One of the most popular tricks to do these days is ‘Break the 4th Wall’. For those that don’t know, this means for a character to interact with the audience. The 4th wall refers to where the audience is sitting since a stage would have a back wall, right wall, left wall, and then nothing in the front. As you see above, Deadpool occasionally talks with the knowledge that he’s a comic book character. So a level of self awareness seems to come into play here. Here’s one of my favorite 4th breakings, which is apparently really hard to find on Youtube:
I’m talking about Puck’s Monologue from A Midsummer’s Night Dream. This is when it was done in Dead Poet’s Society. I see the 4th Wall Breaking as coming out of the Aside, which is when a character in a play talks directly to the audience. The current version is done more often for comedy like when Bugs Bunny or Groucho Marx used to look at the camera to say something. Yet, it does come from a place where the 4th wall was taken away to interact with the audience and put a little bit of narrative magic out there. Then again, Puck also sounds like he’s voicing a disclaimer, which we now do before the movie in case people walk out.
This appears to be a trick that is done more for visual media like comic books, television, plays, and movies. This isn’t to say that you can’t use it in a book, but I can’t see it working beyond First Person Narratives. Maybe it can be done, but this is done by a character talking to the audience, which requires a personal touch. Third person might look strange because it would be someone telling the audience that a character is telling them something.
A dangerous part of this is going too far, especially if you use it for comedy. If you have a 4th wall breaking every few pages or every other scene then it loses its appeal. This goes for every tool, but you can see in present day culture how this is going with the 4th wall breaking. If the entire gag of a character is that he or she knows their fictional and keep talking with the audience then the overall plot can get hurt. Why should you be invested in a character who knows they’re not real and seems to be determined to remind you about this fact at every turn? Part of reading or watching fiction is suspension of disbelief, which means we step through the 4th wall. A character breaking it doesn’t work into disbelief, but it does hamper it for a few laughs. Realize that after such an event, you have to work on drawing the audience back into the story. Too many breaks and you have an audience who will stay at a distance. They might still enjoy your story, but you risk losing any connection they could have to the characters. People might also speak only of your breaking of the 4th wall and nothing else.
So, what is your opinion on breaking the 4th wall?