Top Twenty One Metafictional Works: The Story That Swallows Its Tale

Fiction about fiction is metafiction, which allow writers and readers to examine the trickiness of storytelling. Here are the best works of metafiction in chronological order. For a much longer list, see my post 111 Best Works of Metafiction.

1. Cervantes, Miguel. Don Quixote. 1605.

Parodying chivalric romance by contrasting the lofty story-lines with the hard-edge of reality, Cervantes established two genres: metafiction and realism. Often called the first modern novel, it could also be called the first post-modern novel. It’s a book about books and the effects they have upon our lives, especially when we try to live out our fictions in the real world. Cervantes challenges the notion of objective history and blurs the distinction between fiction and nonfiction. The events are told by a series of authors nested one within the other like Chinese boxes, which draws attention to how stories are told and how each teller alters the tale. In the second volume, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza hear of the publication of the first. They meet a reader and talk to him about their own book. Don Quixote, expecting a heroic romance, is angered by his portrayal as a deluded, old fool, thus becoming a critic of his own book. (Learn more about this funny and insightful novel in my book Narrative Madness and my many posts about it.)

Online Edition / Link to Amazon
Historical importance to metafiction: 5
Metafictional inventiveness: 5
Literary reputation: 5
Enjoyability: 5!!! (It’s long, but actually two books: a novel and its sequel. Try the first to see how funny it is!)

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111 Most Important Works of Metafiction

What is fiction and why does it matter? Metafiction addresses these questions. Metafiction is fiction about fiction, or fiction that is somehow self-reflective. This is a list of the most important metafictional texts and works that contain metafictional elements, including some metapoems and metaplays, with explanations of what makes them metafiction. For those who want to read more about certain selections, I have included links to relevant posts on my blog and outside sources. This list is not meant to be comprehensive but to give readers an idea of the range and richness of metafiction. Delicious! Enjoy! For a more selective list, see my post Top Twenty One Metafictional Works: The Story That Swallows Its Tale.

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Major Themes of Metafiction

An overview of major themes, conventions, and motifs in metafiction, which is basically fiction about fiction or fiction that is somehow self-reflective. This summary will also serve as a guide to some of the posts I have written.

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Why Metafiction Matters

Metafiction is an attempt through stories to understand what stories are. Why do stories matter?

Because we are stories.

Whenever you — or anyone else — says you are woman or heterosexual or suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or lucky or afraid of needles or good with children, you are choosing words that tell a story about yourself and the stories you tell about yourself strongly affect, if not determine, the lives you’ll lead.

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What is Metafiction?


A playful and pretentious prefix! Use it today and impress your friends.

From the Greek μετά, meaning ‘with’, ‘after’, ‘between.’ The Oxford English Dictionary says, “The earliest words in English beginning with meta- are all derived ultimately from Greek (frequently via Latin or French); in most the idea conveyed by meta- is that of ‘change,’” as in metamorphosis, metaphor and metaplasm. English formations with meta- meaning ‘beyond’ (and that is the sense that will concern us here) appeared in the first half of the 17th century, as in metatheology. Scientists from the 19th century onwards also used the prefix to mean “behind,” as in metaphrenum, “situated between,” as in metasomatome, and “after,” as in metasperm (I like that one).

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A Distant Voice, Part 4: A Challenge

(Click here for the first part of this story: A Distant Voice: Preface.)

Here at last I was facing my enemy, the man who had taken credit for my aunt’s discovery, a man I knew only from textbooks and TV. He was shorter than I thought, his hair now white and wispy. He didn’t seem malicious. He looked calm and concerned. He offered me a chair, and I refused.

All at once, I felt unsure of myself, a bit lost in front of this fatherly figure. I set my motorcycle helmet on the chair and unzipped my jacket, pulling the folded emails out of an inner pocket. I tossed them onto his desk, and they slid off, falling at his feet. He looked down at them, but made no move to pick them up.

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Sustained Argument Writing Assignment for Second Year Composition

Sustained Argument

2000 Points, as part of Argument Series


At this point in the semester, you have spent quite a bit of time exploring a topic of interest to you. It is now time to take things to the next level. You will create a sustained argument, a research paper making a research-based persuasive argument about an important issue or controversy related to your topic, which you will then break up into about four posts on your website. Although this assignment is a more traditional academic essay, you should still adapt it to conventions of online writing: headings, images (with sources credited in a caption with working hyperlinks), very brief introduction, and shorter paragraphs. Keep in mind that most online readers only spend a few moments on a website, so deliver your main message quickly and offer those who linger multiple points of entry.

Your Task

Identify a specific issue within your topic, research that issue, and then compose a persuasive argument of about 1500-2000 words, giving a specific call to action to a specific group, backed up by extensive, scholarly research. Your thesis should answer the question, “Who should do what?” and include words like “should,” “have to,” “need to,” or “must.” If your advice is negative–somebody shouldn’t do something–invert it to make it positive advice. If your advice is about people changing their opinions, revise it so that your target audience actually has to do something: a call to action.

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Little Gardens: Life in a Hard Place


People talk about nature as if it were outside the city: “This weekend let’s get out into nature. Let’s go for a hike.” However, such statements create a division between humans and nature, as if we were somehow separate from the biological processes of the earth, an idea that stems from Judeo-Christian beliefs that the world was created for human beings: “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” This dangerous notion leads us to treat nature like a park that can be visited, a product that can be marketed, a commodity that can be exploited.


But nature is not outside the city. There is no border dividing our communities from the natural world. Life flourishes in the most inhospitable environments, including poisonous deep-sea vents with temperatures up to 750 degrees Fahrenheit, so why not in the cracks of our sidewalks? To remind us of the continuity of nature in our urban landscapes, I love finding plants that reach sunlight in spite of our efforts to pave over and sterilize the earth.

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A Distant Voice, Part 3: A Glimpse

(Click here for the first part of this story: A Distant Voice: Preface.)

A Glimpse

“You have to keep fighting, Auntie Azra,” I said, as I took off my motorcycle helmet, shook out my hair, and plopped myself down in the threadbare armchair. “You can’t let that slimeball, that smegma, keep taking credit. I still see his fucking face everywhere, even after all this time: in our science books at school, on talk shows, in magazines. Christ, there’s even a dessert named after him: the almond siverling! Did you know that? They sell it in a cafe on Telegraph Avenue. Makes me sick. He’s more famous than the 266’s themselves. No one knows what to do with a signal from space that we cannot understand, but they sure know how to make a celebrity out of an asshole.”

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