The Fourth Wall in Writing

I found the site Fiction Factor ( with useful articles and tips on writing, as well as publishing and the writing business. I've read quite a bit from that site and one point in one article has firmly stuck with me. I never thought about it before and it's one of the mistakes I'm guilty of.

  • I break the fourth wall.
In theater, a physical stage has three sides but four walls. Three of the sides contain scenery and props. The forth contains the audience. One of the first things I was taught in high school acting was the importance of maintaining the integrity of the forth wall. The audience knows what happens on the stage isn't real life and they come prepared to suspend their disbelief.

  • Breaking through the forth wall reminds them of reality. It rips them out of the fantasy being performed and breaks the emotional connection.

Any time a sentence breaks the emotional connection or suspension of disbelief, the forth wall has been broken. The audience backs away. Do that enough times, they walk out. The audience wants to participate in the emotional banquet offered. Well crafted sentences feed that desire to the reader. Poorly crafted sentences shatter the forth wall.

  • Maintaining the integrity of the point of view is the first place thing to look for. 3rd person omnipotent is my favorite. This point of view comes directly from the character's head – thoughts, feelings emotions and actions of self and others described from one set of eyes. That means you can't suddenly know the thoughts, feelings and emotions of the other characters (unless you set up your character as a talented empathic with mind reading capabilities). Events must be described from the perspective of one set of eyes.
Okay, I got that one down. I know how to switch characters as needed to show more than one side of the action – by starting a new section that lets the reader know the POV has changed. I hate when writers switch point of view every paragraph. It is too jolting. Especially if the writer has to use two paragraphs for one character. I lose track of whose head I'm supposed to be in. This breaks the forth wall. That's why I hate it and stop reading. I've seen this in quite a few promising works on Authonomy. I could not get into the story and stay there. I didn't know why before. But now I do.

  • In collage I was taught that when I write a letter or paper, it is automatically assumed that the information contained within is my personal opinion. I got marked down any time I used phrases like “I believe...”, “In my opinion...” “I know...” “I realized...” “I think...” “I feel...” Strange enough, in nonfiction, this breaks the forth wall.

In fiction, 3rd person POV, phrases like the above: “He believed...” “She thought...” “He realized...” “She knew...” “He felt...” do the same. This is my biggest blunder. I fall out of the character's head as a writer forcing the reader to do the same. Do this enough times and the forth wall shatters. The reader puts the book down and never picks it up again.

I'm certain there are other writing mistakes I make that break the forth wall. A good editor most likely can pick out these sentences better than I can. But now that I know what to look for, I'm actively trying to stamp these out. When writing I need to stay completely inside the characters head, never pull back no matter how emotion rich the scene.

I'm going back to rewrite my stories and search out this infraction. Dreamsayer should be relatively clean though I could be wrong. Without a doubt, Shadow Nexus needs a full reread for this foe-pah alone.

The draft I'm working on for Whisper Walkers contained a few instances in the emotionally saturated areas of the story so far. Is this because I don't fully understand the emotions I'm trying to describe? Or have I pushed myself out of my comfort zone? If the first case, I need to do more research. If the second... I don't know...

I'll keep you posted.

The Fever Series by Karen Marie Moning

Ever read a series of books and while engrossed find yourself saying, “I want to write a story like this!” That's how I feel about this series of books. Bummer is, the last book in the series won't be released until Jan 18, 2011. It may take months for me to stop trying to write the ending myself based on the clues she's left in the other books.

The Fever series is like Harry Potter for grownups. Definitely not for kids. Definitely for people who like to read. I hope writing this will get the story out of my head and allow me to write my own stories until the final book is released.

Every Fever book ends in a cliffhanger, each darker as the books progress. I hate that when the series is long. I didn't pay attention to the release date on the fifth book. I understand why many readers prefer to wait until all the books in the series are available before buying the first one.

The story is written in 1st person, told by MacKayla Lane, Mac for short. I normally don't like this point of view. But Moning has changed my perspective. I like 1st person omnipotent if it is well written. She did an outstanding job. I'm not certain what book put me off of this perspective. I do know she has shown me the art of prose and good story telling. I'm reading the types of books I want to write. This series is a primary example.

I won't go into a ton of detail because I tend to give away spoilers. Moning has created a world within our world in Ireland with the Fae or Faeries. But these are not little Tinker Bells. They are aliens, basically, large, some ugly, some beautiful, with super powers who have been living alongside humans for a very long time.

Every character has personal, secret motives for why they do what they do. I really like the way that is done. They are all looking for a mystical book and Mac is the only one with the super powers to find it. So she is wooed by heroes and villains alike as they try to persuade her onto their side. Even the foulest of the foul sends her flowers! When that doesn't work he gets mean.

The main hero (and romantic interest) is a complex Jerico Barrons who has a secret reason for getting his hands on the mystical book. At the end Book 4, his secret is somewhat uncovered as part of the cliffhanger. It both took me by surprise and yet didnt'. Very sneaky of her...

Make certain you read these in order:
1) Darkfever
2) Bloodfever
3) Faefever
4) Dreamfever
5) Shadowfever.

Mac, who learns to fight and use her buried powers along the way, survives quite a bit of bad stuff including torture and rape. But Moning handles this well and I didn't feel offended, she didn't push me too far, letting me know of the events while protecting me from brutal reality and the horror. I mention these events for those readers who are sensitive to brutality.

This series is about good versus evil where evil is shown by really evil deeds and good is a vast pallet of grays. No white hats on any of the characters so don't look for that.

What really urks me is I know now that The Tool series has the potential to be a story like this. In order to do that I need to rewrite, butcher and hack the thing to shreds. I played it too safe with the characters in the first book keeping the main characters from physical and emotional harm. I introduced the good and evil elements too slowly with the main evil character not even named yet. Brent has super powers he is unaware of and untrained to use that he doesn't know about until the end of the first book. I keep too many secrets without enough hints for the reader to help understand Emily's motives or the angst she feels for Brent.

After I finish Whisper Walkers – hopefully the fully fleshed draft will be done this week – I will put some thought work into how to change Shadow Nexus - oh, hell, the whole series! - change how Brent and Emily meet, change how I introduce the Good and Evil characters, maybe switch points of view between Brent and Emily and give the readers a better clue of what is going on in both of their heads.

This is tough though because Emily knows so much more than Brent and she doesn't think like a human. She has secrets she needs to keep from Brent as she slowly discovers the reasons for her very existence. Instead of starting the book at the very beginning of their relationship, I can start in the middle and add little bits of the past, make their adventures more dangerous, quit playing it safe. Let Brent get a cut or a bruise or broken bone a little more often.

That means pulling the book from publication. Few people have read it so I don't think anyone will notice.

Then I will chop the book up into 70,000-90,000 or so word chunks to make as many books as I need to tell the entire story. There was one chapter I really wanted to include in the first book but removed due to the word count. I can put that back in! To make readers happy, I'll try to release all of the books at the same time instead of over a five year period!
I'll keep you posted.