How to Write Metafiction
All fiction is implicitly metafictional, as all fiction is conscious of language and literature, according to Patricia Waugh, literary critic. A metafictional device may come in many forms, all of which intend to call the reader’s attention to the fact that they are reading fiction; conversely, other fictional stories attempt to convince the reader the story is true. Writing metafiction requires choosing the right device for your particular story.
Experiment and practice writing metafiction daily. As with fiction, it takes time to hone your skills and master the craft of writing. It is likely you’re first attempt at writing metafiction will be clunky; however, by continually working at it and not being afraid to try a new technique, even if it fails, your metafiction writing skills will improve.
Read many metafiction examples, as it is an advanced literary concept and requires a writer to understand it before he attempts it. A few examples of metafictional works include "The Handmaid’s Tale" by Margaret Atwood, "Northanger Abbey" by Jane Austen, "Watt" by Samuel Beckett, "Don Quixote" by Miguel de Cervantes and "The Princess Bride" by William Goldman. Reading these metafiction examples will get you familiar with the effects of metafiction.
Write an outline or summary of your story, which can still be in any genre, such as contemporary, historical, science fiction or fantasy. Meta writing can be done in any genre. Formulate a basic plot with a beginning, middle and end, and come up with descriptions of your characters, just as you would for a regular work of fiction.
Choose a metafictional device for your story. You must have a purpose for using this device, or it will likely not be effective. Common devices include a story about a writer writing a story (such as Stephen King’s "Misery"), a story where the actual book is a “prop” within the story (such as Douglas Adam’s "The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy") or a story with narrative footnotes that comment on the story (such as Susanna Clarke’s "Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell"). The idea behind all metafictional devices is to subtly draw the reader’s attention to the fact that he is reading a fictional account.
Write the story, incorporating the device you chose consistently. Your story must still have a strong voice, compelling characters and conflict in every scene, and demonstrate exceptional writing skills, just as a regular work of fiction would have. Consider the tone of your story as you incorporate the device; for example, a humorous satire of another well-known story might be highly metafictional in that your characters “know” they are actually in a story.
However, a more serious and dramatic piece should not be flamboyantly metafictional; instead, you may choose to have the narrator subtly expose to the reader that he is the “author” of the story she is reading. An example of this type of metafiction is Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale."