Breaking, Cracking, and Peeking Around the 4th Wall

When reviewing her work this week, Melissa and I discussed some fun ways we could break or bend the fourth wall. I like the fact that all her drawings were done with “frames” and I suggested a couple of ways we could play with that to communicate certain feelings by letting certain elements break out of that frame constraint:

In both of the above images, I suggested letting elements of Fallon break out of the frame to convey his awesome size and threat. Specifically, in the left image I also suggested letting Fallon’s flames that (in the story) will have encircled the Princess take up the space beneath the frame to show how trapped she is.

Melissa is aware that I enjoy breaking the fourth wall occasionally in my writing. In one section that is up on the blog, the Duke Plebo and Lando discuss how many soldiers to send to aid Prince Chauncey:

“No, one of each, two total,” the king interrupted.

Plebo nodded and turned back onto his side to resume his nap. “Seems more manageable. It’d be a mess of names for people to follow in the story if we added four all at once.”

The King hummed in concordance while pulling at his pipe again. From his lungful of the smoke he stated: “you mean in the stories of Prince Chauncey’s legend?”

“Yes, that.”

That’s my nod at the reader to say, ‘I don’t want to overwhelm you with characters, so I’m intentionally limiting the number of soldiers being sent out here.’

Melissa suggested another moment of breaking the fourth wall, by having the King Nick winking right at the reader in this image:

IMG950116

On this one I refused her suggestion. Aside from a cute little detail, it doesn’t serve a purpose. King Nick has no magical powers or omniscience to justify that or be hinted at through that moment of peering beyond the veil of his world at us (maybe the Oracle Borrachor does, I admitted, but not Nick).

Which leads me to the point of applying any narrative tool you have in your quiver, especially and including breaking the fourth wall: what point does it serve? Cute for cuteness’ sake isn’t terrible, but sometimes that can be distracting. Does breaking the fourth wall, or a metaphor, or foreshadowing also accomplish development of character, plot, or overall theme?

Deadpool is a great example of this: Deadpool’s breaking of the fourth wall is meant to both communicate background, history and exposition, but it also accomplishes showing Deadpool is insane within the context and space of his actual universe because everyone else around him is confused by his monologues to and awareness of “us.” In the above passage, Plebo’s break of the wall does more than hint at the reader I’m aware of them having a lot of characters to juggle, (Spoiler alert) it also hints to the fact that Plebo is not from the world where my story is set.

It’s all well and good to have a hammer and know how to swing it, but without a nail to pound in that holds things together, you’re just making noise.

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