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A story whose text is largely, if not solely, composed of multiple contemporary in-story documents
to form the narrative. All the narrator
has done is put the supposedly pre-existing documents in order. This style of writing used to be commonplace, because of its inbuilt explanation of how the narrator knows so much, but had been largely superseded by the Victorian period. However, it is still sometimes used.
The Epistolary Novel
, which consists of letters sent by the characters to each other, is a subtrope of this. Both tropes provide an in-story justification for a Switching P.O.V.
The author of such a work may be credited as the "editor" or "compiler"
Games with Story Breadcrumbs
often invoke this.
Compare Literary Agent Hypothesis
and Apocalyptic Log
. See Diary
open/close all folders
- The Big Finish Doctor Who Companion Chronicles story "Tales from the Vault" has a Framing Story of a U.N.I.T. officer showing a newbie around U.N.I.T.'s Museum of the Strange and Unusual. Captain Matheson plays recordings that describe the history of some of the objects, including a report on cassette by Jo Grant, an audio file of Matheson interviewing Romana, an alien memory crystal that recorded Zoe's personality, and a century old phonograph recording of a warning by Steven Taylor. The final story leads back to the first one, and the Framing Story ties in the other two as well.
- The third volume of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, titled "The Black Dossier," is two interwoven stories: the contents of the Black Dossier itself, a Scrapbook Story about the history of the league from its founding under Prospero to the events of volume 1 and 2 and its subsequent dissolution; and a frame story about Mina and Alan stealing the dossier and reading it. The book changes from one to the other when Mina opens or closes the book in-story. To further muddy the waters, the book's cover, under the dust jacket, is exactly like the one on the in-story book, and the various scraps have marginal notes scribbled in blue pen by the dossier's compiler addressed to the current head of British Intelligence services. The actual scraps are pastiches of comic strips, erotica, text pieces, a "lost" William Shakespeare folio, a mashup of Bertie Wooster and HP Lovecraft, and a stuck-in Tijuana Bible made for proles by PORNSEC under the INGSOC regime.
- The narration of the comic Superman Secret Identity is written as a never-published autobiography of the main character.
- An ∆on Flux graphic novel called The Heroditus File was released in this format, as a variety of historical texts, letters to and from Trevor Goodchild, interview transcripts, photographs and other fictional sources that document the first encounter between Trevor and Aeon. Or, at least, one of the first.
- The Abadazad series has been released in small graphic novels, each an enchanted
diarylog in which she details her adventures to this point. The "enchanted" part comes to play when the book records things she wasn't around for, as well as turning from text to pictures and back, and bringing in full pages of the "original" Abadazad books whenever someone reads or refers to them.
- The Chrono Crusade Fan Fiction Comic Book Heroes, which takes the idea that Joshua is mentally damaged and stuck with the mind of a child at the end of the anime and turns it on its head by having him become a comic book writer as an adult. The story is told through excerpts of interviews with his children, reviews of movies based on his work, letters and journal entries written by Joshua and his friends, and an essay discussing the portrayal of female characters in his work—all fictional, of course.
- The Harry Potter fanfiction The Shoebox Project, which incorporates letters and notes written between the main characters to wonderful effect.
- The hilarious The Naked Quidditch Match comprised of "m-mails" exchanged among characters, with a news story wrapping it up.
- The Transformers Generation One fanfic Crossfire and Consequences is made up entirely of journal entries, newspaper articles, a blog post, and a 911 transcript.
- The Sherlock fanfic A Brief Account of Life with Zombies consists of memos, texts, e-mails, etc. made by the main cast during the Zombie Apocalypse.
- The My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic Yes, Apple Bloom, there is a Santa Hooves consists of a series of letters recording the Cutie Mark Crusaders and Applejack corresponding with Equestria's equivalent to Santa Claus.
- Bloodline by Kate Cary is written similarly to Dracula, as it is another writer's "unofficial sequel."
- The Sherlock fanfic The Shape I Found You In consists of e-mails and text messages between Sherlock and John while Sherlock is working a case in Sweden.
- Alien: Killing Elvis is constructed from emails, text messages, test logs, and future-Twitter feeds, detailing the testing and presentation of a not dead xenomorph.
- A large portion of Carrie is excerpts from books, magazine articles or investigative reports relating to various characters and events.
- Dracula, which consists entirely of letters, diary entries, and similar contemporary records. There's a metafictional twist, as late in the novel it becomes clear that Mina is actually assembling the documents to help the heroes defeat the eponymous monster.
- In its original form, Frankenstein is a letter from Captain Robert Walton to his sister.
- The Call of Cthulhu is written in this style, which HP Lovecraft did to emphasize his point, that Humans cannot comprehend the Old Ones.
- The Documents in the Case by Dorothy L. Sayers (Sayers' only detective novel not to feature Lord Peter Wimsey, although it does feature a couple of minor characters in common with the Wimsey books).
- Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves has, besides the main part of the book, The Navidson Record, photographs of Zampano's things, sketches by Johnny Truant and letters from Truant's institutionalized mother, all expanding on the natures of both Zampano and Truant (the latter of which sent in the materials to the "editors" and told them what to do completely over the phone).
- World War Z by Max Brooks is presented as transcripts of a series of interviews.
- Michael Crichton's novel The 13th Warrior (later filmed as The Thirteenth Warrior) is presented as a historical manuscript with critical commentary. The first three chapters are taken from the actual accounts of the historical medieval Arab diplomat, traveller and historian Ahmad ibn Fadlan; afterward, the story veers into fiction. Crichton himself has admitted he can't remember where the fiction starts and the historical part ends.
- A Series of Unfortunate Events:
- Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography is made up of often random seeming photographs, newspaper clippings and diary entries, made all the more difficult to decipher by the frequent use of codes and Arc Words.
- The Beatrice Letters present letters from Lemony to his lover Beatrice (before the series began) and those sent to Lemony by a young child named after the deceased Beatrice, some years after the main series ended.
- Kurt Vonnegut's Hocus Pocus is presented as the collection of hundreds of varying scraps of paper written on by the protagonist, Vance Hartke, while he was in prison.
- Dangerous Liaisons consists of letters written by 10 or so people to each other.
- Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey by Chuck Palahniuk consists entirely of fake interviews (one of the last chapters includes material from a few actual people, and also a completely unexpected Shout-Out to Fight Club). For added verisimilitude, it's implied at one point that the events of the book might alter the timeline so that the universe becomes the "real world" and the book becomes a work of fiction. It's also loosely implied that the book itself was written by that world's Chuck Palahniuk (nighttimer).
- Warhammer novels:
- Xenology is essentially a collection of journal entries by a puritanical Inquisitor investigating a site where a radical Inquisitor was conducting studies on various aliens. Also included are journal entries from the resident Magos Biologis, as well as various documents, audio records, and observations complied by both Inquisitors.
- Games Workshop's Liber Chaotica and The Loathsome Ratmen And All Their Foul Kin: The latter was previously introduced in the Gotrek & Felix series, and the handwritten notes added into the Real Life version suggest that it's based on the very copy that appears in the novel.
- The Ciaphas Cain (HERO OF THE IMPERIUM!) series is presented as a compilation of Cain's actual memoirs published by Inquisitor Vail, with excerpts from other books (like Sulla's autobiography) added in to clarify points Cain left out (such as things that weren't specifically happening to him).
- The Densha Otoko book is basically a printout of the original 2ch forum posts, ASCII art and all.
- The Daniel Pinkwater story Slaves Of Spiegel is mostly made up of fictional diaries, reports, speeches and the like, but also includes a short chapter memorably titled "An Unnamed Third Person Who Knows Everything That Happens In This Story Speaks."
- Several of Jorge Luis Borges's stories are written as reviews or summaries of books that do not actually exist; The Approach to Al'Mutasim and Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote come to mind. A Survey On The Works of Herbert Quain was a summary of a fictional writer's entire works.
- Flowers for Algernon consists solely of the hero's journal entries.
- Many of Gene Wolfe's first-person narratives use this device, combining it with the fact that the writers always distort, mistake or falsify their accounts.
- The Soldier of the Mist consists almost entirely of the 'translated' journals of Latro, the soldier of the title, who has to read them daily to make up for the loss of his long-term memory.
- Likewise, The Wizard Knight is a pair of novels purporting to be very long letters from the protagonist to a friend.
- A particularly literal example is the third part of The Fifth Head Of Cerberus, which consists of an Officer reviewing the journals and interrogations of a prisoner, which have become jumbled up in transit.
- Stanislaw Lem's A Perfect Vacuum (Doskonala Průznia) is a series of reviews of non-existent literature. Basically, he was a real critic of books that no-one wrote (some of which would have been quite interesting, anyway). The follow-up Imaginary Magnitude (Wielkosc urojona) consists of introductions to non-existent books.
- Nothing But The Truth A Documentary Novel by Avi is composed of transcripts, letters, and news articles about the story, as if collected by someone investigating what happened.
- The Astonishing Life Of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation is composed entirely of "testimonies," letters, and reports from various characters.
- Up The Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman — with the exceptions of the first and last chapters, the entire novel consists of school bulletins, students' notes and letters from the heroine to her colleague at home.
- Letters From Camp and Regarding The Fountain, two children's novels by Kate Klise, consist entirely of (fictional) newspaper clippings and letters. She also co-authored Trial by Journal in the same vein with her sister, Sarah.
- Dead Romance, by Lawrence Miles, is made up of three notebooks written by the main character, chronicling The End of the World as We Know It.
- Wallace Markfield's You Could Live If They Let You consists of a biographer's interviewers with a Borscht Belt comic and his circle, excerpts from the comic's performances (including one near the end of the book during which he literally dies on stage), transcripts of the comic's autistic son, and other documents. Markfield's final book, Radical Surgery, has this structure also.
- The Blind Assassin contains excerpts from the eponymous novel and various newspapers. It also turns out that in the end, Iris is actually writing all this down and intends for it to be given to her granddaughter after she dies.
- Jennie, a novel by Douglas Preston about a chimpanzee raised by an American family consists of transcripts of interviews with the characters, and excerpts from an autobiography, a diary, and newspaper articles.
- Riot: A Love Story by Shashi Tharoor is made of fictional documents such as newspaper articles, letters, diary entries, and transcripts of interviews all centered around an American woman who was killed in India during a riot, shown in Anachronic Order.
- The Year of Secret Assignments (Finding Cassie Crazy) is made up of letters and emails sent during an interschool letter-writing project, one character's diary, another's notebook, faux legal summons, the year 10 noticeboard and a transcript of a school meeting.
- The Snow by Adam Roberts used this to frame the multiple stories told by various protagonists.
- The Amelia's Notebook series, which are made to look like the diary of a young girl, complete with lines and doodles in the margins.
- The Dear America series of historical fiction, with books supposed to be journals written by girls growing up during notable historical time periods. (Along with two series spin-offs, one that features the diaries of royalty and the other aimed at boys that are journals written by boys.)
- The Gary Crew novel Strange Objects, essentially a scrapbook of items relating to the discovery of a small cache of archaeological artifacts found near the coast of Western Australia. These include newspaper clippings, magazine articles, transcripts of radio broadcasts, the serialized translation of a journal found among the artifacts, some assorted letters, and several diary entries from the scrapbook's compiler- a student by the name of Steven Messenger. A prologue and epilogue have also been added by a later author, who notes that Messenger disappeared shortly after posting the scrapbook to him.
- Steve Kluger specializes in this format; he has several books using the technique, including Last Days Of Summer, My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway Park, and Changing Pitches. Almost Like Being In Love is made up of notes, letters, emails, memos, and journal entries of the whole cast.
- Doctor Who Expanded Universe short stories sometimes take this form.
- "Policy to Invade" by Ian Mond, in the collection Short Trips: Transmissions takes the form of a government report on a planetary invasion company, including interview transcripts and copies of internal documentation. Putting it all together leads the reader to a conclusion about what really happened that the report itself refuses to even consider.
- A particularly weird example is the story "Thief of Sherwood" by Jonathan Morris in Short Trips: Past Tense, which tells the story of the First Doctor's encounter with Robin Hood ... via Radio Times listings, Doctor Who Magazine articles, and entries from various Universe Compendiums and Concordances for an entirely fictional six-part serial broadcast between "The Reign of Terror" and "Planet of Giants". And the cast list turns out to be part of the book's Story Arc!
- C. S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters is in the form of a series of letters written from a senior devil to his nephew.
- C. S. Lewis' Letters To Malcolm, a book concerning the function of prayer, is written in the form of letters from Lewis to a friend.
- Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn is constructed entirely of letters written by and to inhabitants of a fictional island just of the coast of the USA. The island's most famous son is the author of the pangram "The quick brown fox jumps over a lazy dog", and the novel concerns the fate of the islanders as various letters are stricken from the alphabet.
- Dear Mr Henshaw features letters to the author followed by diary entries of the protagonist.
- The Wilkie Collins novel The Moonstone (widely held to be one of the first detective novels) is a compilation of letters, journals, and testimonies of many different people. Justified in that the novel focuses on the investigation of a theft, and in the interests of setting the record straight, one of the main characters decides to gather up all the accounts of the event.
- Wilkie Collins' novel The Woman in White consists of a collection of narratives.
- Important Artifacts And Personal Property From The Collection Of Lenore Doolan And Harold Morris by Leanne Shapton is a novel in the form of an auction catalog.
- Ratman's Notebooks consists entirely of the main character's diary entries.
- "The Riddle of Castle Cain" in The Making of Jonathan Creek. It opens with a single page in comic book format, in which Jonathan and Maddy are asked to investigate a decades-old murder. The rest of the story, scattered throughout the book, is told in the form of the various documents Jonathan has peiced together; lab reports, press cuttings and so on. Finally there's a two panel comic in which Jonathan announces he's solved the case (but not what the solution is, because the story was written as a readers' competition).
- Feeling Sorry for Celia is told through various letter and notes from and to the protagonist.
- We Need to Talk About Kevin is composed entirely of letters from Kevin's mother to his father.
- Middle School Is Worse Than Meatloaf: A Year Told through Stuff tells the story of a young girl in 7th grade through diary entries, notes, cards, school assignments, receipts, shopping & to-do lists, etc.
- Hemingway's Six Word Story is a classified ad.
- The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls, in the same way as Shoebox Project.(changing between illustrations, normal chapters and letters)
- I Cant Tell You begins just after the protagonist decides that he should stop talking to people, because blurting out words led to a very painful situation. We see both his diary entries, and the notes he writes to other people (and in an effort to make him feel comfortable, many of those people write notes back to him.) Interesting in that a): some of these notes are canonically destroyed, and b): we also see patterns of splotches and burn marks, some of them made on clothing rather than paper, with descriptions of how those marks were made.
- Tolkien may have intended The Silmarillion to end up this way, since most of the texts that went into it go beyond Literary Agent Hypothesis by having their own in-universe authors, being written in different styles and levels of detail, and sometimes being written at specific times and places. However, since he didn't come close to finishing, it had to be patched together posthumously in a way that destroyed the effect.
- ''Post Apocalypse Dead Letter Office" by Nathan Poell is a collection of undeliverable letters sent After the End.
- Stephen King:
- The novel Dolores Claiborne, there are two newspaper excerpts at the end.
- An excerpt from The Boston Globe about an anonymous donation from Dolores Claiborne, out of Vera Donovan's will of $30 million to the The New England Home for Little Wanderers orphanage, and that the 'guardian angel' who sent it is completely serious about their anonymity.
- From The Weekly Tide, a section called "Notes from Little Tall". It informs us that Dolores is free and expecting a visit from her son Joe Jr and Selena (for the first time in twenty years).
- Karel Capek, the author of War with the Newts, worked also as a journalist, and the novel shows. It is a collage of various story-telling methods and Capek employed and spoofed techniques of popular journalism. The story is presented from multiple perspectives, and there are many documents, articles, pamphlets, reports from conferences, letters, scraps and clippings from in-verse scientists, historians, journalists, politicians, businessmen, celebrities or working-class people.
- Gerald Jonas' short story The Shaker Revival has a main character who is a journalist investigating the titular movement: the story consists of excerpts from the article he's writing, transcriptions of interviews or surreptitiously recorded conversations, and letters. This gets interesting when some more personal materials that are included reveal that while he was working on his article, his own son ran off to become a Shaker.
- Purple and Black by K.J. Parker takes its name from the inks the two friends write their letters in. Each chapter consists of an official communique in purple, followed by a more personal, less formal letter in black.
- Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple is mainly told through emails or letters to and from various characters, but also includes things like a transcript of a character's TED Talk, press releases, and a blog post from a local weatherman. The premise is that Bee, the teenage daughter of the title character, gained access to all these documents and is piecing them together into a book in order to shed some light on her mother's mysterious disappearance. Occasionally, Bee herself will step in to fill in gaps between the documents or give her own counterpoint on something a character said in their writings.
- The Vampire: The Requiem clanbooks are presented as compilations of documents relating to each of the clans.
- Most of the story of System Shock 2 and its "spiritual successor" Bioshock is conveyed through audio logs found by the player as they explore a (mostly) deserted location. A handful of characters are actually still alive in both games, but the entire backstory of the fall of Rapture and other subplots in Bioshock can only be found by listening to the audio logs. You don't necessarily need to listen to every audio log (only some contain in-game hints like lock combinations), but skipping them would really be depriving yourself because the novel-quality story is half the fun.
- Most of the background exposition in Sid Meierís Alpha Centauri is delivered through the quotes from characters that are attached to every base facility, secret project, and technology in the game. The "Interlude from the Book of Planet" segments, which advance the plot, might or might not qualify; it is not clear whether or not these documents actually exist in-universe.
- An early computer game example is Portal (no, not that one — this one was published in 1986), where the gameplay consists of searching for snippets of information in order to discover why the entire human race seems to have disappeared.
- In the Metroid Prime series, most of the actual story reveals itself as you scan computers and ancient writing, leaving players hesitant to exit Combat Mode clueless as to what is going on.
- In Lost Winds: Winter of the Melodias, Toku finds the pages from his mother's diary as he explores the land, learning more of her condition and the events that led to the current state of affairs.
- The World Ends with You has the Secret Reports, which can be gathered post-game to answer all of the questions that were left unanswered (and provide a couple new ones).
- At the beginning of each chapter of Rule of Rose you are given a handwritten disturbing fairy tale that is missing a page, that will be added at the end of the chapter, completing each story.
- Amnesia: The Dark Descent, with Daniel's and Alexander's diaries and other miscellaneous notes.
- lonelygirl15: Some videos are on channels other than Lonelygirl15 (especially the "Danielbeast" channel), to show perspectives other than Bree's.
- The Tellerman Legacy is comprised of journal entries, letters, and one documentary, collectively chronicling ten generations in the life of one family.
- Most of Marble Hornets is footage found on a bunch of tapes the main character got from his friend before said friend disappeared. Eventually he starts shooting his own footage and uploading that.
- A great deal of Alternate History timelines consist of a combination of quotations and extracts from history books published within the fictional setting coupled with some our-world commentary to help explain it, and perhaps occasionally segments written in story form. Probably the Ur Example of this is Decades of Darkness.
- The now defunct Torchwood series 1 website had various cases from the Torchwood Archives (related to each episode) told in the form of diaries, letters, press cuttings, and official reports. The still-accessible-if-you-dig-for-it series 2 website does much the same, although more along the lines of adding background detail to the televised stories, rather telling than original but thematically similar ones.
- Pretty much everything at the SCP Foundation save for some transcripts and the "Tales" section: descriptions of paranormal items/entities/etc and how to keep them contained, experiment logs, exploration logs, and so on.
- The Hero By Night consists of diary excerpts and newspaper clippings.
- Brian Griffin from Family Guy planned an in-universe example in his head: "It's about a guy who loses everything, but finds his soul...in Canada. And the whole thing...is an email...to his daughter...who's dead."