Princess Bride thewritepractice.comLast week, I wrote about how to target your audience down to one person.

“When I was writing my book,” bestselling author Al Pittampali told my friend Jeff, “I had a very specific person in mind.” Al said he had one individual in mind. Just one. He said he knew he didn’t have to please everyone. He didn’t even have to please a niche.

He just had to make that one friend happy. That’s it.

What If You Tried This With Fiction

This is good advice for nonfiction, but I think it’s even more interesting for fiction. I think about Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, whose narrator tells the story of his life to his overweight and uneducated lover.

Or Arabian Knights where Scheherazade’s storytelling is all that is keeping her from execution at the hands of her murderous husband and king.

Or Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew where the main play is actually set within another play about a drunk who is tricked into thinking he is a nobleman.

Or The Princess Bride. In the movie, an old man tells Westley and Buttercup’s story to his sick grandson (the book is something of a story within a story, too).

What if the person you’re telling the story to is actually in the story?

How You Create Your Story-Within-a-Story

Your thriller about a regular guy mixed up in a government conspiracy trying to kill him could become a story about a seductress telling the story of how her fictitious husband was killed so she can seduce a rich entrepreneur.

Your Harry-Met-Sally romance could become a story about how a couple who saved their marriage by retelling the story of how they met to their therapist.

There are basically three steps to telling a story within a story:

1. Who is your “one?”

Who is the story being told to? Here are some ideas:

  • A son/daughter or grandchild
  • A priest
  • A murderer
  • A king
  • A detective
  • A psychologist
  • A spouse/lover

2. Who is telling the story?

You have two options here: go with the obvious choice, a priest being told a confession; or a less obvious one, a priest being told a story by the woman (or man?) he’s having an affair with.

3. What is the story?

This is the hard part. It’s time to write the novel. No easy advice here. Just start writing.

I don’t think it matters if the two stories relate to each other. In the examples I used above, some relate and some don’t. Don’t get hung up on that. Just write.


Practice setting up the story within a story. First, pick the “one,” the person your narrator’s going to tell the story to. Next, pick the narrator, the person telling the story. Finally, write about how the narrator starts to set up their story.

Write for fifteen minutes.

Good luck, this is a hard one.

Joe Bunting
Joe Bunting
Joe Bunting is a writer and entrepreneur. He is the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Let's Write a Short Story! and the co-founder of Story Cartel. You can follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).