Breaking the Fourth Wall

1. What is it?

The ‘fourth wall’ is an imaginary barrier between the story and the reader. It ensures the story’s protagonists do not acknowledge the audience.

The idea comes from theatre, where the fourth wall of a room is imagined. Both the audience and actors pretend it is there so the audience is not in the scene.

Breaking the fourth wall means acknowledging there is an audience, usually by speaking to it. The story is no longer self-contained, but enters the audience’s world.

2. How is it made?

A character breaks from the action to talk directly to, or about, the reader.The narrator uses phrases such as ‘dear reader’.

3. Examples

As Martin dealt the cards he spoke to me about the report I’d filed the day before.
“You know, Chuck, that was good work you did on the Menzies case. The guys upstairs will appreciate your efforts.”
“Thanks Marty. Of course, I couldn’t have done it without Noel’s help.”
Noel smiled at the recognition. He was a shy young man, and Marty’s thanks certainly lifted his mood. That said, dear readers, my words were only flattery, because in truth Noel had been mostly useless. I am certain your employment also has an individual who is amiable but incompetent. However, poker would be more pleasant with a happy Noel.

It was a Tuesday afternoon when I met Marie. I had been out hillwalking, a pastime about which I am very keen. My father had introduced me to it as a child, and the bug had never left.
“I do not think the readers wish to hear about your hobbies. Please get on with the story.”
What my husband says is perhaps true. The focus of this tale is that of Marie and how she resurrected my life from the deepest despair it had known. However, to do that I must first establish where both Marie and I were in our lives when we met. And indeed my husband plays an important role in our early days.
“OK, that is fine. But please get on with it.”
This I shall. So let me begin.

4. Task

Write a short scene in which one of the characters breaks the fourth wall.