Wednesday, June 14, 2006

On Breaking the Fourth Wall

It has been said that breaking the fourth wall is a crutch used by lazy writers, and also by cripples. This may be true, although I can't be sure, since I've never met any cripples. Although once I knew a girl whose left leg was four inches shorter than her right. We called her Roundabout and forced her to cavort for our merriment on many a cold winter night. Ha! And when our fits of whimsy overcame our better judgment, oh, we would pelt her with apples and cry out that no loving God could ever create a creature such as herself, and we dubbed her beast, beast, unclean beast.

(By the way, don't feel sorry for stumpy little Roundabout; she's doing just fine these days. Why, you've probably seen some of her movies...her name is MISS WINONA RYDER.)

I guess what I'm saying is this: what's up with cripples anyway?

Back on topic...breaking the fourth wall. Your secret weapon. The dirty bomb in your Holy War against not being rich and famous. But how do you do it? And why? And where? And when? And where? And why?

EXAMPLE ONE: GETTING OUT OF JAM

Have you painted your characters into a corner? Stacked the odds so badly against your protagonist that defeat seems inevitable? Breaking the fourth wall is a painless way to sidestep any nasty plotholes in your narrative in order to get your asskicking back on track.

INT. DETECTIVE AGENCY - DAY

GUS GUMSHOE leans back in his chair and tips his fedora. We can see that he is engorged with sadness.

GUS
I can't believe Marlene is gone. Sigh. Vanished into thin air...and without a trace! Sigh. Looks like this is the end of the case.

THE AUDIENCE
She got kidnapped!

Gus blinks, surprised. He taps the screen, peering out at us.

GUS
What? Are you sure?

THE AUDIENCE
Yeah, we saw it just a few minutes ago. Baron Starfish threw her in this black car and they drove off together.

GUS
Fuck. Did you get the license plate number?

THE AUDIENCE
Um, hold on...where...damn, where did...oh, here you go: M34A8P. Iowa plates. Heading toward Pirate Town.

GUS
A-ha! The game is afoot!

Gus smiles. Grabs his gun. A detective's work is never done
.

.

EXAMPLE TWO: EXPLAINING STUFF

So you finally finished your epic murder mystery script, only to realize that you forgot to include all the details and clues and characters. Whoops! While some writers will grit their teeth and settle down for an agonizing rewriting process, other writers (me) will simply employ a subtle bit of fourth-wall-breaking.


INT. MARLENE'S BEDROOM - NIGHT

MARLENE lounges on the satin bed, wearing only her nakedness. Her nipples are engorged and the color of raspberries. Gus stares.

MARLENE
But who would have killed my poor Hector?

GUS
It was his brother, Carlos the Mexican.
(to the audience)
Carlos and Hector have been feuding for many years following the death of their mother. Remember that guy in the club? The one with the moustache who didn't say anything? Over by the pool table? No, the other guy. Yeah, him. That was Carlos.

MARLENE
But I thought Carlos was dead?

GUS
(to the audience)
Oh, right. I read in the paper this morning that Carlos was found murdered. Were you there for that part? Oh. Well, anyway, he's dead now.

Marlene swoons with womanly emotion.

.

EXAMPLE THREE: APOLOGIZING

Sometimes you write good. Sometimes you don't. There's no need to feel embarrassed; it happens to the best of us (me). And when you know you've just crapped out a particularly pooplike stinker, breaking the fourth wall is an easy way to absolve yourself of guilt and creative responsibility.

.

EXT. PIRATE WHARF - NIGHT

BARON STARFISH stands atop the wharf, silhouetted against the engorged moon. He cackles wildly.

STARFISH
So you see, Detective Gumshoe, you led me right to the Jewel of the Africans! Without your constant interference, my plan would have never succeeded!

GUS
Oh yeah?
(long pause)
I mean, why don't you, um, just...oh, never mind.
(longer pause)
Fucker. You...fucker.

Baron Starfish frowns.

GUS
(to the audience)
I'm usually better with comebacks.


THE AUDIENCE
Well, you'd almost have to be.

Gus glares at us. Tears welling up in his sad little eyes.

GUS
(mumbling)
Fuckers. You're all...fuckers.

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