1. SWriter
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    SWriter Member

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    Characters talking to the narrator - fourth wall help

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by SWriter, Jul 4, 2011.

    Ok I'm writing a 3000 word short story and I'm trying to do something a bit different in it. I am attempting to have the main character and the narrator converse within the story... breaking the fourth wall if you will. With the word limit its difficult to do this effectivly but I have managed to get a passable relationship in the later story. The bit I'm struggling with is the introduction and formatting. I ran the story (which is finished first draft) the other half and she said she found it very confusing. I agree. What is an effective way to clearly show the reader through dialogue that the narrator is a character in itself. Below is a snippet to show you just how I'm struggling and also to give you an idea of what I'm trying to achive.

    Bare in mind this is only first draft so the dialogue content will probably change so its less gimmicky. This is the first time the narrator and main character talk to eachother

    Thanks for the help in advance! hiya everyone!

    ------------

    “Come on don't do this to me.” said Ben trying to start the car. Stroking the dashboard like a lover he turned the key again. The car suddenly roared like a lioness going for a kill!
    “Good girl!” Said Ben, relief washing over him like a tsunami washing over...​
    Right, stop that.
    'Stop what?'​
    All that tsunami rubbish, I don’t mind you narrating but you’re getting a bit carried away.
    'I was just trying to make it interesting.'​
     
  2. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    sorry, but it's gonna be more annoying and confusing than interesting, imo...

    if you want to tell a story, just tell it... don't make the reader have to figure out who's saying what to whom and why all the time... and overuse of italics is annoying enough as it is, without making it worse by using them for regular stuff like word emphasis and also for changes in who's supposed to be speaking/narrating/whatever...
     
  3. J.P.Clyde
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    J.P.Clyde Prince of Melancholy Contributor

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    I disagree. If you ever read he Discworld series, there were sometimes fourth wall breakage.

    I think what you have Potty is good. Then again I never written with 4th wall breakage.
     
  4. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    I guess it depends. If the book's a comedy and obviously isn't trying to take itself seriously, then sure, let the characters realize that they're fictional and engage conversation with you.

    I like leaning on the fourth wall, where my characters say, "If this were a story, I'd do xyz..." without realizing that, um...yeah, they are in a story.
     
  5. WriterDude
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    WriterDude Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it can work, but you need to make sure the reader knows Ben is talking to the narrator. Simply putting the narrator's lines in italic is too confusing. I've read a few books that had lines in italic like that, but they were the character's thoughts. Dune is a great example. It worked there, but mostly because it was no doubt we were reading the character's thoughts. Even 'pulp' like Resident Evil: Zero Hour pulled off thinking. Again, I'm not saying breaking the fourth wall won't work, but you need to make sure the reader knows that's what happening. The way you wrote that example could easily seem like Ben is arguing with his own thoughts.
     
  6. SWriter
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    SWriter Member

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    'Don't you already know whats going to happen in the world?'​
    In the grand scheme of things maybe. Didn't pay any attention to all the other little bits as a kid. Anyway reading a paper makes me look studious.​
    'So you’re posing basically.'​
    Just narrate the damn story.​



    Something from later in the story which I feel works well but I'm starting to lean toward scrapping the idea as I do feel its too difficult to make it very clear early on who is who and what is going on.

    in this snippet I feel its clear who is who... but I dunno. trying to find some good examples if this has been done before... or some general rule of thumb to make it look tidy and work
     
  7. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Well, I don't know about stories, but I read a webcomic called The Order of the Stick that break the fourth wall almost every strip. They know very clearly they exist in a comic strip based off of Dungeons and Dragons, even saying things like, "xyz will ruin what originality existed in this comic!"

    It's a comic that knows how to take itself seriously, yet knows when the time's appropriate to break the fourth wall.

    Book-wise, it's a bit different. Like WriterDude said, Dune did it wonderfully. Just make it obvious that it's the narrator arguing with the character, and pick a good, appropriate spot.
     
  8. WriterDude
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    WriterDude Contributing Member Contributor

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    Actually, what I meant with Dune is it's clearly the character's thoughts we hear. He isn't talking to the narrator. That's the problem. When I read the first example, I wasn't sure if it was Ben talking to himself or the car talking to him, perhaps in his mind. But then again it was neither, making it even more confusing, ;)
     
  9. SWriter
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    hence my problem :p I cant present the two characters clearly to begin with.

    I had hoped that ben mentioning the way the narrator used the tsunami similie would let the reader accuratley guess he was confronting the narrator. If I can get the intro down the rest will line up perfectly. I dont really want to ditch the idea as furthur on there is some really good dialouge and it helps the story flow alot better than third person POV
     
  10. Sundae
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    I really don't know how to comment so I'll just state my thoughts.

    I don't think you're truly breaking the fourth wall in your example. Instead, you're giving the narrators two personas and making them argue with each other.

    It's not even Ben that is arguing with the narrator. And here is why: Look at the bolded text. The bold part is the narrator talking, not Ben. Then in the next line, you're having a different "persona" of the same narrator arguing with himself.


    This is more or less a story/scene about the narrator more than Ben and what is happening to him.

    In breaking the forth wall - the narrator is breaking away from the story and talking directly to the reader. In your example, the narrator is not talking to the reader but actually himself. What you actually seem to be doing is turning your narrator into an actual character in the story more than anything else
     
  11. WriterDude
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    WriterDude Contributing Member Contributor

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    A bit off topic, but have you seen a movie called 'The man with the screaming brain'? It stars the one and only Bruce Campbell (and was his debut as a director, too) as a man who ended up in an accident and was close to dying. Another guy also almost died in the same accident, so a crazy scientist brought both bodies back to his lab, removed half of Bruce's brain (the character, not the actor) :p and replaced with half of the other guy's brain. The result was two people living in the same body. And they hated each other even before this, so you can imagine how they felt about each now... :p It's a hillarious movie that shows why Bruce Campbell is the king of B-movies. But anyway, when they are living in the same body, they talk to each other like that. Bruce talks with his mouth like a normal person, but the other half talks in his mind. It sounds a lot like a narrator and could be quite confusing in a book.

    The point is you can't assume the reader knows the character is talking to the narrator. There are so many explanations to the 'other' voice that guessing shouldn't be an option.
     
  12. NikkiNoodle
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    Okay, I think this could work but it will take some time. If you can get it right, it could be fun! The trick will probably be to make it very clear who is talking and to whom.

    "Good girl," said Ben, relief washing over him like a tsunami washing...

    Ben rolled his eyes and thought, Right, stop that.

    'Stop what?'

    All that tsunami rubbish, Ben thought, I don't mind you narrating but you're getting carried away. Ever heard of purple prose?

    'I was just trying to make things interesting.'

    Well, don't try so hard. Now can we get on with this? I have somewhere to be.

    Not waiting for a reply, Ben turned his mind back to the task at hand and eased the shifter from park to drive.



    The other option would be to turn the narrator into first person so he/she has an actual relationship with the character being narrated. It might go something like:

    "Good girl," Ben said, relief washing over him like a tsunami washing over...

    "Right, stop that."

    I paused in surprise. Who was Ben talking to? He was alone in the car.

    "Who else would I be talking to?"

    My hand flew to my mouth. In all the stories I had ever narrated, no character had ever, and I mean EVER spoken directly to me. Most of the time, they had no idea I even existed. I slowly uncovered my mouth and whispered, "Stop what?"

    "All that tsunami rubbish," Ben answered, "I don't mind you narrating but you're getting a bit carried away."

    "I was just trying to make things interesting," I defended myself, feeling slightly injured.

    "Well, don't try so hard. Now, can we get on with this? I have somewhere to be."

    Ben didn't wait for me to reply, but slid the shifter from park to drive and pulled out of the parking lot.


    You would have to be able to ease the narrator into and out of scenes carefully and make the transition smooth but I think it can be done, and if it's done well it could be really fun!

    I hope those suggestions help, and dont give up on the idea! With enough finesse it could be a great!

    Good luck!
     
  13. Domino
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    Domino Active Member

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    Who is actually saying the italicized lines? Ben?

    Have you seen Stranger Than Fiction? It's a Will Ferrell movie, where he plays a guy who starts hearing a voice narrating his every move. That's what this reminds me of, a bit. I think it could work, but you have to establish who's actually talking to the narrator. And why are his parts in italics? I would have thought it would be better to keep the character firmly in the story, rather than making him seem to be the one on the outskirts listening in. Or have I misunderstood completely? That happens sometimes. lol. :)
     
  14. SWriter
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    ~Ben is the one talking in italics, the reason I chose italics is so you know ben is speaking to the narrator without everyone around him hearing. I didnt want to have to go into people thinking ben was hearing voices.

    NikkiNoodle awesome reply thankyou! I liked the second example you gave. its mostly what I was looking for, a way to show the reader that ben has a relationship with the narrator which as Sundae said is a character in his own way.

    Thanks for all the replys peoples :D
     
  15. Declan
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    Declan Senior Member

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    I think Sundae is right.

    The fourth wall is there (or not there) for a reason- it kind of holds the whole idea of a 'story' together. Non-fiction has no fourth wall for this reason.

    If you're going to break the fourth wall you have to do it well, by all means try, but I think what Sundae says is correct in that you're not truly breaking the fourth wall, but for what it's worth, I like the idea and think it's quite interesting, so keep at it.
     
  16. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    true, it's not breaking the fourth wall in any sense of the term...
     
  17. WriterDude
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    WriterDude Contributing Member Contributor

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    Funny, I thought the narrator was the one speaking in italic inside Ben's head. :redface:
     
  18. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    potty, you can try writing the narrator's speech just like ordinary dialogue.

    I agree with Sundae that the character speaking in italics is not really the narrator.

    If it were the narrator, it'd read something like this:

    Since the narrator is the one telling the story, he/she'd use "I" every time we're told the narrator is saying something.

    It may be the author who's speaking.
     
  19. WriterDude
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    WriterDude Contributing Member Contributor

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    But what does that make of stories set in first person? Can they be narrated too? ;)
     
  20. Sundae
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    From my perspective of how I read your excerpts, I can say this:

    I knew that you meant for Ben to be the person talking in italics. But what you meant is not what you actually wrote and that's the problem. What you wrote is still the narrator talking.

    Without going into the technical aspects of it, I still have to say that just because you have Ben talking directly to the narrator and vice versa, it's still not considered breaking the fourth wall. You're not breaking away from the story and it's set structure or anything, instead you're pulling the narrator into your story and making him a part of it.

    I've seen this done before, but it's been so long that I can't remember which books do this, but I'm pretty sure this is not truly considered breaking the fourth wall.

    They are narrated by your main character. You do not need to break the forth wall to have a narrator in a first person story. More, I have no idea why you would want to break the fourth wall unless you truly have something significant to say to the reader.

    Take the Great Gatsby for example. Nick Carraway is the narrator as well as a character in the novel. Everything we see is through his eyes, his thoughts, his perception of things. And he's not the main protagonist of the story, he's almost a secondary character through which we receive the story from. While he is the narrator telling the story, his character does a have a separate role from the narrator, - there is a distinction between narrator and character albeit how subtle it is. His emotions, his disgust at the corruption of the American Dream and morality etc, are all Nicks feelings as a character ad not as the narrator.

    Another way to have a narrator is through your perspective. Take telling a story in retrospect. By doing this, the narrator is not bound to simply a first person point of view. He can venture into third person and a narrate someone else's role through his perception. He's also not just bound to only telling you about the scenes that he himself was a part of since he has knowledge through hindsight.

    There are other ways too, but a narrator does not have to be separate from your characters. And simply separating them is not considered breaking the fourth wall.
     
  21. Domino
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    Domino Active Member

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    It's the fact that the narrator's responses to Ben's italicized thoughts are written inside speech marks that I'm not getting. The narrator is telling a story to the reader, while the main character interrupts the story to communicate to the narrator - okay, I get that. I just don't think that the narrator's remarks directed at Ben should be in speech marks, when the rest of what he is presumably "saying", considering that Ben can hear him telling this story, is not in speech marks.

    I hope I'm making sense. lol. I'm not an idiot, honest.
     
  22. NikkiNoodle
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    NikkiNoodle Active Member

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    Wouldnt it make sense then for the narrators speech (aside from the narration itself) to be in italics when talking to Ben? Ben would need some kind of tag to clarify when he was talking to the narrator.
     
  23. SWriter
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    This is what I was poorly attempting to achieve with the whole italics and 'im the narator' thing. I wanted it to be seperate from the action in the story so the reader knows that what they say wont effect the storyline.
     
  24. NikkiNoodle
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    NikkiNoodle Active Member

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    Don't feel bad, most of the stuff we write is pretty wobbly in it's first draft and we don't always make our ideas come across the way we think we wrote them. Thats why we need feedback. I think you got some really good advice, though!
     
  25. Sundae
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    Look up "She" by Charles Kaufmann on Google. It's a short story that you can find and read online but it does exactly what you are trying to do in your writing.

    I nominated it for the short story nominations for July and just realized that it fits what you're trying to do with your piece.
     

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