Thursday, September 01, 2022

Fiction About Creating Fiction

This week I watched the Fred Astaire musical THE BAND WAGON. The plot (such as it is) revolves around a lighthearted musical play the Fred Astaire character's two best friends have written for him as a comeback vehicle. The famous director who's persuaded to take charge of the production insists they rewrite the story as a contemporary, avant-garde musical adaptation of FAUST. When the opening performance proves to be a spectacular flop, the cast and crew remake the play according to the original script. So this movie is a musical about the making of two musicals.

KISS ME, KATE is another well-known example of a film about producing a play. Many others appear in the list on the TV Tropes page titled "The Musical Musical":

The Musical Musical

Of course, the device of a play within a play goes back to Shakespeare, if not earlier. In A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, the workmen of the city put on a play about Pyramus and Thisbe, meant as a movingly tragic drama but turning into a farce. Hamlet writes a revenge drama for the visiting actors to perform in an attempt to expose his murderous uncle and even lectures them on acting techniques.

Then there are films and TV series such as WANDAVISION and PLEASANTVILLE, in which the protagonist is trapped inside a TV show or movie come to life.

Novels about writing books are not uncommon, also. One obvious example is Stephen King's MISERY, in which the villainess forces the author of her favorite series to compose a sequel restoring the supposedly dead heroine to life.

Such stories can go either way in terms of the relation of the embedded fiction to the main plot. In MISERY, the melodramatic historical novel the author writes during his captivity contrasts sharply with his own desperate plight; the process of creation offers temporary escape. In HAMLET, the content and theme of the play within a play deliberately echo the situation at Elsinore.

Do authors create stories like this mainly because, as labeled on TV Tropes, "Most writers are writers," and we tend to "write what we know"?

Most Writers Are Writers

Or are there deeper reasons why many people enjoy metafictional fiction?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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