1. Cornflower
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    Cornflower Member

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    Is it possible for a story character to break the fourth wall?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Cornflower, Jan 19, 2011.

    Is it possible for a story character to break the fourth wall?

    I'm editing my fantasy story called Anne in Ellabur and in Chapter 11 (there 12 chapters in totally) a Lady-in-Waiting broke the 4th wall since she mentioned the story they're (there's another Lady-in waiting, in the room) in is a fairytale. In m
     
  2. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    What is a fourth wall? What are you talking about?
     
  3. HBB
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    HBB New Member

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    What I generally gathered from writing is that the only appropriate place to break such laws in a prose is when the piece itself is satirical or humorous in nature. If it is done in a more serious work, then it could have the impact of utterly destroying the feel of the chapter.

    Put shortly, it isn't worth it to do normally, unless the whole work is humorous.

    Though, I can see it fitting in a children's fairy-tale of some sort, assuming that the person breaking it is the narrator(who should be alloted more freedoms.)

    Cheers.
     
  4. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    I just looked it up -- and I've got to agree. Don't do it. It will shatter your entire novel's credibility, sort of like learning in the last chapter that everything was just a dream.
     
  5. Unit7
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    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Breaking the Fourth Wall is when a character addresses the audience or are aware they are in a story. Not entirely sure on the origins but I believe it comes from the idea of when a character would address the audience through the 'invisible wall' I dunno you can look up its origins. Basicly it just means the character knows there is an audience and often time addresses them.
    Some Examples that I can think of:

    Saved By The Bell has several moments throughout its run where Zach would freeze time and talk to the audience.

    I believe Deadpool from the X-Men comics was fully aware that he was in a comic book, often making comments and poking fun at it.

    At the end of the movie Wanted there is a scene where the main character talks about what he did today, and then asks the audience directly 'What did you do today?' Well I think it had a swear word in it.


    So anytime a character talks directly towards the audience/reader is called Breaking the Fourth Wall.

    Or atleast thats if I remember things correctly.
     
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  6. Forkfoot
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    Forkfoot Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's extremely possible. Try it.
     
  7. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    As with anything in writing, it depends on how good a writer you are. You can just do it and think the doing is self-validating, of course.
     
  8. Edward G
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    Edward G Banned

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    It can only work in a docu-drama, like in the movie Pirates of Silicon Valley. It can't work in a novel. A novel requires a suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader and breaking the fourth wall interferes with that.

    It's like using the second person point of view. It seems like a possible idea, but it doesn't work out in practice.
     
  9. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Really? Never works in a novel? What about short stories?
     
  10. Edward G
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    Edward G Banned

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    I'm not saying you can't do it; I'm saying it doesn't work. It blurs fiction and non-fiction and that's two different states of mind when reading a text.

    Second person doesn't work, because it requires too much suspension of disbelief. Not only does the reader have to believe the events in the story, but they have to imagine those events are happening to them. Again, possible to write, but in the end you just end up losing the reader, and lest we all forget: journals are for us; stories are for the reader.
     
  11. Forkfoot
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    Forkfoot Contributing Member Contributor

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    It can work. Try it.
     
  12. Jonalexher
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    Jonalexher Contributing Member

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    I don't know about a novel, maybe if you execute right. I have seen it in comics, though. It seemed to work very well for Deadpool and The Joker.
     
  13. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Of course it can work Jane Eyre is the first one that cames to mine - she addresses the reader a few times. Other pieces of classic literature told in first person do it very well and it is lovely it is like being a confidante of the story. It was normal for Greek and Roman works to do it.

    It has fallen out of favour but doesn't mean it hasn't and can't be done well. However I also quite enjoy second person it is like having a conversation with the book lol it takes huge amount of talent to get it right but when they do it is fun.
     
  14. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    I'm not even sure what this means, or how breaking the fourth wall means a piece is suddenly non-fiction.

    Yet plenty of journals and stories written in journal form have been effective and popular ways to tell stories.

    And who writes journals in second person? That's just creepy.
     
  15. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hm... that sounds like a good idea for making the villain in a story creepier. Make him write in second person, so it feels to the reader like he is intruding on their personal space.
     
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  16. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Wow, suddenly everything you've ever posted makes a lot more sense.
     
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  17. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think there's a difference between addressing an assumed reader, and reaching right out of the page. I write a lot of my epic fantasy as a chronicle or narrative that the main character is very aware of writing down, or even a side character who's recording the lives of the main characters. When you're writing something with the frame as it's actually being written within the story, then there's no problem with a line to the reader. It doesn't have to be intrusive.

    It's still breaking the fourth wall in a way because it draws attention to the fact that, okay, the reader is 100% sure I didn't stumble across an ancient text from another world and publish it untouched, but it's only another level up from the any number of first person books where you're aware the author isn't *actually* the character though they're writing "I"... In a way, a book I read where the author named his main character after him felt MORE fourth-wall breaking, because it was also about an alien, and therefore every time the name was mentioned I'd look at the cover of the book and be like, "Hmmm" :p

    Anyway, merely the fact that it's referencing that it's written down doesn't have to break the fourth wall. It's just putting it in more context than there's a 1st person narrator. Okay, it removes the suspense, but most of the time a 1st person narrator might get in all sorts of trouble but they never die anyway, and only a few very cruel authors do that. The rest can be assumed to survive, so why not mention that they're writing it down? People love journal stories. Having a clear point that a first person view point is coming from can be very useful. Perhaps if you start with a dramatic cliff-hanger prologue and then work your way up to it, you can know that there'll be a cut-off point where the character doesn't know what's happening, and they're taking their last few hours of life to type up how they got to the point they are... Referencing that from time to time can be fun. Okay, so it wasn't recorded as a written thing, but Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde has a brilliant example of the narrator hanging around on death's door for most of the novel, and occasionally mentions stuff like, "This wasn't where she pushed me in the man-eating plant, but..." :p

    Anyway, that ramble aside, extreme "Oh by the way you're holding a book" fourth-wall breaking is also pretty fun if it's pulled off well, and I have no problem with it. Light-hearted comedy is given all the permission it likes to break the fourth wall in my book (ha ha), because comedy of that nature is often quite self-aware anyway, if it's a parody of its genre or characters or anything. Once it's self-aware the fourth wall is already pretty weak...
     
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  18. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Is there a difference? I'm not sure I get it.

    As for the fourth wall, yes it can work if properly executed. It would be interesting to experiment with that in non-humorous stories.
     
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  19. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Actually you have given me an idea for my pompous Reverend it is slightly humourous but not cartoonlike.

    I am thinking being addressed by a not very pleasant kind of creepy character could work or oddly I am thinking maybe he should do second person journal entries - hmm thanks Islander.

    My dear reader, you come with me as I adress my congregation. Those young ladies are causing me deep anguish. Those very low cut dresses with all their gawdy lace. Oh it gets to me in ways I am sure you can imagine. Why don't you come and leer with me whilst I tell them God will damn them to eternities for it ? I know you gonna enjoy this as much as me .....

    Ok naff right now but as I am planning to serialise it in short bursts could work well.
     
  20. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, if it's Chuck Norris. Chuck Norris can break anything with a roundhouse kick.

    I think I get it. If the book is written like a journal of one of the characters, it makes sense for the narrator (the journal-keeper) to address the reader. ("Whomever finds this journal, beware of the dangers bla bla bla...") It makes sense within the fictional world, so It doesn't break suspension of disbelief.

    But if one of the characters just starts talking to the reader, as if he's talking into thin air, it doesn't make sense within the fictional world, and breaks suspension of disbelief.
     
  21. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ah, yes got it.
     
  22. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    For me that is more what Jane Eyre feels like - she doesn't address the reade very often and the rest doesn't feel like journal. Other books from the same time period do it, and think CS Lewis does in one of the Ransom related stories.
     
  23. Forkfoot
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    Forkfoot Contributing Member Contributor

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    Breaking suspension of disbelief doesn't have to be a problem. I don't think it would be for me, if I were reading a novel that did so. Long as the author used it artfully, skillfully and with confidence, I could see a ton of ways to play around with it.

    It irks me a little bit when I see budding writers told not to do something because it doesn't work on this site. Who the hell are we to say something like that? How could we possibly know their idea wouldn't work? We need new fresh and unusual approaches to our art, not less.
     
  24. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with Forkfoot there is nothing in writing that is unfixable until the work is published.

    Write the first draft if it doesn't work that is what the delete key or the tearing out of pages is for :) I have just deleted 20K worth of words because a story wasn't working right and I have better ideas for it.

    Worse that happens is you try something and discover it doesn't work.
     
  25. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Having something be so incredibly contrived that the reader starts to suspect the only reason it exists is because the writer felt the need to explain or justify things in the story can still be detrimental. The 'oh, I happened to find a character's journal, let me read from it aloud' is sort of a TV trope, and often only thrown in as a substitute for context or fully developed story-lines.

    It's kind of akin to the villain in a Bond movie taking a few minutes to explain his entire evil plan... time enough for Bond to then escape, even!

    And a writer rarely finds themselves in a position to add in a journal or break the fourth wall... Hrm, ONE must be done... err no. Usually just good story telling will suffice.

    Reminds me of the terrible writing in Vampire Diaries, where after a show they'll simultaneously write in their journal, directly telling the view things that any astute reader would have picked up in context or by, get this, the acting. It's lazy, easy writing in most cases, but doesn't exist as a way to avoid breaking the fourth wall. They're simply different things.

    And sometimes people talk to themselves, naturally and within the context of their character. The fear of breaking a rule often leads writers to do everything 'by the book' and safe, so characters stop acting like people for fear of someone calling them out on some 'rule' they read on a website.

    I'm not saying everyone should go around breaking the fourth wall, and the worst offenders imo are the classics where the writer him or herself intrudes to apologize or justify their writing to the reader. This wasn't some literary technique being employed and experimented with at the time in an attempt to create a dynamic new literary movement, it was simply that society was different then, fiction not as refined, and writers often felt they HAD to put the reader at ease for fear the readers would stone them to death.

    Charlotte Temple is a great example. It doesn't break the fourth wall as some method the writer is consciously trying to employ to improve the story. Quite the opposite, in fact, and Rowson addresses the reader several times, often at the most emotionally charged times, to remind the reader it's simply fiction and to not blame her for writing it or think she personally agrees or supports anything she's writing about. It's rather distracting and obnoxious to modern audiences who are smart enough to understand fiction is fiction, but audiences back then were different and women especially writing about controversial subjects had to be careful.

    Breaking the fourth wall, employed consciously as a literary technique, can be just as successful as anything else. Harder to do well, perhaps, but not impossible. But keep in mind there are differences between an actor on stage addressing the audiences because it's in the script versus doing the same because they just flubbed their lines. As with anything in fiction, it's best to consciously employ techniques and styles, not let something happen because you can, or whatever, like I guess, shrug.
     

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