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.

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