According to Patricia Waugh, metafictional writers explore the relationship between fiction and reality whereby the writers want to convey fictional characters that only exist in the text, the text being their only reality. The reality of the fictional world is a linguistic reality only, which contrasts with classic fiction in which fiction represents reality. In case of metafiction, the real world only exists outside the text. There are metafictional texts that often include metafictional passages and fictional passages together.
Metafiction is aware of itself as fiction, is self-conscious, narcissistic. You have overt forms of narcissism, but also covert forms of narcissism, the latter being more common. Linda Hutcheon and Waugh say that 'metafiction draws attention to the writer’s process of creating discursive frames', drawing attention to the storytelling in the tales. It puts forward story-telling as a way for human beings to make sense of reality, to the fact that we try to make sense of reality (or versions of reality) by creating stories.
Given the assertion that metafiction draws attention to the writer’s process of creating discursive frames, what is meant by this phrase, particularly the phrase "discursive frames?"
While the literary concept known as “metafiction” has antecedents that go back centuries, it found its greatest manifestation during the turbulent period of the 1960s and 1970s. Such authors as Kurt Vonnegut, William Styron and John Barth wrote popular works of experimental fiction, particularly Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, Barth's collection of short stories Lost in the Funhouse, and Styron’s Sophie’s Choice, that reflected the irony, self-awareness, and unconventional narrative structure common to many such works of metafiction. An element common to writings categorized as metafiction would be the discursive style to which Patricia Waugh referred in her 1984 study Metafiction: The Theory and Practice of Self-Conscious Fiction. Waugh’s argued that “contemporary metafictional writing is both a response and a contribution to an even more thoroughgoing sense that reality or history are provisional; no longer a world of external verities but a series of constructions, artifices, impermanent structures.” The stories told employing this literary device are born from a deep grasp of realities’ dark undercurrents. In the cases, for example, of Slaughterhouse Five and Sophie’s Choice, the horrors of World War II – specifically, the firebombing of the German city of Dresden and the Holocaust respectively – provide the emotional and historical gravity that form the basis for the almost surrealistic approach each author uses in conveying the emotional impact of their protagonists’ experiences. In both cases, as in others, the narrative jumps about in time rather than taking a more conventional, linear approach to story-telling.
This unconventional form of narrative is what Waugh means when she references “discursive frames.” Discursive writing is that which jumps about from period to period with no regard for chronological order in the telling of the story. Another example of metafiction, one noted by Waugh, is John Fowles’ 1969 novel The French Lieutenant’s Woman, in which parallel stories intersect through the common metafictional devise of involving stories within stories, such as with the character of Charles’ efforts at constructing a Victorian novel. Vonnegut, in Slaughterhouse Five, intersperses his memoir of service in World War II with the surrealistic story of Billy Pilgrim, and Stephen King, in Dark Tower, makes himself instrumental to the story by inserting himself directly into it, subverting the conventional narrative structure in the process.
The self-awareness implicit in many works of metafiction is most often employed in works of art, including film and painting, in which the author, director or artist inserts himself prominently into the story. Director Spike Jonze, whose films Adaptation and Being John Malkovich are among the most prominent displays of metafiction in film, inserts the creative personality directly into his stories. This, again, is a characteristic of what Waugh refers to as “discursive frames.” The self-conscious or self-aware approach to story-telling that allows the reader insights into the creators’ vision and method.
As Waugh points out, then, authors of metafictional art are drawing attention to themselves through the overt presence in their works.