The fourth wall is an English idiom. It’s the imaginary barrier separating the audience from the characters. Breaking the fourth wall means the character has become aware of the audience. There are many instances in literature, film, and TV shows where characters have broken the fourth wall.
In children’s theatre, Peter Pan broke the fourth wall by asking the audience to applaud to revive Tinkerbell. Another example is the Netflix series A Series Of Unfortunate Events having Lemony Snicket narrate to the audience to explain wordplay.
In a stage play, when an actor or actress breaks the fourth wall, he looks directly into the audience. While in film and movies, the actor or actress looks into the camera. This method, when used smartly, can be comedic and attention-grabbing. However, it can also backfire on you.
Breaking The Fourth Wall
If you’re a writer, you may be wondering whether or not you should use this technique. WriteOnSisters have provided an exhaustive list of pros and cons on this tactic. There is no strict formula writers follow that ensures success. However, it does help to be informed of its best practices.
I love when scriptwriters break the fourth wall. It definitely adds a comedic touch. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air sitcom comedically and expertly broke the wall nine times. WriteOnSisters mentioned a major con for this technique is the fear of confusing readers.
While this may be true, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air had one of their actors run across the entire set and into the audience. Even though it made no sense, it definitely brought some laughs.
However, writing for film is different than writing fiction.
In fiction, This Book Just Ate My Dog did a great job at illustrating this technique. The author did exactly as the title said. Bella, a young girl, took her dog for a walk. Everything was fine until her dog disappeared when the next page started.
This is a children’s book, and according to many reviews, it’s well received. These two examples are great at illustrating the best practices to break the fourth wall in film and writing respectively. It’ll take some practice but if mastered it’ll definitely add extra spice to your creatives!
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