voyaging: the player character is an AI which is able to accurately simulate the future to see how the government's economic plan will work out. Most of the game takes place in the projected future, then the finale takes place in the complex that houses the AI.
  • September 15, 2012
    SharleeD
    • In Heavy Metal, the young girl who's being terrorized by the Loc-Nar's creepy stories inherits Taarna's role as a protector/avenger at the film's end, and the resulting resonance between her ascension and Taarna's Heroic Sacrifice destroys the evil sphere.
  • September 15, 2012
    Shnakepup
    @ abk0100 - I'll change the example. I wasn't familiar with it and I think I just straight copy/pasted the example.
  • September 15, 2012
    abk0100
    I was kind of hoping for someone to explain it, since I wasn't sure if I was missing something. But if no one else thinks it's a subversion either, I won't worry about.
  • September 18, 2012
    NESBoy
    • "Gump Roast" from The Simpsons starts off with Homer telling Chief Wiggum about his past, before being taken to a roast at the Friars' Club for the remainder of the episode. The first part is modelled after the Forrest Gump example, so of course it is lampshaded by Wiggum, who addresses Homer as "Forrest Plump" and tells him it's illegal to impersonate movie characters.
  • September 18, 2012
    axordil
  • September 19, 2012
    Shnakepup
    Can you elaborate? I'm not familiar with the story.

    If it's just the frame story wrapping up, that's not really enough to qualify for this trope. Nearly all frame stories eventually wrap up in some way. This trope is when the frame story kind of "takes over" and becomes the main story.
  • September 20, 2012
    axordil
    From The Other Wiki: The main frame story concerns a Persian king and his new bride. He is shocked to discover that his brother's wife is unfaithful; discovering his own wife's infidelity has been even more flagrant, he has her executed: but in his bitterness and grief decides that all women are the same. The king, Shahryar, begins to marry a succession of virgins only to execute each one the next morning, before she has a chance to dishonour him. Eventually the vizier, whose duty it is to provide them, cannot find any more virgins. Scheherazade, the vizier's daughter, offers herself as the next bride and her father reluctantly agrees. On the night of their marriage, Scheherazade begins to tell the king a tale, but does not end it. The king is thus forced to postpone her execution in order to hear the conclusion. The next night, as soon as she finishes the tale, she begins (and only begins) a new one, and the king, eager to hear the conclusion, postpones her execution once again. So it goes on for 1,001 nights.

    The different versions have different individually detailed endings (in some Scheherazade asks for a pardon, in some the king sees their children and decides not to execute his wife, in some other things happen that make the king distracted) but they all end with the king giving his wife a pardon and sparing her life.

    (me again) It's a case where the frame story really is the motivation for the rest of the stories, so I'm not really sure it ascends...it's *always* the main story really.
  • October 12, 2012
    saintdane05
  • November 30, 2012
    justanid
    • Happens in Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer with the Narrator being none other than Kelemvor, god of death. Whom you meet in person, as major part of the climax.

    What about Gilded Framing Device, like those old fashioned giant frames that came with a tiny painting?
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