Breaking the Fourth Wall

Guttersnipe

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Do you like and/or employ it in your prose? Are you for or against it in literature? I was asking because I was thinking of using it in a story for this month's 300-word challenge. I use it sparingly, but I feel like there's some beauty in listening to a person who isn't real.
 

Jo Zebedee

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Do you like and/or employ it in your prose? Are you for or against it in literature? I was asking because I was thinking of using it in a story for this month's 300-word challenge. I use it sparingly, but I feel like there's some beauty in listening to a person who isn't real.
I have no probs with it if done well
 

Astro Pen

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I haven't thought about it a lot in written work but how does it relate to Shakespearian 'asides'?
I remember it being well used by Ian Richardson in House of Cards (the UK original)
 

Wayne Mack

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I say just give it a try. That's one of the wonderful things about these challenges; they provide a really low cost environment to try something new. The worst thing that can happen is that you go HHNV - High Hopes, No Votes.
 

AllanR

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"Perhaps it will do no harm to the main elements of our story if we pause here to clarify certain matters, in order to present a precise and straightforward picture of the relationships and circumstances obtaining in the general's household at the beginning of our narration."
From The Idiot,* Dostoevsky

*not a comedy....
 

paranoid marvin

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I haven't thought about it a lot in written work but how does it relate to Shakespearian 'asides'?
I remember it being well used by Ian Richardson in House of Cards (the UK original)

Yes , as show which in large parts relies upon Shakespeare's Richard III (which itself is full of 'to the audience' monologues from the protagonist. The way that Richard/Francis draws us into his confidence is marvellously done , and really adds to the story. Even to this day when I hear the phrase 'I couldn't possibly comment' it suggests the speaker is referencing this show and indicating that he means something other than what he/she is saying (incidentally Prince Charles said it in a recent interview).

In tv/movies/plays , breaking the fourth wall has been there forever, and whn it is done well it is marvellous. Who can forget Hardy's expressions of disbelief to the camera? But the danger is also that it risks destroying the suspension of disbelief. I don't think that it would have improved LOTR if Gandalf knowingly winked at the audience or addressed the reader.
 

AnRoinnUltra

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Just had a stab at this over on the fantasy paragraph thread. I’m definitely no expert but I think it can work well in small doses. There is a deadly fourth wall thing in the film Matinee, it’s been a while since I saw it but I think John Goodman is explaining some science fiction shenanigans:
‘These things are metamorphosing (looks to camera ‘or changing’) at an accelerated (looks to camera ‘or speeded up’) rate’.
 

msstice

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To me the very term "fourth wall" comes from TV/Movies/Plays since the set is three walls and we are flies sitting on the fourth wall. These mediums don't require a narrator though since the ancient times they often did usually to do some infordump or the other.

Written stuff (not a play) requires a narrator. The narrator is always speaking to us, though the art of the illusion is to make us believe we are there, experiencing stuff first hand.

When the narrator explicitly addresses us, it gives me the feeling of an interlude. The effect of this break in the flow is to regroup my mind, possibly from some very intense episode.

I agree that when this is done it has a hint of comic relief to it.
 

Wayne Mack

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I agree that when this is done it has a hint of comic relief to it.
It can also be used in adventures to add tension where it might otherwise be lacking. Alistair MacLean invariably would have points in his stories where the POV character would address the reader and say something along the lines of, "If only I had acted differently, XXX would still be alive."
 

msstice

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It can also be used in adventures to add tension where it might otherwise be lacking. Alistair MacLean invariably would have points in his stories where the POV character would address the reader and say something along the lines of, "If only I had acted differently, XXX would still be alive."
True, but breaking the fourth wall in a narrative, especially a first person narrative, requires something more blatant, because we already assume someone is telling us the story. The example given here is not out of character for a first person narrative and I would not consider it breaking the fourth wall.

The stream has to be broken with something like "Dear reader, as you sit in your safe warm home, spare a thought for the huddled masses on the sinking ship."
 

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Or "Reader, I married him." (Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Very definitely not comedic!) Though it's perhaps easiest for it to happen in first person, as there's an implied conceit that the narrator is telling someone the tale, so being addressed by him/her isn't such a difference, unlike an otherwise third person narrator suddenly breaking in like that, unless the narrator is clearly there from the start, like a storyteller around the campfire.

With regard to drama, I don't think they had the idea of the fourth wall as we understand it until the C18th. That is, no one was thinking "Let's break the fourth wall here!" -- they just wrote and acted the play as they thought fit. Not only are there asides in the plays of Shakespeare and his fellows -- and, I'm willing to bet, comedic mugging for the groundlings -- but there are direct addresses to the audience with eg the Chorus in Henry V.


Going back to the Challenges, perhaps not quite the breaking of the fourth wall, since there was no wall there in the first place, but I've directly addressed the reader in two 75 worders if that's any help. I can't bring to mind any Challenge entries that were written "normally" as it were, with the narrator then changing narration and commenting on the action, but I'd certainly be interested in reading one. Thinking about it, I'd quite like to try my hand at writing one!
 

AnRoinnUltra

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Or "Reader, I married him." (Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Very definitely not comedic!) Though it's perhaps easiest for it to happen in first person, as there's an implied conceit that the narrator is telling someone the tale, so being addressed by him/her isn't such a difference, unlike an otherwise third person narrator suddenly breaking in like that, unless the narrator is clearly there from the start, like a storyteller around the campfire.

With regard to drama, I don't think they had the idea of the fourth wall as we understand it until the C18th. That is, no one was thinking "Let's break the fourth wall here!" -- they just wrote and acted the play as they thought fit. Not only are there asides in the plays of Shakespeare and his fellows -- and, I'm willing to bet, comedic mugging for the groundlings -- but there are direct addresses to the audience with eg the Chorus in Henry V.


Going back to the Challenges, perhaps not quite the breaking of the fourth wall, since there was no wall there in the first place, but I've directly addressed the reader in two 75 worders if that's any help. I can't bring to mind any Challenge entries that were written "normally" as it were, with the narrator then changing narration and commenting on the action, but I'd certainly be interested in reading one. Thinking about it, I'd quite like to try my hand at writing one!
Not a 75 worder effort but below is the thing I tried earlier -the idea was to have action happen somewhere, then for the narrator to make out like it was a 'real' place, and then just wander back into the story as if nothing happened ...there's a serious chance of losing the reader.
Lilith walked until she heard the sound of water. She had reached the edge of a gully. It dropped more than thirty feet to its base, and water was cascading down from a stream next to her.

Now.

The place she found is known as ‘pollineasp’. Roughly translated, the name means hole in the snake. Most experts agree that the name comes from a local legend. Some people will have it that a giant serpent slithered it’s way out from hell. Supposedly it was so massive that this act created the gully. Fortunately God was on hand to kill the serpent with a spear. The serpent vanished, and the waterfall next to Lilith marks the spot where the spear struck.
A less well known theory states that ‘pollineasp’ means hole in the Bishop, as the word Easpog/ Bishop can be shortened to ‘easp’. This would mean that Lilith was now staring at the Bishop’s hole.
Of course, Bishops don’t exist in her world. Nor do serpents.
But magic does.

‘Lilith’, came the voice.
The water was speaking to her.
‘What the fiddlesticks do you want?’, she asked.
 
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msstice

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The Princess Bride movie did it best (of the movies I can recall right now).
 

JunkMonkey

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The Princess Bride movie did it best (of the movies I can recall right now).

I don't remember any characters in The Princess Bride breaking the fourth wall - ie directly addressing us, the audience.

I use it all the time in my comics. Sometimes whole strips will be nothing but a character talking directly to the reader. Other times the punchline is delivered as an aside to the audience as other characters are unaware.

THE best use, bar none, of breaking walls is the Belgian strip Imbatable - which features a Superhero whose power is that he can see what's happening in other panels on the page - including himself doing things he hasn't done yet. Sometimes it can get deviously twisty.

Here's a fairly simple one:
6685740-4-900x1300.png


There was one multi-page strip a few weeks ago in which he encountered a character who could write her own universe-altering captions and use them to hop about [Three weeks ago...] in time while being chased by a character who could step across the frame lines. Genius stuff.
 

msstice

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I don't remember any characters in The Princess Bride breaking the fourth wall - ie directly addressing us, the audience.
Yeah, probably this doesn't count as fourth wall. It's more a nested story kind of thing. Each drop back to the outer story broke some tension in a fun way.
 

AnRoinnUltra

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Was just wondering if it is ever used in murder mysteries? I'd find it handy if the narrator paused the thing and went 'hey you, yeah you -think about what's going on in this scene and ask yourself what would a fishmonger be doing with a hand grenade?', or the likes. Or possibly a picture of a magnifying glass in the margin when important plot stuff crops up -surprised Amazon don't do it with their electronic book reader.
 

Toby Frost

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Dorothy L Sayers uses it in a mystery set among a group of artists, where she basically says "I'm going to stop listing these objects and let you, readers, work out what was missing".

Personally, I'm not really a fan, as if takes the reader out of the story and introduces a level of distance and awkwardness. I think if you're going to do it, you've got to do it well, and be aware of the consequences of doing so.
 

AnRoinnUltra

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Thanks, I never heard of her and had to look up the books -serious stuff.
I'm going to stop listing these objects and let you, readers, work out what was missing".
...no deal, you tell me or I'm going home!
 

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