Breaking the Fourth Wall

Elckerlyc

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In the books by Ellery Queen this was a recurrent feature. Near the end he would write something like: "At this point all the pieces of information needed to solve this mystery are present. Before I'll explain them in detail, try to figure this out for yourself."
 

The Judge

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That's exactly how I felt! "You're the author, that's your job!"
To be fair she couldn't have explained then what Wimsey was looking for as it would have effectively have identified the murderer relatively quickly, but although it didn't worry me I confess it did seem a bit strange since, in reply to the question "What would we be lookin' for?" all she need have done was write eg "Wimsey told him." and left it at that. I've never noticed it in any of her other work, though, so I've no idea what made her decide to do it on that occasion. Actually, I wonder if she did give the answer originally, but the editor pulled it at the last minute because it gave the game away.


To explain for those who haven't read it, the scene is from Five Red Herrings, Wimsey has just been been looking through a dead artist's belongings, which have been itemised in extensive detail, and then tells the police sergeant he has to look for the missing item, and after the question's been asked, where the reply should be instead there's this:

(Here Lord Peter Wimsey told the Sergeant what he was​
to look for and why, but as the intelligent reader​
will readily supply these details for himself, they are​
omitted from this page.)​
 

Toby Frost

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That's the one! It was rather weird. It's been ages since I read it. If I remember rightly - at least in the edition I read - that bit of text was printed in the middle of a blank page, as if to really draw attention to itself.
 

Wayne Mack

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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 reason I would characterize this (which is not obvious from what I posted) is that Mr. MacLean uses this technique to foreshadow future events. He always keeps these to one sentence asides, so as a reader, I find myself continuing on in the story, but if I stop and think about it, the only way to interpret these is as the writer directly addressing me.

I want a story to be engaging. By this, I mean, I want to be living inside the story. I do not want to be reminded that I am external to the story, looking at words on a page. From this perspective, the phrase 'breaking the fourth wall' may be incorrect. The actual problem, to me, is building a wall between the reader and the story. The mark of a good fiction writer is making the reader believe that he or she is part of the story.

Concerning first person, I feel it is the easiest construct to move the reader from being told a story to the reader being part of the story. The use of 'I' reflects how the reader thinks within his or her mind and provides the least amount of dissonance to being engage. On reflection, I find it curious that third person works so well in engaging readers. The 'he' or 'she' construct implies distance from a POV character, yet a good writer can pull me into the thoughts and feelings of a character despite this.

I don't think breaking the fourth wall necessarily needs to be so blatant as to address the reader by name or title, but occurs anytime where the wording gets between the reader and the story. Nonetheless, it can be and has been used to good effect by authors for comedic or dramatic effect.
 

paranoid marvin

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I agree that the narrator speaking to the reader/viewer isn't 'breaking the fourth wall' as they generally are outside of the story. If one of the characters in the story addresses us that is something different. But as well as speaking to the reader/viewer, the fourth wall can be broken by the character doing something that they shouldn't ought to be able to do within the context of the universe in which they exist (such as Arnie stepping out of the movie and into 'real life' in Last Action Hero.

Aside from Oliver Hardy's exasperated looks to the audience, I think the first examples in film is when (I think) Jenny Agutter's character addresses the viewing audience at the end of The Railway Children.

But the best example I've found in film is when Dark Helmet watches the movie on VHS tape to find out where the heroes are hiding out.
Another favourite is Red Dwarf, with Lister travelling to Coronation Street to find the actor who plays him in that programme.
 

paranoid marvin

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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.

In 'The Beast Must Die' there is an 'intermission' towards the end of the movie where the viewer is asked to deduce who the werewolf is. But (as I mentioned above) I don't class this as an example of breaking the fourth wall, as it is the narrator's voice.
 

AnRoinnUltra

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In 'The Beast Must Die' there is an 'intermission' towards the end of the movie where the viewer is asked to deduce who the werewolf is. But (as I mentioned above) I don't class this as an example of breaking the fourth wall, as it is the narrator's voice.
Thanks, will check the film out -cool idea; the web would kill a modern version ...an intermission to run an internet search for the culprit!
 
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