Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Breaking the Fourth Wall

Breaking the Fourth Wall:

According to the urban dictionary the fourth wall is the thin line that exists between a story and reality. When a character in a story tells the reader in some way that they know that they are a character in a story; that is called 'breaking the fourth wall'. The use of this literary device has to be very carefully chosen, of course.

Personally, I’ve enjoyed using this device since university days when I developed a crush one of my professors!

Consider what history has taught us:

In fiction, the best example is Edgar Allen Poe's The Tell Tale Heart, where the narrator is trying to convince you, the reader, that he's done this terrible murder but it doesn't make him crazy. He speaks directly to the person reading the story, using "you" when he addresses the reader. "You," he says, will understand why he's doing this and "you" must know that he's not mad, he really isn't.

Breaking the fourth wall can be an effective device for drawing the reader in and making them a part of the story. When used well, this device enhances the reader's enjoyment of the story. When the story is written in First Person—the narrator is one of the characters of the story—this is a good time to break the fourth wall. It allows the narrator to carry on a personal relationship with the reader through the art of storytelling. Just like when a film star reaches out to the audience with speech, so can the writer reach out to the reader with open arms.

But it's not always appropriate and that's the hard part about using the device of breaking the fourth wall—determining when it can be used effectively and in its proper place. With genres such as mystery, thriller, or whodunit, breaking the fourth wall can work against you; especially when you don't want the reader to know what the narrator or main character is thinking. You want the mystery to envelop everyone, including the reader. So pick and choose the times you want to use the device and make sure it is right for your story. J

Happily, and very seldom I might add, breaking the fourth wall in Ashern, Manitoba, Canada. How about you, my dear fellow writers and readers, how do you feel about breaking the fourth wall?

Best regards,

January Bain
The Forever Series
Champagne Books


Big Mike said...

Wow, J, never heard that one, thanks.

Michael Davis (Davisstories.com)
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

The term is new to me, too, but you certainly explains it and its uses well. "The Telltale Heart" is a thriller because of it.

Have to stop and breathe here.

January Bain said...

Wow, can't believe I had a post that Big Mike, one of my writing mentors because of his vast knowledge of all-things-written, that I could teach him something! Too cool!!! And also so cool to admit it. I know many who pretend they know everything. Thanks Big Mike, you made my day!

Thanks Julie, for your positive comments and taking the time to comment. Your posts are so helpful to me. You've been a great mentor.

Liz Fountain said...

I love it. I do it all the time in NaNo-ing, and then usually go back and take it out. It's a great way for me to overcome writer's block during first draft stage.

But the key is, as you say, knowing when to use it in a final version. And that, dear reader, is the heart of the mystery that will unfold in front of you. :)


Gabriella Austen said...

In my current middle grade book I use it and think it works well, of course we'll see what my editor thinks. For now, at least, that fourth wall is history.

January Bain said...

Thanks Liz and Gabriella! You both make excellent points.