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Breaking the Fourth Wall

May 6, 2010

For those who aren’t writers or in theater, the title may confuse you a little. You may not understand what the fourth wall is, or how it’s broken. We’re going to focus mainly on writing for this post, since I’m a writer more than an actor, and explain exactly what the fourth wall is, but first I do have to tell you where it came from … enter the actor.

So why is it called the fourth wall and not the third or second wall? The term originated in theater and is an “imaginary wall” through which the audience watches the events taking place onstage. Breaking the fourth wall is used for dramatic or comedic effect, but also “reveals to the audience that the characters know they are fictional” (Wikipedia, Fourth Wall). You know, like Ferris Bueller. That’s the earliest movie I can recall at this moment that broke the fourth wall. If there’s one prior to that, I’m drawing a blank. In movies, I just love it when characters break this wall, even if it’s only for a second with a look at the camera.

In writing, the fourth wall is also that level or “wall” that separates a writer and audience from the characters. In other words, the fine line that keeps reality and fiction from blending into one another. I call that wall the book cover. Breaking the fourth wall would be difficult to do within the pages of a novel unless you have your character talking directly to the reader. But now that I think about it, the narration of a story is close to the character breaking the fourth wall, depending on the character and the story and how he/she narrates. Nemy comes close a few times in Nemesis because of the way she talks to the reader, but it’s still not quite breaking the fourth wall until you hit the internet.

Several writers don’t cross the fourth wall or break it down, but I’ve met a few who do within the social media realm. Twitter is a very popular place for writers to do this. When the fourth wall is intact, the writer and the characters don’t intermingle or converse with each other, nor do the characters converse with the audience. Doing so can make us writers look a bit crazy, I suppose, but in all honesty, writers are a crazy bunch to begin with, since we all have some level of schizophrenia with an outlet going on. That’s what I call it, anyway. I mean, really, we have all these voices in our heads. Writing is how we get them out. And to be honest, when we have them tweeting with one another, we’re really talking to ourselves anyway, right? However, that’s not much different than having the dialog in the book. The only difference is that it’s in real time. This is why it seems odd, and because they can talk to you the audience, and you the audience can talk back for the first time ever to your favorite novel characters. We’ve now broken the wall from both sides.

It can also be a great way to work things out with your characters and figure out plot issues.

I’ve broken down this wall many times. Why? Because of that line above. It really seems to help in getting to know the characters better. For me.

Yes, I’ve blended the two worlds a bit–reality and fiction–and yes, it’s weird.

It will always be weird to me, having my characters responding to me or vice versa, no matter how often I do it. I don’t think it’s much different from what J.R. Ward does with her interviews of the Brotherhood, though, or their interview of her. She steps into their world just like I do when I’m reading her story. I step into my worlds I create when I’m writing just like she does. Sometimes, my characters step into my world. Either way, her characters are as real to her as mine are to me, and as real as LeStat is to Anne Rice.

I think the first time I ever breached the fourth wall was during Nemy and Shawn’s fight on Twitter—the Monday Night Brawl. I spoke to one of my first-ever created characters, Kylie, who announced the entire event. I also spoke with a friend’s character during that event, which I found amusing, as it was all still new to me. That was the first time I’d ever had a multi-character-from-several-different-books event, and man was that a pain, although quite entertaining. I’ll probably never do an event like that again.

Now you have a little insight on the inner workings of one specific point of the writer’s mind, which can be a pretty damn scary place at times. So when it comes out into the open, now you’ll know that there may be a slight possibility that the writer isn’t inherently insane … so to speak.

Now, the characters on the other hand, might be a completely different story.

And to further breach this fourth wall, I’ll have one of my characters–Shawn–interview Kait Nolan in the next few weeks about her recent book release. Talk about an insane character–Shawn, not Kait.

(originally posted in part on Jinxie’s World)

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 6, 2010 12:35 am

    Now I can’t wait to see the Deadpool movie, since he is a character who breaks the fourth wall all the time.

    Twitter is a great way to flesh out characters, although, it became WAY too time consuming and they never wanted to go back into their cages after.

  2. NL Gervasio permalink*
    May 6, 2010 12:48 am

    Well, yes, there has to be a limit on the amount of time spent doing so.

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