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spentastico
02-17-2012, 07:03 AM
In TV/movie terms, "breaking the fourth wall" is when the actors acknowledge the camera and address the people watching. Here's what I'd like to know as it applies to writing:

A) Is it called the same thing for books?
B) Is it an acceptable thing to do sometimes, or is it taboo?

Now descriptions pretty much break that wall on purpose. I'm wondering if you've ever had a character address the reader in a fiction setting. For a half-bum example, there's a line in my first book that could at very least be seen as pressing on that fourth wall if it doesn't break it altogether:

“You know,” Mike replied as he smiled at the fact that they were going to another Marion, “if someone were writing a book about our exploits, going to another city that just happens to be almost exactly like the one in which we currently live might make the writer come off as a bit lazy. Don’t you think? ..."

Cyia
02-17-2012, 07:21 AM
A) Yes, it's called the same thing.

B) Its acceptability depends entirely on your execution. The 2nd book in my in sig-line does this quite often, with the 1st person narrator speaking to the reader as though she were sitting across the table from them. (It's actually quite common in YA, though.)

For myself, the broken-wall sections are parenthetical asides, commenting on something or someone in the story as it's told.

Brickcommajason
02-17-2012, 07:44 AM
Cyia called it. In first-person POV when it feels like the narrator is talking directly to the reader, it's perfectly okay to break the fourth wall and talk directly to your audience. A few books that do it really well include:

The True Meaning of Smeckday
Several books in Larry Block's Burglar Series
Most of the Rex Stout Nero Wolfe Novels

HarryHoskins
02-17-2012, 08:42 AM
Great question. :)

For me, fictions fourth wall is immediately apparent. You pick up a book, start reading and are aware what you're doing and are aware the author of the book is aware anyone who engages with the book will be aware that the book is a construct written by someone.

That said, this is not the case for all readers. Some people pick up a book and immediately suspend disbelief and get carried away in the story -- I envy them bastards and only the best of authors and books can turn me off like that.

So, in my opinion, writers faced with the problem of the fourth wall can go anyway they like because what they write is dependent on their readership.

To (try and) clarify.

For me, irony in literature is the amusing picture on the fourth wall. The great thing about it is that only a certain amount of readers will be able to see it and therefore it shouldn't spoil things if its done right. Those who are looking for escapism are likely to read on and not notice the author of the work winking, grimacing, throw hand signals, copping a feel, telling jokes, riffing on anything they want and generally have a high old time with a reader while the story (though enhanced by these activities) remains unaffected at a base level.

However, your question extends beyond this to a character breaking the fourth wall. This is, I think, where things get really interesting.

Firstly, as we have seen, the reader (unless engaging in a suspension of disbelief) already knows the characters are pawns of the author and there to take part in a story. So why shouldn't they chat a little to the reader? I think its fine for this to happen, and the only question remaining is on what scale do you, as author, want to have your characters aware of the reader.

You might could have them say stuff to the reader without their knowledge through intentionally unintentional irony. This way you can please the ironic reader and keep the suspension of disbelief reader in the zone, too.

Or, you might could go for some direct address. This kind of business is going to be a little obvious for the ironic reader, but, if employed correctly could also have them rolling in the aisles and offering you Booker prizes. However, there is a danger here too. The un-ironic reader, the one who has totally suspended their disbelief, may be so blown away by a character in a story talking to them that it might ruin their concentration and engagement in the story.

So, I think what I am saying is ...

Have your characters chat to the reader if you want, but be aware if you push it too far you might pull the suspension of disbelief reader out of the story and you might could have the ironic reader yawn.

All in all, in my opinion, it's a cheap trick that is often used to cover a cliche, but -- if done with style and panache -- it can also be very amusing and clever and also ruinous at the same time.

Hope all that made sense. :)

James D. Macdonald
02-17-2012, 08:49 AM
Charles Dickens talked directly to the reader all the darned time.

HarryHoskins
02-17-2012, 08:52 AM
Having read post number four and its dubious and drunken reasoning, I must declare -- although I know what it is saying -- I'm not sure it has been written very well. :)

Becky Black
02-17-2012, 08:01 PM
It can be lots of fun if done well.

Your example doesn't really break the 4th wall to me. The character doesn't directly say he's aware he's in a story and is fictional. I'd call that bit "lampshading", as they call it on TV tropes. That is aknowledging you know the reader is thinking something like "could call that a bit lazy" or "oh, geez, you're going to go investigate the strange noise in the dark cellar all alone? Well, bye now, nice knowing you!" If the characters say or think something similar, showing they are aware of the maybe cliche nature of the situation they're in, that's lampshading. It can but doesn't have to be breaking the 4th wall. It could just show that the character is aware of common story tropes and cliches, not that they themselves are in a story. Lampshading can be fun, or can be an act of desperation becasue the writer can't think of any other way to do this than the cliche way!

I think, aside from in first person where the whole thing is usually just one big breach of the 4th wall, it's probably best used for comic effect, because it does lower the stakes in the story. It's an aknowledgement, that they know that "hey, I'm just a fictional character, it doesn't really matter what happens to me, this is all just pretend!"

Jamesaritchie
02-17-2012, 08:27 PM
I don't see your example is breaking the 4th wall, but first person is about the narrator talking directly to the reader. Or to a friend sitting across the kitchen table, if you will.

But there's seldom a need to address the reader directly, as in the sense of "Here, dear reader, we learn that", as was sometimes done back in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

randi.lee
02-17-2012, 08:34 PM
This thread reminds me of Romper Room. "I see Lilly, and Tony and John, and you- I see you!"

As long as the MC doesn't blatantly point at the reader and say, "There's a ketchup stain on your shirt-!" its fine with me. In fact, writing geared toward making the reader feel that they are a part of the scene can be quite engaging.. so long as no one points out my ketchup stains ;)

kuwisdelu
02-17-2012, 08:40 PM
“You know,” Mike replied as he smiled at the fact that they were going to another Marion, “if someone were writing a book about our exploits, going to another city that just happens to be almost exactly like the one in which we currently live might make the writer come off as a bit lazy. Don’t you think? ..."


It can be lots of fun if done well.

Your example doesn't really break the 4th wall to me. The character doesn't directly say he's aware he's in a story and is fictional. I'd call that bit "lampshading", as they call it on TV tropes.

To be specific, they're leaning on it. (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/LeaningOnTheFourthWall)

kuwisdelu
02-17-2012, 08:45 PM
Addressing the reader isn't necessarily breaking the fourth wall. To break the fourth wall, the narrator or other characters need to address the fact that they are, indeed, in fiction. Saying "dear reader" doesn't automatically do that.

RemusShepherd
02-17-2012, 08:58 PM
Yes, I think there are several levels of this.

Addressing the reader directly is a common feature of first person POV, and it happens in other POVs as well. Terry Pratchett does it all the time, in Omni POV, in his Discworld books. At worst, it's a minor bruising of the fourth wall.

But when a character in the story knows that they're in a story...that's called 'medium awareness' or 'genre savvy'. (That's a generalization of 'comic awareness', as displayed by characters like Ambush Bug, She-Hulk, and Deadpool, all of whom know that they're in a comic book.)

I don't think I've ever read a prose book in which a character is genre-aware. I'm sure it's been done, but it's rare in comic books and it must be much rarer in prose. I would expect it to immediately destroy any suspension of disbelief for the reader. Again, that doesn't mean it can't work but it would be tricky and difficult to do properly.

kuwisdelu
02-17-2012, 09:07 PM
But when a character in the story knows that they're in a story...that's called 'medium awareness' or 'genre savvy'. (That's a generalization of 'comic awareness', as displayed by characters like Ambush Bug, She-Hulk, and Deadpool, all of whom know that they're in a comic book.)

If they simply notice that what's happening around them resembles a story and are aware of its genre, that's genre savviness.

If they're actually aware they're in a comic book, that's breaking the fourth wall.


I don't think I've ever read a prose book in which a character is genre-aware. I'm sure it's been done, but it's rare in comic books and it must be much rarer in prose. I would expect it to immediately destroy any suspension of disbelief for the reader. Again, that doesn't mean it can't work but it would be tricky and difficult to do properly.

Having a genre-savvy wouldn't be very difficult or problematic for suspension of disbelief.

For example, a character in a thriller who meets the villain could try to get him monologuing to stave off his fate and find a chance to escape. That's genre savviness.

Following it up by pointing out that if he dies then and there, the story will be over and the book will end rather anti-climactically is breaking the fourth wall.

spentastico
02-17-2012, 09:34 PM
Cool! Those were two terms I wasn't aware: "genre savvy" and "medium awareness." Learn something everyday!

Would it be tacky to write where the character addresses the reader and says something like this? "Look, I don't know if the author told you this yet, but I'm dynamite in the sack."

I guess it all depends on the situation, huh? Depending on the scenario, just about anything will work. :P

SBibb
02-18-2012, 06:06 AM
I know there are several characters in books who talk to the readers (Maximum Ride, Animorphs), but they are talking to the reader as if that reader is in the story, part of their world.

It's actually something I plan on tinkering with in some future stories. There will come a time when one of my characters is clearly aware that she is a part of a game/story, though she chooses to ignore it, since she is uncomfortable with the idea.

Then there's another character whose big achievement will be the moment that he is able to "forthwall," when he is clearly aware of the reader and acknowledges them, and even asks the writers/DMs for favors. I look forward to that story, though I've got to finish the other series first. (Since I want it to lead into that one). :-)

blacbird
02-18-2012, 10:20 AM
It don't matter unless you can break the fifth wall: Publication.

caw

Xelebes
02-18-2012, 11:07 AM
The sixth wall. . . we don't mention the sixth wall.