What Are Framing Devices?


Writers use a number of different techniques to tell a story. Framing devices are one technique to bring interest or a surprising twist to the narrative. Writers use this tool in many ways, sometimes to surprise us, to inform us or to keep us in suspense. This tool is very useful, but it needs to be used properly. If the framing device is not well fitted into the piece, or takes too much time to develop, it detracts from the overall narrative rather than adding to it. Framing devices are also called "envelope structures" or "circular structures."

What are Framing Devices?

  • Framing devices are any element used at the beginning of a work that is repeated toward the end of the work to frame the story. Elements include an action, scene or event that opens and closes the work, framing it. Framing devices are sometimes called “bookends” because they set off the narrative. Often, the framing device is told or shown in a different tone or style, setting it apart from the rest of the narrative. The story in between the framework usually makes up the bulk of the work. Framing devices can be a single word or image, an allusion to another work (such as a Biblical passage or lyrics to a song) or a personal experience of the writer or a character in the work. Sometimes the framing device is slowly explained throughout the work, and other times it is revealed suddenly. These devices create suspense or interest in the story. The element often seems out of place in the beginning, but is made clear at the end. or the element is an unexplained event that is later explained in a flashback. Sometimes the device is used to show how a character changes or remains unchanged through the story.

Framing Devices in Literature

  • "The Canterbury Tales" by Geoffrey Chaucer is one example of a framing device in literature. The story is set in the frame of pilgrims telling stories as they travel. "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" by James Thurber is another example. The story begins and ends with Walter in a fantasy world of his own making. "Frankenstein" by Mary Shelley is framed by Frank Watson's letters to his sister about Dr. Frankenstein.

Framing Devices in Movies

  • “The Princess Bride” is an example of a framing device used in the movies. The story is told by a grandfather to his sick grandson. “The Illusionist” begins with the arrest of the main character, and this event is revisited and explained at the end. The hit “Titanic” was framed by Rose's account of her adventures on the ill-fated ship many years before.

Other Framing Devices

  • The television series “How I Met Your Mother” is a framing device. The story is told by the main character who is explaining to his children how their parents met. Most other examples of framing devices in television occur in only one or a few episodes. Musical compositions can also employ framing devices. A piece that begins and ends with the same theme, which is sometimes repeated during the piece, is framed. “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band” by the Beatles and Pink Floyd's “Dark Side of the Moon” both use the technique of framing the pieces contained within using musical themes.


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