1. Delphinus
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    Delphinus Senior Member

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    Straddling the Fourth Wall

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Delphinus, Dec 16, 2009.

    That pesky fourth wall is always getting in my way! Don't you just wish you could blow it to pieces and be done with it?

    Of course, it doesn't work that way in reality. Once you've destroyed the fourth wall, there's no going back; doing something that extreme exposes your writing to the elements somewhat, not least because it makes it virtually impossible to know whether you're writing fiction or non-fiction at any given moment. It can be confusing, nauseating, and outright traumatising for your poor audience, and unless what you're writing is explicitly designed to shock and bewilder, there's no reason to do that to them. None whatsoever. Why would you do that?

    Well, my reason is because the piece I'm currently writing is indirectly about - you guessed it - a writer. To be more specific, it's a piece about said author's romantic life. I know that sounds like the premise to an awful, bland romance that you find in charity shops and on old women's bookshelves but, perhaps foolishly, I decided to take a break from the norm: the story is told through the piece that said novelist is writing.

    Bear with me for a second, because I'm starting to sound like a terrible hack. The idea is that the 'author', a frankly awful and reclusive writer, is trying to impress a woman he's attracted to by writing a novel which is essentially a very badly-done account of what he imagines their relationship is like. The main character of his novel is an egotistical portrayal of himself, while the main love interest is a romanticised portrayal of the woman he's attracted to. Don't worry though, because the story isn't told from any of the yet-mentioned characters perspectives - it's told instead from the dangerously genre-savvy friend of the main character's main character and while the two lovebirds aren't galumphing around like awkward teenagers, they're acting very similarly to their counterparts in the 'real world'. The heroine is cheating on the protagonist with dozens of other men, and is essentially just using the protagonist for money and sex.

    The main characters of the main character's novel behave just fine while they're in the middle of a 'scene', but awfully while 'off-camera'. Lies, deceit, blah blah blah are rife. As you probably imagined by now, stopping the 'real world' from overshadowing the world of the novel while making it clear, little by little, what's really going on is going to be incredibly difficult. So, if a more experienced writer has any advice: how do I drop hints as to what's happening in reality without making the main character completely disillusioned with the world of the novel, and yet prevent the cheesy, cliché-ridden writing style of the 'real' writer from spoling the piece as a whole?
     
  2. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i doubt anyone can give you valid advice as to 'how' to do what you're asking about, other than to say, 'with good/skillful writing!'... every writer would tackle those issues in his/her own way, as there's no template for such things... and since you're not supplying us with any examples, we can't even say if we think what you are doing works, or not...

    and btw, what you describe has nothing to do with 'the fourth wall' which is only when the writer/actor addresses the readers/audience directly... i see none of that in what you're referring to...
     
  3. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    Sounds like one whopper of a challenge, Delphinus, but I'm with Maia on how the 4th wall plays into this story, unless you mean that your author character steps into his own story somehow to chat with his own readers--i.e., by your references to "really" and "real world," you mean "fictional reality" and "fictional real world" as that relates to the fictional writer's novel and story he's trying to relate" rather than your own. If that's what you mean, then I assume you're considering the break in the 4th wall to be an example of one of the poor storytelling choices the fictional author is making (since you say he's writing in a cheesy, cliche-ridden style).

    But if you're suggesting that you yourself might step in and clarify things or cough up an opinion now and again for your reader (maybe in some kind of humorous aside-driven manner), you could check out (for examples of how some experts handle it) either Calvino's IF ON A WINTER'S NIGHT A TRAVELLER or Saramago's ALL THE NAMES, where this kind of device plays a part in the delivery of two pretty remarkable stories.
     
  4. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I have no insight on how to improve your story (other than, as Maia said, the ever-unhelpful write it well), but you are confusing "breaking the fourth wall" with metafiction. The two overlap (I believe I'm correct in saying that all acts of breaking the fourth wall would be considered examples of metafiction, but not vice versa) but are not the same. Metafiction is sorta a hallmark of postmodern literary fiction, so it isn't at all hard to find examples of how it can be done well. Your post was really confusing though, maybe if you try some clarification you'll get more specific help.
     
  5. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    Great observation, Aaron. I'll bet you are right, but I'd never have thought of it in this way till you said it. Gives me a new handle to use in thinking about the metafiction I read.
     
  6. Delphinus
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    Delphinus Senior Member

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    Well, in a sense I'm breaking a fourth wall, as does any other metafiction. And of course, the real problem is breaking the wrong fourth wall. You have the fourth wall behind the first one, seperating the novelist and his characters, then the one between us and the 'real' characters.

    ...okay, I'll stop making excuses. The title is misleading.

    Sophie's World is a good example of metafiction (and a great introduction into philosophy to boot!) but it takes a somewhat heavy-handed approach to the metafiction. However, I wonder if the 'outer layer' itself needs to be made apparent to the reader, or whether one can simply drop hints to the outer layer which eventually culminate to a full history of what's going on in 'reality'. If one can simply drop hints and still be successful, that's great. But the ambiguity is with writing in first-person, since that necessarily limits the knowledge of the reader. Switching between omniscience (perhaps with little scribblings by the 'author'?) and first-person might be a good way to do that.

    Didn't House of Leaves do something similar? Has anyone here read it? I've heard rave reviews from some and four-letter reviews from others, but I've never actually read it myself.
     

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