"Man, do you remember that article we wrote about framing devices?" "That was a damn good article. How did it go again?" "Well, I believe it went something like this..."
The Framing Device is a narrative technique in which a story is surrounded ("framed") by a secondary story, creating a story within a story, often through Separate Scene Storytelling. The inner story is usually the bulk of the work. The framing device places the inside story within a different context.
Framing devices typically involve outer-story characters as the audience of the inner story, such as a parent reading a bedtime story to a child. Other times, the outer-story character is the author of, or a performer in, the inner story. Occasionally, the inner story is a hallucination or delusion experienced by one of the outer-story characters.
The inner story does not need to be a work of fiction from an frame-story character's point of view: letters, journals, and memoirs can also be used as framing devices, often in the form of Day In The Life.
Anthologies and Clip Shows often use framing devices to connect the unrelated elements into a unified whole. The earlier "Treehouse of Terror" specials of The Simpsons use a framing device in this way, though the practice was eventually abandoned.
Occasionally, an entire series can use a persistent Framing Device, such as Cro, which was framed by a recently thawed mammoth, who was telling the stories which composed the bulk of each episode. A noteworthy example from the days of radio is Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, whose stories were told in the form of explanations to a private detective's expense account. To a lesser extent, devices such as the Captain's Log can be viewed as a Framing Device, especially when (as in many Star Trek: The Original Series episodes) they appear to have been written after the fact.
The Framing Device is Older Than Dirt: It goes right back to the Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt with the "Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor", c. 2300-2100 BC. Sometimes the trope is written using nested framing devices that are several layers deep, as in the Arabian Nights. Frankenstein is framed by a story of an arctic expedition coming across the dying Dr. Frankenstein; The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is framed by the mariner foisting his story on an unwilling wedding guest. One of the first (if not the first) examples in film is from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which (on a suggestion from Fritz Lang) framed the original story as a flashback in an asylum.
The technique sometimes seems to be a byproduct of an ancient notion that it was improper to waste people's time with lengthy fabrications.
This is frequently used as a technique to highlight that the narrator of the framed story is not the actual author, and so draw attention to the possibility of an Unreliable Narrator.
See Whole Episode Flashback, Storybook Opening, How We Got Here and Nostalgic Narrator for more specific examples. When framing devices are stacked on top of each other, they create a Nested Story. If the existence of a framing device is used as a Plot Twist, we're dealing with a Nested Story Reveal. If the framing story is "I came across this story and decided to publish it", the author is invoking the Literary Agent Hypothesis.
Compare Intro-Only Point of View.
"Hmm, not bad, not bad at all. But can you give me a few examples of it?"
"Maybe one or two..."
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Anime and Manga
A particularly ingenious version of this is used in Martian Successor Nadesico, in an inversion of its Show Within a Show relationship with Gekiganger 3 — it airs as an episode of Gekiganger in which its characters are watching Nadesico. It manages to lampshade the Recap Episode when one of the Gekiganger characters complains that nothing new happens in them, and it's an excuse for the production company to take a break.
Tenchi Muyo! Extra Chapter: Galaxy Police Mihoshi's Space Adventure (a.k.a. Mihoshi Special) is framed by Mihoshi telling the story to the other characters from the original OAV series. Most of the characters in the "inner" story are Alternate Continuity versions of them.
Baccano!! uses this both in the anime and the first of the Light Novels, though in different ways. The anime starts with the Vice President of the Daily Days and his young assistant trying to make sense the bizarre history of the last three years. The book starts with the conta Ŕ oro of the Martillo family (eventually revealed to be Firo rather than the assumed Maiza) relaying the 1930 story to a Japanese tourist in the present.
Monster opens with a passage from Revelations which puts the actions of the series it parallels in a very different context.
The story of the manga Not Simple is told as a reporter named Jim writes a book (also titled Not Simple) detailing the many trials of the protagonist's life.
Jing King Of Bandits: Seventh Heaven is a 3-episode OVA series in which the first and third episodes act as a frame for the second one.
Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo frequently has a theater (conveniently placed in the main character's head) which plays various films, directly cutting into plot points in the middle of episodes, done mainly for the Rule of Funny.
Conan by Dark Horse Comics. The actual stories are framed by the tale of an Eastern Prince of a less ancient (but still pre-Gutenberg) era that discovers the Nemedian Chronicles (maybe the "Know, o Prince" line gave them the idea).
Many horror comics had framing devices in which the comic had a "host" who would welcome the reader into their domain, and start to tell this month's story. EC Comics was best known for this, with their most famous being the Cryptkeeper. DC Comics used the device a lot, with most of their hosts going on to become supporting characters in The Sandman.
The Sandman itself used this a few times, most notably in the "World's End" arc, which featured a framing device of characters swapping stories in an Inn Between the Worlds.
Dragon Ball Z Abridged: Episode of Bardock reveals at the end that all of the events were part of a story told to Gohan by his father in a dream. The other movies that don't fall into canon are stated or implied at various times to be movies, written by Krillin, produced by Nappa, and watched on TV by Vegeta.
The Mass Effect fic The Translation in Blood frames the backstory of Rear Admiral Hannah Shepard (Commander Shepard's mother if you chose the Spacer background) and Councilor Sparatus as Hannah, during the early days of the Reaper War in Mass Effect 3, looking back on the First Contact War 35 years earlier. The fic switches back to the present for the last quarter or so of the story.
The Infinite Loops began when the multiverse computer system suffered a system crash and neccessitated the induction of time loops while the admins scrambled to repair things. The actual STORY is really a bunch of people screwing with their own canon in any way they see fit.
The story The Quiet Fox is predominantly told in flashback with each flashback chapter narrated by a different character. Sasuke's chapter is particularly memorable.
Redaction Of The Golden Witch is presented as a critical analysis of an unpopular Forgery based off the events of Umineko: When They Cry. The author personally believes that the reason this particular Forgery breaks from established storytelling patterns is because it's actually a confession related to another incident that occured on the island in 1996.
From Bajor to the Black frames vignettes of Eleya becoming first a Bajoran Militia NCO, then a Starfleet officer, and finally a commanding officer, with Eleya answering unheard interview questions from journalist Jake Sisko.
Film - Animated
Aladdin begins with a peddler selling a magic lamp and proceeding to tell the story of the fortune it brought its previous owner. The third film, Aladdin and the King of Thieves, ends with the same peddler bidding the viewers farewell with a reprise of Aladdin's opening song, "Arabian Nights."
One of the proposed endings of the framing device was revealing that the peddler was in fact the Genie, which explains why only these two are four-fingered when everyone else is five: because they were the same character. It also explains why the peddler has the lamp, as obviously Aladdin wouldn't have sold or thrown away a memento of his best friend.
The children's movie Balto begins and ends with live-action sequences, where a grandmother is explaining to her granddaughter about the influenza epidemic that led to the creation of the Iditarod dog sled race in Alaska. The end sequence, where they visit the statue erected to honor the dogs who heroically brought the medicine the town needed, reveals that the grandmother is actually Rosie, the little girl who almost died.
The film Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders features an elderly man telling his grandson horror stories. This became especially surreal when the film got the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment, since MST3K also uses a framing device (in this case, people held captive in a sadistic space-cinema), resulting in story within a framing device within a framing device!
The Princess Bride (movie version) is framed as a book being read by a grandfather to his sick grandson.
The Framing Device in Titanic is elderly Rose telling her story.
Stand by Me is framed by the Writer (aka the adult Gordy) reacting to the news of his friend Chris being stabbed to death.
The movie adaptation of Of Mice and Men with Gary Sinise starts and ends with George on a train, recalling the events that led to Lenny's death.
The story of the Bell family in An American Haunting is told through a letter written in the 1800s that is found more than a century later.
The Usual Suspects is told as a testimony given by one of the story's main characters to the police who are interrogating him.
Little Big Man is framed by the very elderly main character, Jack Crabb, being interviewed (in a nursing home) by a collector of oral histories, about his younger life.
The Autobiography Of Miss Jane Pittman is another interview-framed film. The interview takes place in 1962, when Miss Pittman is 110 years old. Her memories extend back to before the American Civil War.
Kind Hearts and Coronets is framed by the main character writing his memoirs as he waits in prison to be executed for a murder he did not commit. The memoir details the eight murders he did commit.
300 uses this coupled with Unreliable Narrator and possibly a kind of unreliable listener, as the events depicted in the Flashbacks are very over the top. The story is told by the sole surviving member of Leonidas' 300 Spartans, who was sent back to Sparta to tell the tale before the Final Battle. At the beginning we see him telling the story at a campfire before a group of Spartans, missing an eye (which he still has in the flashbacks). At the end we find he was telling it to inspire his men before the Battle of Plataea.
The Prestige features a framing device within a framing device, as Borden reads in Angier's diary about Angier reading his diary.
Mystery Team begins and ends with the Mystery Team investigating a case.
Big Trouble in Little China begins with old Egg Shen telling the entire story to a lawyer, but it's a pretty pointless sequence that has no consequences on the rest of the plot.
Forrest Gump is mostly framed by Forrest telling his life story to random strangers while waiting for the bus, which also servers as a very long How We Got Here.
The script in Bad Education. The inner story is about Ignacio's past and history with Father Manolo and his time as a transvestite. The outer story is about ┴ngel in the present trying to get Enrique to adapt his script to film.
Broadway Danny Rose is told this way. A group of people has gathered around a table, recalling the events that make up the movie.
The bulk of Vanilla Sky is framed as David telling his story to a psychologist while in prison. Much of the narration even sounds muffled due to David wearing a mask at the time.
The Disney film Lt Robin Crusoe USN opens with the title character (played by Dick Van Dyke) writing to his fiance about where he's been, and why he missed their wedding. It closes with him finishing the letter.
Iron Man 3 is framed as Tony recounting the events of the film from When It All Began to how it ended. As it turns out, he was telling the story to Bruce Banner attempting to play the role of psychiatrist, even though Bruce isn't that kind of doctor.
In Brazilian film Carlota Joaquina - Princesa do Brazil, the story of the title character is told by a Scot to his daughter (who also plays young Carlota).
Road Trip uses Barry's college tour as a framing device to recount the events of the road trip.
The Hobbit film trilogy seems to use this technique by using Bilbo's writing down of his adventure to the Lonely Mountain into the Red Book on his 110th birthday. It cleverly uses it to help establish the relationship between Frodo and Bilbo and the fact that they live together, which was never really done in the The Lord of the Rings.
The Lone Ranger: A young boy listens to the story of the Lone Ranger being told by an aged Tonto.
The very strange and fortunately all but forgotten Martin Short film Clifford is framed by Short made up as a very old man being describing his childhood. The main story thus framed involves the bratty prepubescent child, played by Martin Short.
In Michael Ende's The Neverending Story, Bastian's story is initially used as a frame for Atreyu's, as Bastian reads a stolen storybook. When Bastian finds that the book he is reading contains descriptions of his own life and actions, the line between framing and framed story becomes blurry.
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar by Roald Dahl has two layers of framing.
I, Robot, a collection of short stories by Isaac Asimov, uses the framing device of an interview with famed roboticist Susan Calvin to connect the various stories.
One Thousand and One Nights is a collection of Arabic folktales connected by a framing device. Shahryar has decided to marry (and execute) a new woman each day. His newest wife, Scheherazade prolongs her own life by telling her murderous husband fantastical stories, each of which ends with a promise of an even more amazing tale. Some of Scheherazade's stories are framing stories themselves; One Thousand and One Nights contains triple- and quadruple-nested framing devices. This made it dead easy for the Nights to be expanded with supplemental material over the course of its many editions.
It's possible that Chaucer was familiar with Boccaccio's Decameron, featuring a group of young men and women retreating to a country estate to avoid the plague and passing the time by telling stories as a framing device.
Poul Anderson's The High Crusade uses this twice: the action is framed as being the chronicle written by a monk, which in turn is framed as a translation by a group encountering the subjects of the story.
The Pink Carnation books, featuring the successor to The Scarlet Pimpernel, has a framing device in which a modern-day grad student in England is researching the Carnation's exploits, with the help of another spy's descendant.
Peter Pays Tribute is split between the story, and the story the main character is writing.
The Book of Lost Tales—the original draft of the book that would later be published as The Silmarillion—employs a Framing Device in which a Man from England, Ălfwine/Eriol, discovers the lost island of the Elves and is told the ancient tales of their folk by a succession of characters.
Lampshaded in a later chapter of Sophie's World. The Philosopher, after coming to the conclusion that they are characters in a book written by a UN Major for his daughter's fifteenth birthday, says that the latter two shouldn't get too cocky either, because even they themselves might be just a Framing Device... which they are, of course.
Joseph Conrad's stories Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim both employ this: the former having the story told by Marlow to a group of people on a boat, the latter having the story told once again by Marlow first at a dinner party, then later through a letter. The second example is notable in that Marlow's recollections are mixed in with those of other people telling Marlow the details of Jim's various misadventures, which fits into the book's themes involving unreliable narrators.
Robin Hobb in her Farseer trilogy uses a framing device of the protagonist writing down his memoirs (which is probably the most common framing device of them all). It's played with a bit: the narrator makes occasional references implying that he's writing as an old man, housebound by the ravages of age. The end of the last book reveals that he's still quite young; his life has been that rough on him.
The same framing device is used in Mika Waltari's The Egyptian.
Plato's Symposium is doubly framed, with Apollodorus telling his companion a story that Aristodemus had told him, and which he had already told once to Glaucon. Then everyone gets drunk.
Dan Simmons's Hyperion (first novel of the Hyperion Cantos) is more or less explicitly based on Chaucer's Canterbury TalesIN SPACE!, down to the fact that the storytellers are on a pilgrimage. Literary allusions and Genius Bonuses abound. As it turns out, the stories framed all shed light on the frame story, and the sequel The Fall of Hyperion picks up from the end of the frame story.
Jack Higgins's Second World War espionage thrillers The Eagle Has Landed and The Eagle Has Flown are framed by the conceit that Higgins himself has stumbled upon evidence of never-before-revealed plots from the war some 30 or so years later.
The Autobiography Of Miss Jane Pittman, a story about a 110 year old woman who lived from slavery to the civil rights movement, has a framing story that a teacher is interviewing Jane to tell his students about her.
The above mentioned Frankenstein actually has framing devices nested three deep at the point where the monster tells his own story to Victor; Victor is talking to the Arctic explorer Robert Walton, who's writing a letter to his sister. There is actually a thematic reason for the Walton frame: Walton is in danger of turning out like Victor, but in the end he gives up his crazy ambitions and goes home to his family.
World War Z is briefly framed as initially being for a report on the zombie war, but when the author handed it in to his superiors, they said it was too personal. So he made it into a book.
The Sherlock Holmes novels A Study in Scarlet and The Valley of Fear use the stories of Holmes solving a mystery as frames for the perpetrators telling their stories of why they done it.
Similarly, Holmes's investigation in the short story The Crooked Man is a Framing Device for a story about a soldier in India, and his involvement in The Adventure of the Gloria Scott is entirely incidental.
Shutter Island is presented as Dr. Sheehan's desire to set the record straight at last.
In the novel version of The Princess Bride, the actual author explains that he's condensing the original book, by "S. Morgenstern".
The Name of the Wind has Kvothe narrating his story to a scribe. The book is the first in a trilogy, and each book is a day's worth of narration.
In the novel Slumdog Millionaire the hero of the story, Raj Mohammed Thomas, frames the story as testimony to the police who have arrested him.
Mil Millington's A Certain Chemistry is framed by God telling us how all our emotions, actions and thoughts are governed by our bodies' chemistries, using the main character's story (in which a writer cheats on his girlfriend with a soap star) to illustrate his points.
The Dinotopia prequel First Flight is told as a story that one of the main characters from the main book is studying.
The first and fourth books are also presented as journals the author had discovered.
The Time Machine by H. G. Wells is told through a guest at the Time Traveller's party, who for all but the first two chapters and the final chapter is taking dictation from the Time Traveller.
The "Pendragon" series by D.J. Mac Hale. This is how most of books in the 10 books series are told. The protagonist Bobby Pendragon writes down his thoughts in a sort of diary as a way of organizing his thoughts and keeping himself sane and sends them to his 2 friends back on present-day Earth who read it along with the audience. Though some of the 5th book and all of the 10th are in his first-person point of view.
House of Leaves takes this trope to Mind Screw levels. It's about a supernatural house, which is documented by the house's owner, Navidson. The documentary is described in a massive, incomplete essay by Zampano. The essay is edited and commented upon by Johnny Truant, who also relays his own story in the footnotes. Truant's story is commented upon by the book's editors. There's a lot of Unreliable Narrator to be had all around.
Several Redwall books are framed by an Abbeydweller telling a story to a group of Dibbuns. At the end, a character from the framed story would turn out to be the Narrator All Along.
Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All is framed as the 99-year-old narrator, Lucy, telling stories of her life (and the lives of many people she's known) to a journalist interviewing her. The stories get more personal, revealing, and risky as the book progresses, until The Reveal in the penultimate chapter.
Older Than Dirt: The Egyptian Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor, from the 6th dynasty (c. 2300-2100 BCE) in the Old Kingdom, is framed by the sailor explaining his survival to an official, and the official telling him not to overstep his station by dispensing advice.
Animorphs had The Hork-Bajir Chronicles framed as a story the Hork-Bajir were telling Tobias.
The Andalite Chronicles is presented as Elfangor's last testament (known by Andalites as a hirac delest), given in the final moments of his life. Visser has, by far, the most in-depth one, switching back and forth between Visser One's memories and her present-day trial. Finally, The Ellimist Chronicles is narrated to a then-unnamed dying Animorph, indicating that at least one of them will be die.
The Warrior Cats guidebooks Code of the Clans and Battles of the Clans are framed as the reader being a cat that visits the Clans, with the beginning and ending, and a few chapters inside the book, set up this way. In Code, Leafpool tells them stories about the warrior code, and in Battles, they visit all four Clans and attend a Gathering, not only listening to stories told by cats, but also being visited by deceased warriors in their dreams for stories that the current Clans couldn't possibly know.
Though the frame of Margaret's story in The Thirteenth Tale is its own story as she goes through her own discovery and development, the business of writing a biography is mainly to tell the story of Vida's past.
Meridion's story in Symphony of Ages is set in an apocalyptic future as he observes and manipulates the past (i.e., the present to the rest of the story) in order to avert the end of the world.
The Go-Between is narrated by an elderly man reminiscing about a summer fifty years earlier. Only at the very end do we see any live action.
In the first Decalog, a psychometrist gets the stories from the things in the Seventh Doctor's pockets (including a scene where the psychometrist "goes deeper" to explain the first person stream-of-consciousness story).
In Short Trips: Repercussions, Charley finds herself on a strange airship full of people who were removed from history as a threat to the Web of Time, and learns their stories.
In Short Trips: Seven Deadly Sins, the Eighth Doctor makes seven jaded and sinful people experience one of his past adventures that illustrates the sin they examplify.
EuroTemps by the Midnight Rose Collective has a framing device of powerful sorcerer and DPR offical Loric looking through reports and using magic to turn them into narratives.
In each book of the Cronus Chronicles, the story is separated into four parts, each with a clever title (ex. in The Shadow Thieves, the parts are called We Start in the Middle, Now the Beginning, The End of the Beginning, and The Beginning of the End).
The Orphan's Tales is about tales told, well, by an orphan. Like an updated version of the Arabian Nights, the four books are framed by the story of the prince who seeks out the outcast orphan by night, and asks to hear her tales, which nest inside one another to sometimes six levels deep.
In The Candlemass Road, the novel is presented as the memoir of Frey Luis Guevara, an elderly priest who witnessed the events.
Winnie the Pooh has the frame of bedtime stories told to Christopher Robin. It's dropped for The House at Pooh Corner.
The Provost's Dog trilogy in the Tortall Universe is framed as a young George Cooper reading a cop ancestor's journal at his mother's insistence, to try and dissuade him from being a thief.
The Last Wish is set up as six short stories framed by "The Voice of Reason", where a priestess treating injuries Geralt sustained in the first of the tales, "The Witcher", asks him to recount some of his adventures to her.
Live Action TV
Most of LOST's flashbacks do not have a Framing Device. The continuous flashbacks, however, do. "Meet Kevin Johnson" is a story Michael is telling Sayid and Desmond. The other ones launch off due to prompting in the frame story: Charlie and Hurley getting Desmond drunk, Locke remembering his death...
The Golden Girls had several episodes constructed of three or four shorter stories, always framed by the girls recalling events fitting a particular theme. (For example, in one episode the girls are dieting, and they recall past attempts at self-improvement.) The show also did several clip shows, in which the framing device was usually a time of crisis, such as Blanche considering selling the house.
The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Trials and Tribble-ations" (in which the cast go back in time to sneak about on Captain Kirk'sEnterprise) is framed with Sisko is recounting the events of the episode to agents from the Department of Temporal Investigations.
Also the episode "Necessary Evil".
And let's not forget the original Star Trek frame story, "The Menagerie," the only 2-parter of the original series, which was a frame story added around the original pilot episode — whose differences from the regular series were justified by claiming it took place 13 years earlier.
Doctor Who has experimented with them on occasion; Timothy Dalton's Narrator All Along in The End of Time is an example, but the clearest one is the season-spanning Trial of a Time Lord, where three complete four-part stories were presented as evidence in the Doctor's trial.
Gossip Girl is told from the perspective of a semi-omniscient gossip blogger. What makes this unique is said blogger is an actual (albeit anonymous) character, and the rest of the cast is fully aware of the fact that she is telling the world all about their lives with much of the story conflict revolving around keeping her from knowing too much.
Not only is most of the Round the Twist episode "Santa Claws" a flashback told by Pete, explaining to his classmates how his mouth was shrunk, this was a dream as well (which we knew from the opening scene).
The final episode of Smallville featured Chloe Sullivan reading a comic book to her son titled "Smallville" that framed Clark Kent's transformation into Superman.
The Nickelodeon series Are You Afraid of the Dark? sets up each episode with the Midnight Society, a group of teens, gathering around a campfire in the woods to tell ghost stories. After the tale was finished, the episode would end with the Midnight Society calling their meeting to a close.
The novels, comics and movies of BIONICLE's 2004 and 2005 run told the ancient tales of the abandoned city Metru Nui, with the framing story of the village elders recounting them the Toa Nuva (2004) and Turaga Vakama explaining his personal account of the events to Tahu Nuva (2005), in order for them to be ready for whatever may await them when they return there.
The novel Tales of the Masks is a prelude to this, with the six Turaga elders discussing whether revealing this truth would be a wise decision. To support their position, each tells a story of how the Toa have retrieved their Nuva masks, which happened between the scenes of the last novel. This was an effective way of keeping this item-hunt from interfering with the previous book's story.
Pink Floyd's The Wall is framed by a concert where Pink sings about how his wall went up and came back down.
Childish Gambino's "III. Telegraph Ave. (Oakland by Lloyd)" is framed as the narrator getting in a car and turning on the radio, hearing a radio DJ introduce the next song, "Oakland", by Lloyd (not a real song). The song starts playing and ambient noises (such as car noises, phone ringing) are heard in the background as the narrator sings along to the song. Finally Childish Gambino takes over singing at the chorus.
The Creature from the Black Lagoon pinball takes place in a Drive-In Theater where the titular movie is playing. The bulk of the game has the player waiting for the film to start and trying steal a kiss from his girlfriend. The action switches to the film itself during multiball, where the goal is to rescue Kay from the Creature.
Every episode of the radio serial 'The Adventures of Sam Spade' (based on the novels by Dashiell Hammett, and Humphrey Bogart's character in 'The Maltese Falcon) opened and closed with Sam dictating a record of the episode's events to his secretary, Effie. Sometimes subverted when Effie was, herself, involved in events.
Oddly, William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew begins with a framing device, but never follows up on it once the story proper starts. There's speculation that there was a follow up, but it's been lost to the ages. The additional frame story passages have been restored in The Oxford Shakespeare, edited by Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor.
The same goes for Shrew's musical adaptation, Kiss Me Kate; the show ends during the play-within-a-play and not with an external sequence.
Brooklyn is framed as five street musicians putting on a play for passersby in hopes of donations.
The 3.5 Edition Dungeons & Dragons module The Vortex of Madness is actually five separate adventures, the first one (involving the dreaded Machine of Lum the Mad) a possible Framing Device for the other four. (Although, the Dungeon Master can disregard it and run any of them as stand-alone adventures.)
Ace Combat Zero is presented as a Osean television documentary centered around the hero's journey, with the cutscenes presented as footage and interviews of your enemies.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time has the Prince narrating his adventure to an unseen individual, explaining the story and "backing up" when the player dies and restarts. Near the end of the game, it's revealed that his audience is Princess Farah, who doesn't remember any of these events due to the Prince's large-scale rewind.
The text adventure game Spider And Web is known primarily for its ingenious framing device, wherein the player is a spy who has been captured and is being interrogated using a machine that causes them to relive their actions. If the player ever strays too far from the correct path, the interrogator interrupts them and says, "That's impossible, that's not how it happened" and makes you try again.
Dragon Age II is framed by Varric, a dwarven merchant prince, telling Cassandra, a Chantry Seeker, the tale of Hawke's rise to power.
The overarching narrative of Ōkami is told by a mysterious narrator, beginning with the legend of Orochi and Shiranui one hundred years ago. By the end of the game, if you haven't figured out the narrator's identity, he'll berate you and switch to more familiar speech patterns that make it easier to recognize him.
Assassin's Creed: Revelations makes the framing device recursive by having Ezio (the Renaissance-era ancestor) use First Civilization artifacts to experience memory-recordings left by Alta´r (the Crusades-era ancestor), thus crossing over the bloodlines since Ezio was not Alta´r's descendant. So you're playing a character experiencing the memories of a character who is himself experiencing the memories of a character.
Assassin's Creed III: Liberation and Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag take this a step further by postulating that Abstergo has formed an entertainment division dedicated to bringing Animus technology to the mass-market in the form of video games and movies, providing streamlined and carefully edited excerpts from the memory-sequences that are researched in their labs. As a meta-joke, the company they hire to deliver these products is Ubisoft, the developer of the real franchise, and Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag contains multiple in-jokes and Fandom Nods as a result.
Used in a memorable way as part of a Twist Ending in Second Sight, where the player character, an amnesiac with psychic powers, seems to be having flashbacks to his past self...until it turns out that the flashbacks were instead in the present day, and everything else was a part of his premonitions of things to come.
The story of Odin Sphere is told when a little girl finds the books telling each character's role in the tale of Armageddon in her attic and starts reading them. In the end when she finishes reading the last book, she notices that a Pooka coin is lodged in the back cover. She offers a silent prayer to the people in the story before leaving the attic and in the True Ending Pooka!Cornelius and Pooka!Velvet take the coin to complete their collection to make the wish that restores their humanity.
Catherine has the whole game be an episode of the show The Golden Playhouse, with your hostess, Trisha: The Midnight Venus. It plays out as if it's a TV series that shows late night movies, complete with opening and closing narration by Trisha. There's even a watermark in the corner of some cutscenes.
Yasumi Matsuno's Vagrant Story is told as a collection of reports from VKP Intelligence Agent Callo Merlose, regarding an inquiry on VKP Riskbreaker Ashley Riot's apparent murder of Duke Bardorba and his subsequent disappearance.
Final Fantasy Tactics, also by Matsuno, is the retelling of the contents of the Durai Papers, the chronicle of the true history of Ivalice during the War of the Lions. Banned by the Glabados Church, and their author, Orran Durai, burned for heresy, they were uncovered centuries later by Orran's descendant Arazlam, who published them to reveal the truth behind the Zodiac Braves and King Delita's rise to the throne.
And the Yasumi Matsuno hat trick, Final Fantasy XII is narrated by Marquis Halim Ondore IV, uncle of Princess and later Queen Ashelia B'nargin Dalmasca, from his own memoir.
Resident Evil 2: Krauser, having no experience with the zombies and monsters they're currently facing, asks Leon to recount everything he knows about them. Cue flashback to 2.
Resident Evil: Code: Veronica: After it's revealed that the Big Bad got his hands on the Veronica virus, the Code Veronica scenario is framed as Leon thinking back to Claire's experience fighting Alexia Ashford, the creator of said virus.
Drakensang: The prequel is framed by two of the main characters of the first game. Forgrimm is telling Gladys how her parents came to be married.
Mafia's story is told by the main character as he describes his time in the mafia to the chief of police.
Penumbra is being told in an e-mail from the soon to be dead Philip to an unspecified individual, asking that person to complete what he started, though Requiem does away with this.
The original Escape from Butcher Bay opened with Riddick during his years on the ice planet he was hiding on at the start of The Chronicles of Riddick. The Furyan woman in his visions tells him to remember his past, and what happened in Butcher Bay. Then the rest of the game begins, which is actually one long flashback. At the end Riddick awakens and is told of his destiny, and sees visions of the Necromongers. The framing story was dropped in the 2009 remake to better connect it to Assault on Dark Athena, its immediate successor in the chronology.
In Borderlands 2's fourth DLC, Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep, is presented as the vault hunters sitting down at a table and playing a game of Bunkers and Badasses. Just about every joke you could crack about this subject is made.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! is set up as Athena retelling the events to the Vault Hunters of the second game. The New Game+ is her retelling the story to Tiny Tina, who tells her to "make it sound more difficult" and adds in her own commentary.
The story of Vampires Dawn is told by a grandfather to his grandson.
An Oriental Alphabet Primer, a game for Unlimited Adventures, is a dark horror story... told through the medium of a cheerful word-learning book for schoolchildren, which uses excerpts of a supposed horror novel (fragmented, and in a more-or-less random order) as short usage examples for the words it's teaching.
In the arcade game Rastan Saga (releases outside Japan as simply "Rastan"), the attract mode's Opening Narration (given by the title character, a Conan the Barbarian expy) is implied to be this:
I used to be a thief and a murderer, otherwise I could not survive in such difficult times. Sit beside me and listen to my story of days full of adventure.
Furthermore, there is an additional intro that plays before the first level that further implies this trope, but it was cut from the non-Japanese releases.
The letters between the Director and the Chairman in Red vs. Blue: Reconstruction run parallel to the main plot and serve to put the central conflict in the context of the larger world the characters exist in.
The early episodes featuring the narrow gauge engines were framed as Thomas telling the other engines a story about them.
Actually, a few years before Shining Time Station was conceived, the Thomas series had existed as a series of shorts created for British television, making the above a subversion.
A show named The Noddy Shop framed episodes of the BBC's stop motion Noddy series as being stories the child characters told to each other.
For that matter, any of the Looney Tunes antholgy movies fit this trope. For instance, The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner movie presented the selected shorts as Bugs Bunny reminiscing about his "hare-raising" exploits.
The second one had Bart, Lisa, and Homer eating too much candy before bed, with the Three Shorts themselves presented as prolonged Nightmare Sequences. The last short appears to have ended with a return to the frame story, only to continue where the short left off by revealing that Mr. Burns had his head grafted to Homer's body. Cue fake On the Next.
The third one featured the family throwing a Halloween party, with Lisa, Grandpa, and Bart telling the stories.
The fourth episode is the last one to feature a framing device, with Bart presenting the stories in the manner of Night Gallery.
Whatever plot the subsequent Halloween episodes had outside of the three stories is mostly confined to the Cold Openings.
The bulk of an episode containing several Story Within a Story cases turned out to be Bart telling Principal Skinner the reason he failed to turn in an assignment.
Futurama Used a similar Framing Device in it's "Anthology of Interest" stories, using the "What If?" machine. In the first episode it turns out that the Framing Device was itself a product of the professor asking the What If? machine a question.
The Town Santa Forgot opens and ends with an old man (who it turns out is the now-elderly main character) telling the story to his grandkids.
Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol has the title character performing in a Broadway production of Dickens' story.
The Kim Possible episode "Rewriting History" has a story of Kim's great-grandmother (who vanished in disgrace at the start of the century), which is framed by Kim uncovering what really happened, while her Arch-Enemy Dr. Drakken chases his own ancestor's involvement in the same events, piling up into Generation Xerox and Contrived Coincidence and ending as All Just a Dream.
The Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "Zuko Alone" features this: the A-story of Zuko wandering around the Earth Kingdom and being offered hospitality by a peasant family mirrors the story (told in flashbacks) of Zuko's childhood and how Ozai became Firelord.
Toonami is notable for not just creating a framing device with TOM and the Absolution, but for giving them a pretty extensive backstory and universe to boot. It even ties into the Space Ghost universe, occasionally.note Moreover, the Space Ghost Coast to Coast version of Moltar was the original host, when (in-universe) Toonami originated from Ghost Planet.
The "Graybles" episodes of Adventure Time are framed by the character Cuber, who speaks directly to the audience and seems to exist outside the canon of the show in some kind of futuristic space setting. These episodes begin and end with him asking the viewer to try to guess the theme of five seemingly unrelated short clips of the show (called graybles), which he plays on a triangular screen.
The framing device of Robot Chicken is a Mad Scientist strapping the title character in a chair and forcing him to watch the show's sketches.
"...and I believe that's about it." "Good times. So what do we do now?" "What else? Go write more articles!"