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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Kerry's Wednesday Challenge ~ Breaking the Fourth Wall

The "fourth wall" refers to the imaginary barrier which exists between the "open box" of a theatrical stage and the people gathered below in the seats. "Breaking the fourth wall" is a literary trope in which a character, in a play, cartoon strip, movie or novel, acknowledges their fictionality by directly addressing the reader, making eye contact with the audience or acknowledging their role as a presentation of reality.

Penguin Classics book cover

In Chapter 38 of Jane Eyre, the narrator speaks to the one who is holding the book: "Reader, I married him."  The reader feels the barrier between fiction and reality crumble a little, as Jane confides these words.
Of course, this device is an ancient means of engaging the audience in enacted drama and dates back to Greek theatre. Shakespeare employs the same method in many of his characters' soliloquies: one thinks of Iago discussing his plans to destroy Othello with the audience, who is "in" on the whole wicked scheme.

Tina Fey in 30 Rock

In modern television, it is often used for comic effect.  The direct eye contact of Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs made the viewer feel that his evil extended beyond the screen.


Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs
For this challenge, I pose the question: Can the fourth wall be broken in poetry for rhetorical or dramatic effect?  The Poetry Foundation has an interesting podcast in which the poet, Nick Flynn, discusses his confrontational approach in his performance poetry and the ways in which he breaks the fourth wall. Click HERE if you would like to listen to it. Leonard Cohen often makes direct reference to his readers in his poetry, as can been seen in this example: Other Writers. I am confident that those who accept this challenge will come up with many inventive ways to break through the barrier between their poem and their reader.




20 comments:

Susie Clevenger said...

Yeah, I'm first! Love the challenge!
Good morning everyone..hope this will be a great day for each of you.

Kerry O'Connor said...

I'm a little ahead of the game, since the rest of my week will be hopelessly busy with work. I had a bit of fun with this idea, and may come back to try it again in the near future.

Laurie Kolp said...

I might try this again as well. Things are so busy with my kids since Thanksgiving's coming up and I had one who injured himself horribly in a skating accident Sunday. Today's his first day back to school.

hedgewitch said...

We've got busy day planned--holidays and birthdays and running around, but I hope to take a shot at this at some point, as it's an interesting(as always Kerry) prompt that is teasing at my brain now.

Laurie, sorry to hear about the accident. Hopes for a speedy recovery your child's way.

Ella said...

This was the hardest poem I think I have ever written....
Off to take Tylenol...but it helped me deal with some feelings that I guess I needed to go through~
Thank you!

Mary Mansfield said...

This prompt was perfectly timed! Gave me just the change of focus I needed to finish the poem I've been working on for a couple of days now. I think I broke through that wall with it, or at the very least gave it a good poetic kick!

Marian said...

yikes, i realized when thinking about this that i often address the reader in my writing. or at least i think i do. or maybe i didn't work hard enough to get at something entirely different here. or, oh, i don't know.
Laurie, an injured child?? hugs to you all!

Kim Nelson said...

Whoa! This one took me on a wild ride.

Kim Nelson said...

Whoa! This one took me on a wild ride.

Mama Zen said...

Laurie, I hope he's okay!

I kind of feel the same as Marian. I feel like I do this quite a bit. Maybe not as much as I think!

Fireblossom said...

I can't break any walls. I'm far too bashful.

Munir said...

This is a great point. I did not know that a script writer provides points for the actors as to where they make an eye contact. If I had gone to grad school, I would probably had learned it.

manicddaily said...

Hi Kerry - loved your poem. I am supposed to be doing nanowrimo and am, more or less, but get little ideas for poems that I don't think will take much time. Of course, they always do! But this was very fun, thanks. k.

Margaret said...

Whew. This was harder than it looked. Thank you for an awesome challenge.

Susan said...

What I wrote because of this challenge is neither a poem nor an attempt to break the fourth wall, but it may be worth checking out anyway! Thank you, thank you, for challenges and discussions.

Helen said...

An article in our newspaper caught my eye last week ... knew it deserved some sort of poem!!!

Nia Ceridwyn said...

Not sure how well I managed this, or that I don't do this on a regular basis, but posted my attempt!

Nimue said...

Interesting ..
Its fun to know such techniques have name too :D

Attempted and linked :)

Emma Major said...

I think I do this quite a lot but the poem I've linked is very much directed towards people. I think it's what was being asked of us.
Emma at LLM Calling

Hannah said...

I'm super late and not sure if I did this right but I liked the idea and decided to give it a whirl for the sake of moving my pen while I can. :) Thank you!