[[quoteright:350: [[WesternAnimation/TheSimpsons http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/Nested_Story_350_9636.png]]]]
[[caption-width-right:350:Well, Lisa's best recollection of Burns' paraphrasing of what he read in Moe's letter is that Krabappel told Moe...]]

->''"We're in the middle of a scene you don't remember in a narrated flashback framed by a flash-forward in a prequel book. There's no way in hell you're finding your way back here."''
-->-- '''The Oracle''', ''Webcomic/TheOrderOfTheStick''

This is a convention that is used in oral storytelling traditions from all over the world, but especially common in the Middle East. It also shows up in some versions of flashbacks. Basically, storyline #1 is going along and a character in storyline #1 begins to tell a story (or have a dream, or read a book, etc.) Now we are in storyline #2, and the audience expects that at some point we will hop back into storyline #1. If a character in storyline #2 has a new story, that becomes storyline #3, etc. Comedic series will usually point out that this means that character #1 is telling a story that basically goes, "And then Character #2 told me that Character #3 told him that Character #4..."

The name Nested Story comes from [[MatryoshkaObject Russian matryoshka, or "nesting" dolls]]; Take one doll apart, and there's another doll inside it, and another inside that, and so on and so on, just as this trope is one story [[RussianDollWorld inside another inside another inside another]].

This trope is related to the DreamWithinADream or ShowWithinAShow, but in practice it acts quite differently, because the "inner" stories claim all of the reader's attention, and there are often many levels of them, so it becomes hard to remember which one is the "outermost".

Most Nested Story plots try to end in the original storyline, the major exceptions being AllJustADream and NestedStoryReveal plots, which usually leap to the outer storyline only at the end of the piece. There are, however, [[ForgottenFramingDevice a few stories that never return to the outer plot]], perhaps, but not always due to carelessness on the part of the author: Compare ShaggyDogStory.

For the more general application of this trope where there's only one nested story and it's usually not as fascinating as the main story, see StoryWithinAStory.

A type of RecursiveReality. The "outer" story may be a FramingDevice. See also PerspectiveFlip and TheRashomon. Compare SoapWheel. See also TwoLinesNoWaiting and FourLinesAllWaiting. Can become a KudzuPlot if many [[PlotThreads stories within stories]] are unresolved. See also FlashbackWithinAFlashback.


[[folder:Comic Books]]
* In line with the Oral Storytelling tradition side of the trope, the "World's End" arc of ''ComicBook/TheSandman'' features those caught in a reality storm telling stories, sometimes about people who told them a story about a person who told them a story... Occasionally, this gets to be five-deep in stories.
** The arc also ends with a NestedStoryReveal.
* In Creator/MarvelComics mythological characters like [[ComicBook/TheIncredibleHercules Hercules]] are prone to waxing at length about their past exploits, often [[TalkingIsAFreeAction in the middle of a fight]].

[[folder:Fan Works]]
* In the ''WesternAnimation/TotalDrama'' story, ''[[Fanfic/LegacyTotalDrama Legacy]]'', the main story contains Heather's story of how she came to [[spoiler:choose [[DeadGuyJunior her expected daughter's name]]]], in addition to the nesting inherent in using a [[FramingDevice frame story]].

%%* ''Film/InterviewWithTheVampire''.
* The film ''The Locket'' starts with a man about to get married being confronted by another man claiming that he used to be married to the same woman, and she ruined his life. His story then starts with the same situation, as does the next story resulting from it.
* The Polish film ''Film/TheSaragossaManuscript'' has at least five levels of stories-within-stories, and some characters appearing in multiple levels.
* The main narrative of ''Film/ThePrestige'' involves Alfred Borden reading Robert Angier's journal--and in this journal, Angier describes his own readings from Borden's journal. Add flashbacks to the mix, and the timeline becomes as much a puzzle as Borden and Angier's stage magic.
* ''Film/DWar'' has flashbacks on three levels, although they are recalled in different ways (a man telling a story, a character in that flashback recovering memories from a past life, and a flashback for the audience, respectively).
* The second half of ''Film/ChittyChittyBangBang'' becomes one as Caractacus Potts begins telling a story to his children and [[LoveInterest Truly Scrumptious]], which is wrapped up towards the end.
* PlayedForLaughs in one scene of ''[[{{Detournement}} La Classe Américaine]]'', where one character tells the story of himself writing a letter telling the time [[Creator/JohnWayne George Abitbol]] told him the time he met a [[Music/ElvisPresley "freaking energumen]]". After ''four'' fade-out in a row, the next scene is about [[Series/VoyageToTheBottomOfTheSea two men in a spaceship]] wondering what they are doing in this film [sic], calling this an [[BreakingTheFourthWall "error in the flashbacks sequence"]].
* The plot of ''Film/TheGrandBudapestHotel'' goes about four levels deep: the film opens with a present-day student reading the memoirs of a late author; said author writes his memoir in 1985; said memoirs cover The Author's stay at the Grand Budapest in 1968; during the said stay, he meets hotel owner Zero Moustafa, and hears his story of how he moved from lobby boy to the proprietor in 1932.
* The AnthologyFilm ''Film/{{Necronomicon}}'' has Creator/HPLovecraft himself investigating an ancient book in the FramingDevice, reading the stories of the three segments as they happen. In one of these stories, the protagonist finds someone's journals and begins to read them, starting an additional flashback storyline.
* ''Film/NeverGiveASuckerAnEvenBreak'': The absolutely crazy movie script that Creator/WCFields reads to his producer, with him falling out of the airplane and onto the remote mountain house of the rich lady and her beautiful daughter, takes up the whole middle part of the film. Every so often there's a cut from the nested story back to the producer in his office expressing incredulity as the script gets crazier.

[[folder:Folklore and Mythology]]
* A number of the [[TricksterArchetype coyote]] [[Myth/NativeAmericanMythology stories]].
* The Indian tale of King Vikramaditya and the [[OurZombiesAreDifferent vetala]], ''[[Literature/TwentyFiveTalesOfTheVetala Vetala Panchavimshati]]'', is about the king [[EscortMission trying to carry the vetala on his back]] to an EvilSorceror. The problem? The vetala keeps telling the king stories, and every time the king answers them the [[ResetButton vetala flies back to where he started]]. This legend is suspected to be the original source of the ''Thousand And One Nights''' story-within-a-story idea.

* ''Literature/TheNeverendingStory'' is a book about a boy named Bastian who is reading a book titled "The Neverending Story", which's contents makes up most of the plot in the book. Adding another layer to it, there's also The Old Man of Wandering Mountain, who is currently writing The Neverending Story, the very book The Old Man's own world is contained within.
* The ''Literature/ArabianNights''. The whole thing is composed of Nested Stories, and some of the "stand-alone" stories are as many as seven levels deep.
* Robert Irwin's ''The Arabian Nightmare'' is only one of a number of novels that take off on the ''Arabian Nights'' using the nested structure.
* ''Literature/{{Frankenstein}}'': At the deepest level: The family on whom the monster is spying is telling a story, within the monster's story to Dr. Frankenstein, who is in turn recounting the story to the captain of a ship in the Arctic, who is in turn telling his sister about it in a letter.
* The dialogue "Little Harmonic Labyrinth" in ''Literature/GodelEscherBachAnEternalGoldenBraid'' is one of these. It includes LampshadeHanging and discussion of the whole concept of "push" and "pop" story. Helpfully, each level of reality is denoted by an indent in the text, but the indents are used for other things besides telling stories in stories- in one section, Achilles and the Tortoise find a magic lamp and meet a Genie. Attempting to get a wish for more wishes, the genie initially refuses saying that it can't grant "meta-wishes" (wishes about wishes) but eventually relents, but it has to ask the Meta-Genie to allow it to grant a meta-wish... and the Meta-Genie has to ask the Meta-Meta-Genie, and so on. Each genie's lines are indented one more than the previous one. [[spoiler: Naturally, the outermost story (in which Achilles and the Tortoise get kidnapped and start reading a book while they wait for the villain) never does get resolved...]]
* ''Literature/WutheringHeights'' is narrated by Mr. Lockwood, but large parts of the backstory are narrated to ''him'' by Nelly Dean, who at one point relates the things that Isabella Linton told ''her'' about her marriage to Heathcliff... There are also very few reminders of which POV you're reading at any given time.
** Jasper Fforde's ''Something Rotten'' parodies this aspect of the novel, explaining it as the result of a slapdash compromise to resolve the bitter disagreement among the characters regarding who should get the narration.
* ''Literature/HouseOfLeaves'', a man is editing and commenting on an essay about a documentary about a man's supernatural house.
* Used in ''Literature/TheStinkyCheeseMan and Other Fairly Stupid Tales'': "Jack's Bean Problem". The Giant orders Jack to tell him a story, but says he'll eat Jack when the story's over anyway. Jack realizes his only hope is to stall, so he tells the story of how [-the Giant orders Jack to tell him a story, but says he'll eat Jack when the story's over anyway. Jack realizes his only hope is to stall, so he tells the story of how-] [--the Giant orders Jack to tell him a story, but says he'll eat Jack when the story's over anyway. Jack realizes his only hope is to stall, so he tells the story of how--] [---the Giant orders Jack to tell him a story, but says he'll eat Jack when the story's over anyway. Jack realizes his only hope is to stall, so he tells the story of how the Giant...---] In a later chapter, we find out that the Giant fell asleep listening to Jack's endless recursive loop, and Jack just snuck away.
* This happens a couple of times in ''Literature/TheCountOfMonteCristo''.
* From Creator/StanislawLem's ''Literature/TheCyberiad'': You can see the nature of "Tale of the Three Storytelling Machines of King Genius" just from the title.
* ''Literature/TheBlindAssassin'' features a story within a story within a story.
* ''Literature/TheCanterburyTales'', though it's pretty good about having only one StoryWithinAStory going on at a time, still has about 25 tales that get told one after the other, and sometimes extra tales in the middle of a prologue.
* Kelly Link's "[[Literature/MagicForBeginners Lull]]" is a head-spinning example. It's a short story about six suburban men playing poker. They call a phone-sex operator and ask her to tell them a story. She tells a story about a cheerleader and TheDevil fooling around in a closet. The devil asks the cheerleader to tell him a story. Which is a strange story seemingly about one of the men in the framing story and his wife. Beyond that, you have to read it yourself.
* ''Literature/TheBookOfLostTales'' is about a mariner who sails to an island and meets the Elves, who tell him tales of their history, and sometimes the characters within those tales will themselves tell stories.
* In ''Literature/MelmothTheWanderer'' by Charles Robert Maturin, the narrative is made of this trope, exposing one story of the Wanderer within one other, after an other, as prelude to an other, etc.
* In ''Literature/TheMonk'' by Matthew Gregory Lewis, there are a few [[GothicHorror Gothic Tales]] peppering the main story, or making up part of some characters' backstories.
* Jostein Gaarder's ''The Solitaire Mystery'' features several layers, with the main character reading in a book about a baker who learned from another baker who learned from another baker who had been to a remote island about a backstory related by another castaway on that island. The main character at one point starts to get them confused, but then recaps, for the sake of the viewer, when he figures it out.
* ''Old Peter's Russian tales'', by Arthur Ransome is about an old Russian peasant telling stories to his grandchildren while the huddle round the stove in the Russian winter.
* In ''Literature/PeterPaysTribute'', the main character is writing a novel that features a bard who tells stories.
* Several of the SherlockHolmes stories, particularly ''A Study in Scarlet'', and ''The Valley of Fear'' have Holmes' investigation of a crime mostly as an excuse to put a frame around the killer's why he done it story.
* Creator/MarkTwain's semi-autobiographical work ''Roughing It'' features a man who keeps segueing from story to story without finishing any of them, going as deep as five or six levels at least.
* ''Literature/{{Baltimore}}, or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire'' by [[ComicBook/{{Hellboy}} Mike Mignola]] and Christopher Golden is an arguably very well done version of this, in that each individual story furthers the overarching plot. What prevents it from being a RashomonStyle plot or PerspectiveFlip is that each character is merely telling the piece of the story they know: there are also plenty of other side stories slipped in, and it almost ignores the overarching plot while the stories are being told.
* The ''Literature/DreamPark'' novels have elements of this, as the fantasy story of each game-scenario is embedded within a mystery about industrial espionage, all in a sci-fi context.
* David Mitchell's ''Literature/CloudAtlas'' consists of six nested stories with chronologically ordered settings. The innermost story is of a 19th century sailor in the Pacific and the outermost is of a Hawaiian tribesman in a [[AfterTheEnd distant post-apocalyptic future]].
* Some of Creator/HPLovecraft's stories can get four or five levels deep. For example: ''Literature/TheCallOfCthulhu'' is ostensibly a document found by the reader, collated by Thurston, made of research done by his granduncle, which contains an account of a police officer, who recounts exposition detailed by a cultist.
* ''Literature/TheLordOfTheRings'': At the Council of Elrond [[WizardClassic Gandalf]] recounts the events of his research into [[ArtifactOfDoom the Ring]], his first confrontation with Saruman, and his escape from Isengard.
* Storytelling is a major theme in ''Literature/TheKingkillerChronicle''. Kvothe is dictating his autobiography, which contains quite a few stories.
* ''Literature/TheManuscriptFoundInSaragossa''. You have the LiteraryAgentHypothesis at the top, telling the story of the protagonist, who spends most of his time listening to stories told by others, and these stories often include nested stories of their own--to the point that the characters sometimes complain how confusing all the nested stories have become.
* Tosca Lee’s ''Literature/DemonAMemoir'' moves between the main story—that of the narrator’s life—and the eponymous life story of a demon, which is being narrated to the protagonist.
* In the Deon Meyer novel ''Trackers'' (known in Afrikaans as ''Spoor'') we get [[GenreRoulette three different plot threads of varying genres]], partitioned into four sections. The first story is about a middle-aged Milla Strachan leaving her marriage and finding work as an analyst for a South African security agency investigating a possible terrorist attack during the 2010 Soccer World Cup. The second story is about an expert bodyguard named Lemmer who gets press-ganged into smuggling endangered rhinos across the border from Zimbabwe into South Africa. The final section involves private investigator Matt Joubert's search for a client's missing husband. Although the plots overlap at times the characters are seldom aware of each other and the connections only becomes clear in the last pages.
* In ''Franchise/TheDarkTower'' {{Midquel}}, ''Literature/TheWindThroughTheKeyhole'', Roland and his [[TrueCompanions ka-tet]] are trapped by a storm. Roland amuses everyone by telling them a story of a time when he and his friend Jaime [=DeCurry=] went to investigate a murder. During the murder investigation, Roland comforted one of the witnesses, a young boy, by telling him a fairy tale about another young boy named Tim.
* Throughout the narrative of ''Literature/KingdomOfLittleWounds'' are several short original fairy tales.
* Happen's multiple times in ''Creator/AnneRice'''s [[Literature/{{TheVampireChronicles}} Vampire chronicles]], starting with Interview with the Vampire. The most impressive example is the second book, the Vampire Lestat. Starts with Lestat awakening in the modern times, then switched to the novel he writes about his own life. Somewhere in that story he met another vampire who told him the story of his life - inclusively the story about the origin of vampires later got told somewhen before.
* The picture book ''Charlie Cook's Favourite Book'' by Creator/JuliaDonaldson does this; Charlie starts reading his book on the first page and then every two page spread is a story about a character reading a book, which is the next two page spread. [[spoiler: The final story is about a boy named Charlie Cook]].

[[folder:Live-Action TV]]
* Happens a few times in ''Series/HowIMetYourMother'', due to its love of playing around with flashback sequences. The deepest nested story would be the episode "The Platinum Rule". To prove why Ted shouldn't date his doctor in 2008, Robin tells a story of dating a co-worker in 2007, and then within that story Marshall and Lily flash back to their awkward relationship with their neighbors in 2006, and within that flashback Barney tells the story of how he dated Wendy the waitress in 2005. Keeping in mind that the whole show is a flashback of Ted telling the story set in 2008 to his kids in 2030.

* [[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OtN3xqsSh5c A ghost story]] told in one episode of ''Radio/JohnFinnemoresSouvenirProgramme'' takes this form, being a man telling a story about meeting a man who read a letter from a man who stayed with a woman who met a man who saw a ghost (the story told by the man himself being in its entirety "I went for a walk, and I saw a ghost." [[spoiler:Further subverted when it turns out he actually said he saw a ''goat''.]]

[[folder:Tabletop Games]]
* As mentioned above, ''TabletopGame/MagicTheGathering'' has [[http://ww2.wizards.com/gatherer/CardDetails.aspx?&id=980 a card]] that starts a game of Magic within the current one, named as a ShoutOut to Literature/ArabianNights. Of course, you could have four of these cards in your deck, resulting in games lasting roughly five times longer than normal. The card has since been banned at official tournaments.
** Actually closer to around fourteen if no card recovery systems are used. However, chances are that it will last significantly shorter.

* The play "Rehearsal for Murder" features a play within a play within a play within the play.
* Shakespeare uses this device in "''Hamlet''" when "The Murder of Gonzago" is used to ferret out Claudius's guilt.
* Similarly, Tom Stoppard's "''Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead''" shows the Tragedians playing "The Murder of Gonzago" (which mirrors the outer play of Hamlet) which, in turn, [[MindScrew contains the Tragedians playing "The Murder of Gonzago".]]

[[folder:Video Games]]
* ''VideoGame/EternalDarkness'' begins with Edward Roivas posthumously narrating the beginning of his granddaughter Alex's chapter in the ''Tome of Eternal Darkness''. In her story, she reads (and experiences) the stories of other previous Tome bearers, including that of Edward himself.
* The ''Franchise/AssassinsCreed'' series is basically one long string of these, as present-day protagonist Desmond Miles is experiencing the memories and histories of his ancestors Altair, Ezio Auditore and Connor Kenway. ''[[VideoGame/AssassinsCreedRevelations Revelations]]'' takes this UpToEleven when Desmond-as-Ezio finds the Masyaf Keys, which allow ''Ezio'' to see Altair's memories as well.
* This is possible in ''VisualNovel/JakeHunter Detective Story: Memories of the Past'' if you opt to play the final case first, as Ken Krause collects and reads Jake's previous case files, which are then played through. "As Time Goes By" also has Jake and Yulia recounting a case from a year ago to Detective Kingsley.
* It's possible at one point in ''VideoGame/DieReiseInsAll'' to let one of the main characters read ''Literature/TreasureIsland'', which ends in playing the sroty itself.

* In ''Webcomic/{{Opplopolis}}'' a race of aliens are [[http://www.opplopolis.com/issues/3/2 briefly introduced]] as a fantasy of Marvin's. Later, the same aliens [[http://www.opplopolis.com/issues/7/3 suddenly return]] and discuss the characters and events of the comic, making it ambiguous whether the ''Opplopolis'' story is nesting the aliens or vice versa.
* In ''Webcomic/{{xkcd}}'', [[http://xkcd.com/244/ Tabletop Roleplaying]] (which uses a concept similar to one in an old ''PvP'' strip), and less traditionally [[http://xkcd.com/248/ Hypotheticals]].
* The webcomic ''Fanfic/GrimTalesFromDownBelow'' has this, using a series of flashbacks within flashbacks. Starting with Jr. relating to Spawn how he got to be the Reaper, 3 days ago in Halloween, where he met a group of kids and told them the story of how his father Grim married his mother [[WesternAnimation/TheGrimAdventuresOfBillyAndMandy Mandy]], during which Grim told the story of a particularly nasty event that happened during Billy and Mandy's childhood.
* Played for laughs in [[http://tallcomics.com/?id=76 this page]] of ''Webcomic/UnwindersTallComics'', with five layers of webcomic authors demanding that someone read their webcomic.
* [[DefiedTrope Defied]] in a strip in ''Webcomic/DanAndMabsFurryAdventures''. Dan stops Aliyka from telling a story in order to prevent one of these.
* Webcomic/CaptainSNES has quite a few of these, being that the entire story is being told in flashback form. This trope gets invoked whenever anybody in-story has a flashback, and at least once somebody ''in'' a flashback gets a flashback, and so on.
* Happens in ''Webcomic/QueenOfWands'': As Kestrel is telling Angela how she met Shannon, she segues mid-flashback into an earlier story of her affair with Felix. [[JustifiedTrope Somewhat justified]] in that Felix and Shannon are now married and Angela was asking how Kestrel came to live with them. Subverted towards the end of the comic when Angela shares a story from her own past with Kestrel: it's over in a page and a half.
-->Kestrel: ''But... that's it? I mean... where's the point in that?\\
Angela: Geez, Kestrel - not everything has to be an epic story. Sometimes, shit just happens.
* ''Webcomic/VoldemortsChildren''. TheRant even features the line [[http://www.elidupree.com/main/posts/163-voldemort%27s-children-page-4 "You know you're reading an Eli Dupree comic when you enter two nested narrative frames on the same page."]]
* ''Webcomic/{{Sunstone}}'': The outermost story focuses on Lisa writing her book detailing the events of her relationship with Ally, the main meat of the story takes place some years prior and shows us these events in which characters often elaborate on their backstory through another level of flash backs and in a different direction when we see into the fiction written by Lisa in the fiction written by Lisa.
* ''Webcomic/TheBMovieComic'' [[http://www.bmoviecomic.com/?cid=1076 shows us]] Professor Dr. recalling his first contact with Admiral Watanabe, who recalls his arrival on the island, where he recalled his childhood....

[[folder: Web Original]]
* ''Podcast/TheThrillingAdventureHour'' episode "The Devil You Know" opens with Sadie telling the story of why she and Frank are traveling though the depths of the New Jersey hell. That turns into a story of their friend and fellow OccultDetective, Pterodactyl Jones, and his encounter with a woman who claims she can reunite him with his pterodactyl ghost buddy, Harvey. She tells the story of how she fell in love with a ghost only to have her pastor father write to the Vatican about help exorcising ghosts. The Vatican begins telling the story of how they got the tool they're sending the father before Sadie steps in and puts an end to this, declaring the story has become a "narrative nesting doll".

[[folder:Western Animation]]
* Pictured above is ''WesternAnimation/TheSimpsons'' episode "[[Recap/TheSimpsonsS17E13TheSeeminglyNeverEndingStory The Seemingly Never-Ending Story]]". The episode begins with the Simpsons exploring a cave, during which Lisa tells a story about Mr. Burns and a goat, during which Mr. Burns tells a story about himself, Rich Texan and Moe, during which he read a letter telling a story about Moe, Snake, and Mrs. Krabappel, during which Mrs. Krabappel tells a story about herself and Bart. This segues back into the previous story, which segues back into the, which segued into the previous one, which faded into the higher story, which then led to the goat's story. This faded back into the previous story, which segued back into the cave story, which led to Homer telling a story about buried treasure. This story ends, leaving them back in the cave, and the plot is resolved -- and the story [[WholeEpisodeFlashback then fades into Bart claiming that this sequence of events is why he didn't do his homework]].
* The ''WesternAnimation/EdEddNEddy'' episode "[[Recap/EdEddNEddyS5E2EveryWhichWayButEd Every Which Way But Ed]]" involves Eddy telling his fellow Eds a story, but Johnny starts telling a story in which ''Nazz'' starts telling a story, and eventually the Eds get hopelessly lost in all the flashbacks.
* ''WesternAnimation/AdventureTime'':
** In "[[Recap/AdventureTimeS3E3MemoryOfAMemory Memory of a Memory]]", Finn [[JourneyToTheCenterOfTheMind goes inside Marceline's memories]] and is tricked into helping destroy her memory of an important event. To fix this, Finn brings Marceline inside his memories, and shows her his memory of seeing her memory.
** "[[Recap/AdventureTimeS7E34FiveShortTables Five Short Tables]]" takes this to ridiculous levels when Fionna the Human and Cake the Cat (who are based on Ice King's in-universe RuleSixtyThree fan fiction) are subjected to a story by the Ice Queen about Flynn the Human Being and Jacques the Raccoon, who are being subjected to a story by Ice President about Lynn the Person and Janet the Fox.
* The episode "[[Recap/MyLittlePonyFriendshipIsMagicS6E10TheSaddleRowReview The Saddle Row Review]]" from ''WesternAnimation/MyLittlePonyFriendshipIsMagic'' works like this, where the top layer has Rarity reading the review, and then the action cuts between the middle layer where the characters are being interviewed about the main plot and the bottom layer of the main plot itself.