One Thousand and One Nights: The Frame


One Thousand and One Nights is a collection of South and West Asian tales. My favorite collections of short stories have a narrative thread weaving them together. Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man begins with our protagonist encountering a man covered in tattoos. At night, the tattoos spring to life on his skin, and play out the stories featured in Bradbury’s collection.

In One Thousand and One Nights, also known as Arabian Nights, the frame of the short stories concerns a sultan and his clever wife. After being cuckolded by his previous wife, the sultan swears to take a new woman as his own each night, but to kill her before the sun rises. This way, the sultan thinks, he will never again be faced with an unfaithful mate.

But his new wife, Scheherazade, surprises him. In order to escape with her life each morning, she tells him tales. She begins each tale at night, refusing to finish it until the following evening. Thus she prolongs her death day by day. She tells the sultan stories for a thousand and one nights, until finally he realizes that he does love her and wants her for his wife.

I am intrigued with the idea that stories at their base forms are actually tools.  As writers and readers, we can become bogged down in beautiful descriptions and overwrought character exposition. But the best aspect of stories comes from what they do, rather than what they are. Scheherazade wields her stories to push her impending death further and further away from her.

I too would like to use stories as tools. Except in my case, I’m fending off a different kind of death: a writer’s death. As the Vampires of self-consciousness and insecurity swoop in, I can hold my hands up and say, “Stop! I have a story tell.” And I do have a story to tell. Many, in fact.

Thus I propose The Story Challenge.


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