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Leaning on the Fourth Wall?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Ireth, Mar 8, 2016.

  1. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    In my WIP WINTER'S QUEEN, there are a few instances where the MC (and main POV character) takes note of certain actions as clichéd, particularly with regards to her attempts at escaping her situation. My beta reader seemed to dislike the lines, though, and deleted them in her latest critique of the chapter they appear in. I'm more inclined to keep them anyway, as my intent is for it to flow naturally from the MC's voice and worldview; she is very well-versed in fairytales and stories in general, and is currently living in a rather grim fairytale of her own. She has previously referenced a good number of stories in her internal monologue, from Narnia to Beauty and the Beast.

    For reference, the lines in question are as follows (with emphasis):

    Thoughts on this? Should I listen to my beta reader or go with my gut?
     
  2. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I'd say go with the beta reader.

    The problem I have with those examples might be hard for me to explain. Essentially, in both cases she seems to be "at the end of her rope," or in other words, have limited options. In the first case, the bread and apples seem like her only viable options and yet necessary for her trip. In the second, making a rope is the only other option, if she doesn't want to try sneaking out the front door.

    So there seems to be a problem with making light of harsh realities or limited options, and dismissing their importance by calling them cliché doesn't sit right with me.

    Plus, I don't think those point-blank self-referential statements add anything; why keep them? Perhaps if the idea were used differently, it wouldn't be so garish. For instance, if she makes the effort of sneaking out the front door but very nearly gets caught or killed, she might chastise herself afterward for not thinking of making a rope of curtain/bedsheet first since, "I've read enough of the tales; I should have considered it!"
     
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2016
  3. CrystalCHTriple

    CrystalCHTriple Scribe

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    I would rather read a sarcastic remark or two about what it is she is describing rather than being told it is cliche.
     
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  4. Geo

    Geo Troubadour

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    I don't dislike the fact that your MC is making reference to events as an outsider, on the contrary I find such references quite amusing, but I do find... annoying was the first thing that came to my mind but is not that... more like weird that the points she is making don't resonate as cliché to me.

    Let me explain, and of course this is my sole opinion (not saying you're wrong, just explaining myself), but I don't particularly think that bread and apples are cliché. They surely are common. Wheat (particularly in bread form) is one of the most common things you will find in a traveler's pack, and apples are a really cosmopolitan fruit (which is not the same than cliché). Particularly, if your story takes place centuries ago, and occurs in late fall-winter, apples were (and still are in few regions of the world) pretty much the only available fruit. Mentioning both elements as cliché only really works if she has a great choice of food but decides to get those particular items, which is not discernible from the quote you posted.

    Now, escaping by a window does not betray a lack of originality (which is the definition of cliché), it is an easy alternative and when trying to escape I go for feasibility, getting out is the reward, I don't think there are extra freedom points for not taking the easy route. Now, if the window is not an option, I see no reason to catalog it as cliché.

    These may be the reasons why you beta reader didn't like the sentences, but again it's only an opinion.
     
  5. Jim Aikin

    Jim Aikin Scribe

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    Your reader is right. What's really going on in these passages is that the writer's (your) subconscious is objecting to the material because it's trite. In the second passage, if she's trapped she will certainly think about using a bedsheet -- and if she objects to it on the grounds that it's a cliche, what that tells the reader is that your character doesn't take her own situation seriously! If she is truly trapped and desperate, she will not stop for a moment to consider that she's indulging in a cliche.

    Having said that, I should mention that in The Wapshot Chronicle, which is a work of literature, John Cheever does break the fourth wall in various ways. A few passages are vaguely similar to what you're doing here. The technique is not necessarily bad, but you need to be very clear in your own mind about how it fits with the overall tone and meaning of your story. If your story involves, for instance, a deep philosophical conflict between cliche-ridden activities and deeply original activities, and if you engage in other sorts of authorial intrusion along the way, these passages could in fact be justified (though some readers still wouldn't like them).
     
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2016
  6. Gryphos

    Gryphos Auror

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    While I would agree with the others here that these two examples don't exactly work, I would not dissuade you from using this kind of narration technique. I think that at appropriate circumstances it could be the kind of thing to make me chuckle. But you need to make sure the comment actually works in that specific circumstance.

    Off the top of my head, a good way to use this would be if the bad guy says something like "I've been expecting you" and the MC can't help but chuckle at the clicheness of the line. While the bad guy, who doesn't understand what she's on about, wonders why on earth she would be laughing at what they thought would be a cool intimidating line. Things like that, you know.
     
  7. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    I agree that I could probably have handled those two examples better, but those aren't the only times the MC leans on the fourth wall. At one point she's with the villain (a Fae prince) in the stables of his castle, where he's about to take her for a ride. She sees that his preferred mount is a black stallion, and mentally goes "Of course it is. Nothing less would suit him."

    It should probably also be noted that the MC is a human from 21st century Earth, who was kidnapped to the Fae realm by the villain.

    As far as the first examples I gave, though, there are some mitigating circumstances.

    One, the scene where the MC steals bread and apples comes immediately after eating breakfast with the villain, so bread and fruit are all that's available and easy to carry. Porridge, not so much. There are other fruits available, but those are a) cut up and/or too soft and squishy to travel easily, like peaches; and/or b) native to Faerie and not at all safe for her to eat.

    Two, the bedroom window she considered climbing out of is three floors off the ground (also bearing in mind that this is a castle with high ceilings, partly to accommodate many much taller residents), so a bedsheet/curtain rope would not be long enough. That is the main deciding factor in her choosing not to go that route. And sneaking to a room with a lower window in the dead of night while carrying a bunch of torn-up cloth would be WAY suspicious.

    Besides, she IS caught and locked up in the end anyway after trying the front door, and very nearly convincing the villain she was only going out stargazing. The only reason he saw through the ruse is the fact that she threw away her engagement ring (so he couldn't use it to scry on her) before trying to leave.

    She isn't as trapped as it might seem; she has the run of the castle and grounds, but she knows that trying to escape on her own is 99% likely to result in a) being caught and imprisoned in the castle indefinitely, or b) being hurt or killed by the inhabitants of the woods surrounding the castle before she can get back to the mortal realm.
     
  8. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    Knee-jerk, these being outside of greater context of the whole, I'm not fond of them... but it really depends on the larger work they're buried in. These sort of references may or may not work. Perhaps even making light of the cliche without using the word cliche, I don't know. But first glance, they seem iffy at best, but you know the tone of the whole better than I... but a beta reader comment would give me pause about something iffy.
     
  9. Jim Aikin

    Jim Aikin Scribe

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    So she has been kidnapped into a faery realm that the author acknowledges is riddled with cliches? That can hardly be good. I'm thinking of "The War of the Flowers" by Tad Williams (if memory serves), in which Faery turns out to be not a cliche at all, except intermittently in a calculated anti-cliche manner. He introduces, for instance, a small flying sprite who is clearly and obviously modeled on Tinkerbell ... except that the sprite speaks in an Irish accent, swears like a stevedore, and in one scene gets shit-faced drunk.

    If your subconscious is commenting that the scenario is a cliche, I'd say you need to turn it upside down and shake hard until something fresh drops out.
     
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  10. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    I agree with all the others... If the book is a comedy and intentionally a parody on fairy tales, then it might work (in a Shrek sort of way) but if that is the case then these examples are too "on the nose" to be really funny or effective.

    If it is not supposed to be a lampoon on fairy tales then I would listen to your inner voice that says "this is cliche" and change it to something fresh.
     
  11. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    Again, bear in mind that the internal commentary is from the MC's point of view, not my own. She's a sixteen-year-old girl with a wide knowledge of story convention, as I said previously, and she does acknowledge such narrative conventions elsewhere -- like refusing to be a damsel in distress, and actively attempting to escape rather than waiting around for her family to rescue her. It is not played for laughs, merely filtered through her perspective.
     
  12. Jim Aikin

    Jim Aikin Scribe

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    I'll buy a modern 16-year-old refusing to be a damsel in distress, and using that exact phrase. But I would argue that there's a difference between her consciously using a cliche phrase and having her criticize something on the grounds that it's a cliche. The latter feels too much to me like the author covertly commenting on or apologizing for the story.
     
    Ireth likes this.
  13. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    To me, this is one of those things that can work, but it depends on the tone of your story. IMHO there are probably no half measures in using these things.

    It's either dive in to the deep end with an over-the-top world full of cliches, with your character making quips on that fact and have the story playing off of the cliches in clever ways OR eliminate it all together if it's for the most part a straight up story.
     
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  14. glutton

    glutton Inkling

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    I don't think the whole world would have to be full of cliches if it's clear the tone of the story overall is not to be taken overly seriously.

    For example if the story is about a nonmagical girl with a hammer bigger than herself knocking the stuffing out of Godzilla sized monsters, a scene in which she makes fun of a guy being dressed like a stereotypical dark lord could possibly work even if that's the only cliche-based humor scene in the book.
     

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