A fictional fictional character or fictionally fictional character is a type of fictional character found in a metafictional work. It is a character whose fictional existence is introduced within a larger work of fiction, such as the Itchy & Scratchy cartoon that exists only within the fictional world of The Simpsons.

Fictional fictional characters[]

When a fictional character's primary existence is in a media outlet that, itself, is fictional, that character is a fictional fictional character. This is usually, but not necessarily, done for comedic effect. For example, when John Ritter played the role of Garry Lejeune in the motion picture Noises Off, and Garry played the role of Roger Tramplemain in the stage production of Nothing On, Roger became a fictional fictional character, since Nothing On exists only within the realm of Noises Off.

The extent to which this can be comically confusing is summed up in the following quote, taken from a behind-the-scenes sequence at the end of the Stargate SG-1 episode "Wormhole X-Treme!": "I'm Christian Bocher, portraying the character of Raymond Gunne, who portrays the character of Dr. Levant, which is based on the character Daniel Jackson, portrayed by the actor Michael Shanks, originally portrayed by the actor James Spader in the feature film." (After a beat he adds, "Are you okay?")

Perhaps the most extreme example of a fictional fictional character is Suicide Squid, whose eponymous comic book doesn't even exist in other media — it all started as an "in-joke" among the regular posters on a Usenet newsgroup. In this case, the "larger work of fiction" containing the Suicide Squid comic book is the ongoing "in-joke" rather than any formalized media.

Even when the character within the "story within a story" is based on a real person or a person from legend, the character takes on the sense of being a "fictional fictional character" by virtue of the setting, even though in fact the character remains a "real fictional character" or even a real person in truth.

Real people as fictional fictional characters[]

In the television series Bones, fictional forensic anthropologist Dr. Temperance Brennan spends much of her free time writing novels about the "fictional" forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs. This mimics Reichs' own real-life second career of writing the Temperance Brennan series of novels and working as executive producer of the TV show, all while working as a forensic anthropologist at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for the State of North Carolina and the Laboratoire des Sciences Judiciaires et de Médecine Légale for the province of Québec. Brennan has made at least one other reference to the real-life Kathy Reichs most notably by stating in the series pilot that the closest other forensic anthropologist is in Montreal. As used in Bones, this entire concept is also an example of breaking the fourth wall.

"Frame" stories[]

An early phenomenon related to the "story within a story" is the "framing device" or "frame story", where a supplemental story is used to help tell the main story. In the supplemental story, or "frame," one or more characters tell the main story to one or more other characters.

The earliest examples of "frame stories" and "stories within stories" were in ancient Indian literature, such as the Mahabharata, Ramayana, Fables of Bidpai, Hitopadesha and Vikram and the Vampire. Both The Golden Ass by Apuleius and Metamorphoses by Ovid extend the depths of framing to several degrees. Another early example is the famous Arabian Nights, in which Sheherazade narrates stories within stories, and even within some of these, more stories are narrated. Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales is also a frame story.

A well-known modern example of this is The Princess Bride, both the book and the movie. In the movie, a grandfather is reading the story of "The Princess Bride" to his grandson. In the book, a more detailed frame story has a father editing a (nonexistent) much longer work for his son, creating his own "Good Parts Version" (as the book called it) by leaving out all the parts that would bore a young boy. Both the book and the movie assert that the central story is from a book called "The Princess Bride" by a nonexistent author named S. Morgenstern.

Sometimes a frame story exists in the same setting as the main story. On the television series The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, each episode was framed as though it were being told by an older Indy (usually a very elderly George Hall, though one featured Harrison Ford).

Fictional artists[]

Like S. Morgenstern, Peter Schikele's P.D.Q. Bach can be considered a "fictional artist", who supposedly created the works actually created by the artist's own creator. P.D.Q.'s life thus becomes something of a "frame story" (albeit indirectly) for such works as his opera The Abduction of Figaro.

Mystery author Ellery Queen can also be considered a "fictional artist" of sorts, though the proverbial line between his "true-life" and "fictional" exploits are generally very blurred.

In this case the "frame story"—that is, the fictional creator's life—can be considered metafictional, since each story (or other work) supposedly created by that character adds a little to his or her own (fictional) story.

Deeply nested fiction[]

There are several cases where an author has nested his fiction more deeply than just two layers.

The earliest examples are in Ugrasrava's epic Mahabharata and Vishnu Sarma's Panchatantra. Some of the stories narrated in the Panchatantra often had stories within them, hence a story within a story within a story. In the epic Mahabharata, the Kurukshetra War is narrated by a character in Krishna Dwaipayana Vyasa's Jaya, which itself is narrated by a character in Vaisampayana's Bharata, which itself is narrated by a character in Ugrasrava's Mahabharata.

Another early example is The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, where the general story is narrated by an unknown narrator, and in this narration the stories are told by Scheherazade. In most of Scheherazade's narrations there are also stories narrated, and even in some of these, there are some other stories.

In Douglas Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach, there is a narrative between Achilles and the Tortoise (characters borrowed from Lewis Carroll, who in turn borrowed them from Zeno), and within this fiction they find a book entitled "Provocative Adventures of Achilles and the Tortoise Taking Place in Sundry Spots of the Globe", which they begin to read, the Tortoise taking the part of the Tortoise, and Achilles taking the part of Achilles. Within this narrative, which itself is somewhat self-referential, the two characters find a book entitled "Provocative Adventures of Achilles and the Tortoise Taking Place in Sundry Spots of the Globe", which they begin to read, the Tortoise taking the part of Achilles, and Achilles taking the part of the Tortoise.

In The Sandman by Neil Gaiman, there is a story within a story within a story within a story, as the necropolis apprentice Petrefax tells a story that includes a storytelling session about Destruction telling a story. It is later shown that this - along with all the other stories in World's End - are being related to a bar girl by one of the characters present at Petrefax's original storytelling session.

In Sue Townsend's Adrian Mole: The Wilderness Years, Adrian writes a book entitled Lo! The Flat Hills Of My Homeland, in which the main character, Jake Westmorland, writes a book called Sparg of Kronk, whose eponymous character, Sparg, writes a book with no language. Sparg is therefore a fictional fictional fictional character, and any characters in his book would have been fictional fictional fictional fictional characters.

In Philip K. Dick's novel The Man in the High Castle, each character comes into interaction with a book called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, which was written by the Man in the High Castle. Dick's novel details a world in which the Axis Powers of World War II had succeeded in dominating the known world. The novel within the novel details an alternative to this history in which the Allies overcome the Axis and bring stability to the world.

In Red Orc's Rage by Philip J. Farmer a doubly recursive method is used to interwine fictional, fictional-fictional and real-world characters. This novel is part of a science-fiction series, the World of Tiers. Farmer collaborated in the writing of this novel with an American psychiatrist,Dr. A. James Giannini. Dr. Giannini had previously used the World of Tiers series in treating patients in group therapy. During these therapeutic sessions, the content and process of the text and novelist was discussed rather than the lives of the patients. In this way subconscious defenses could be circumvented. Farmer took the real life case-studies and melded these with adventures of his fictional characters in the series. Red Orc's Rage is a fictional report of the interaction of these slightly fictionalized real patients with Farmer's totally fiction alternative-universe aliens who may themselves be delusions.

From fictional fiction to fiction[]

Occasionally a character's metafictional setting becomes such a popular element of the primary fiction that the producer(s) of the primary fiction decide to produce the secondary fiction in earnest.

A prime example of this is Buzz Lightyear from the Toy Story movies; the character in the movies was an action figure based on a fictional cartoon series, Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, which was later actually produced.

Another notable example is the relationship between Genshiken, a manga series about popular culture, and Kujibiki Unbalance, a series in the Genshiken universe, which has spawned merchandise of its own, and is being remade into a series on its own.

On other occasions the metafictional work may be produced as a way of providing additional information on the fictional world for fans. A well-known example of this comes in the Harry Potter series of J. K. Rowling, where three such supplemental books have been produced, with the profits going to charity. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is in the form of a textbook used by the main character, and Quidditch Through the Ages is in the form of a book from the library at his school. The Tales of Beedle the Bard provides an additional layer of fiction, the 'tales' being instructional stories told to children in the characters' world.

Perhaps the most unusual example of this was the fictional author Kilgore Trout who appears in the works of Kurt Vonnegut. In the fictional world of those stories Kilgore Trout has written a novel called Venus on the Half-Shell. In 1975 real-world author Phillip Jose Farmer wrote a science-fiction novel called Venus on the Half-Shell, which he published under the name Kilgore Trout.

The movie Adaptation was presented as being written by Charlie Kaufman and his fictional brother Donald Kaufman. Both 'brothers' were nominated for an Oscar that year.

Fictional fiction sometimes becomes "real" fiction against the original creator's wishes. The fictional fictional children's book Hamster Huey & The Gooey Kablooie from the Calvin & Hobbes comic strip was turned into an actual work of fiction by an individual not associated with the strip. This went against statements by Bill Waterson (Calvin & Hobbes's author) in The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book that he believed that Hamster Huey... should remain an undefined story, left up to the reader's imagination.

At least one complete Captain Proton story has been written in the real world: [1] Captain Proton: Defender of the Earth, a comic, by Dean Wesley Smith, who presumed that in the Star Trek universe, the holonovel Captain Proton was adapted from a supposed 1930's comic; and he set out to write and publish that comic in the real world. (Other fan fiction described as Captain Proton stories are Star Trek: Voyager stories whose action happens place partly in Voyager's holodeck where the Captain Proton program is running.)


Occasionally, though primarily on television, the characters in a story become the subjects of dramatizations based on their own lives or events that they have experienced. The most notorious case of this took place on the Seinfeld television series; it has also happened on other shows including The X-Files and the short-lived Ellery Queen series.

There is also the "recursive story", for example:

"'Twas a dark and stormy night, and the captain said to his crew, "Gather round, and I'll tell ye a tale."
So the crew gathered round, and the captain said:
"'Twas a dark and stormy night, and the captain said to his crew, "Gather round, and I'll tell ye a tale."
So the crew gathered round, and the captain said:
"'Twas a dark and stormy night, and the captain said to his crew, "Gather round, and I'll tell ye a tale."
So the crew gathered round, and the captain said:
"'Twas a dark and stormy night, and the captain said to his crew..." etc,

and sometimes listeners who are unaware of the trick will listen through several recursions before realizing that the substance of the story is never going to start.


Individual characters[]

  • Atreyu from The Neverending Story
  • Captain Proton from Star Trek: Voyager
  • Dixon Hill from Star Trek: The Next Generation
  • Fearless Fosdick from Li'l Abner
  • Happy Noodle Boy from Johnny The Homicidal Maniac
  • Itchy and Scratchy or Radioactive Man or McBain from The Simpsons
  • Misery Chastain from Stephen King's novel Misery
  • Monsignor Martinez from King of the Hill
  • Suicide Squid
  • Sven Hjerson
  • Terrance and Phillip from South Park, though they appear as actual characters in South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, "Cartoon Wars Part II", & "Canada on Strike". In "Terrance and Phillip in Not Without My Anus", Cartman is portaryed as a fictional fictional character.
  • Tamahome and all other Celestial Warriors from Fushigi Yūgi
  • Bruno Sardine in Aqua Teen Hunger Force.
  • The entire Cast of Sealab 2021 in 1 of its episodes, the "real world" being that of Aqua Teen Hunger Force.
  • Red Orc and other characters from Red Orc's Rage
  • Agent J and Agent K of the films Men in Black and Men in Black II; in the animated series Men in Black: The Series, the two Agents seen in the films are stated to be fictional characters based on information obtained by filmmakers about the "real-life" J and K (thus establishing that the two MIB films exist in the fictional canon of the animated series).
  • Warrior Angel from Smallville
  • Psycho Dad from Married... with Children
  • X-Ray Cat from Freddy Got Fingered

Early examples[]

  • Mahābhārata
  • Panchatantra
  • One Thousand and One Nights


  • A Midsummer Night's Dream
  • Hamlet
  • Love's Labour's Lost

Other examples[]

  • Commander Cool & his sidekick, Mellow Mutt - superheros from A Pup Named Scooby-Doo.
  • Hero at Large
  • Noises Off
  • Wormhole X-Treme!
  • Super Mario Bros. 2
  • Galaxy Quest to some extent
  • 'Geikigangar III' within Martian Successor Nadesico
  • Bewitched
  • Papillon Rose
  • The music video for Sabotage by the Beastie Boys
  • Sonny With a Chance, a Disney Channel series starring Demi Lovato described as "a comedy show about a comedy show"

See also[]

  • Story within a story
  • World as Myth: the hypothesis that every fictional world and every parallel Universe correspond to each other

External links[]