The nested story is a form I really enjoy playing around with. Perhaps I am obsessed. My interest from a writing point of view comes partly of something that Adam Marek said about how he writes short fiction – he often takes two things that don’t belong together (testicular cancer and Godzilla, for example) and then goes on to figure out if there is a logical way for them to work in harmony.
I wouldn’t dream of speculating on why this works for Adam. But for me, taking two at-odds things and bringing them into conflict seems to jumpstart my creative juices – as if, possibly, the creative part of my brain really needs a puzzle to work out in order to run properly. Perhaps this isn’t the most elegant way of putting it; what I think I mean is – creativity is the forming of connections, the bringing of things together, or at least a central aspect of creativity could be described as this. So, starting from a position of at-odd-ness supplies me with a readymade fuel.
Nested stories – where one story contains another story, seemingly different – work on the same principle. But instead of unusual objects contained within a single narrative (and the accompanying challenge: how do these things fit) we have two narrative threads that, somehow, have to resonate with each other. It comes with additional challenges – how do you convince the reader to stay with you through both? – and restricts the kind of stories you want to tell. It forces you, at some point, to have characters sit and talk to each other for a period of time.
The key thing to remember for me is that the story must come first. Too often than not, the nested story starts something off – an idea, a plot, a set of feelings – but, like scaffolding, must be discarded in subsequent drafts because it impedes the overall piece. On the plus side, if you do scrap your nested story when you come to polish the thing up, you can always use it as the seed for the next piece. A sort of narrative propagation, perhaps.