Breaking the Fourth Wall

In theater actors usually don’t want to break the fourth wall, that invisible barrier between stage and audience. The connection between actors and audience comes from the audience entering the story and believing for a moment the story is real.

Writers and poets want a similar connection, readers entering our stories through our characters. Breaking the fourth wall occurs when the reader stops and steps out of the story.  Sometimes that disconnect can occur over a single word.

Last week I took a poem to critique group. It was a rewrite of an earlier version entitled, Broken. While I liked this rewrite for what it did say, the more I thought about it, the more I was convinced this poem did not reflect brokenness. But I wanted the other poets’ reactions.

In group, the poet reads their work then remains quiet while everyone else puts in their two cents worth. There was a lively discussion about what each ‘got’ from the poem and the group’s opinion bore out what I suspected. It was a good poem but didn’t express what the title suggested.

Actually an easy fix – I’ll use my original version to cannibalize for what I want to say; I’ll change the title of the new poem, tweak it and add it to the collection.

And that’s where God comes in … or goes out.

After the group agreed on the message of the new poem, there was another ten minute discussion on the word God in it. I’d not taken the name in vain. I’d used it in the context of turning things over to Him.

There were those who didn’t like the name in there at all because of their own religious and spiritual beliefs. The didn’t take offense, but found it a bit off-putting because it made assumptions not all readers would agree with. Even though they knew it was my own faith background, these poets preferred another word, like heaven, which would not be deity specific and not alienate some readers.

Another few poets didn’t care for the word God for the same reason, but didn’t have quite the same discomfort with it. They allowed that since the poem was mine and reflected my beliefs, they could read past the reference.

Then there were those thinking from a poetic, lyrical standpoint who thought God should be taken out just because the whole phrase wasn’t needed. The poem worked well without it … or with it. Their decision had nothing to do with their own spirituality.

I’ll be working on the two poems again. I haven’t decided yet if the word God stays or goes.

So here are a couple of questions ~ As a reader, what causes you to break the fourth wall, even momentarily? A particular word or language? Something that doesn’t ring true?

As you’re reading, how do you react to words, ideas, situations that you don’t embrace?



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1 Response to Breaking the Fourth Wall

  1. Claire says:

    Fortunately for me – I don’t consider breaking through that Fourth Wall – as a disconnect, but rather a bonus, gaining someone else’s insight/perception of a situation that had not occurred to me, or the use of a word that I knew of, but was not accustomed to using, that all of a sudden seems delicious to me because of how it’s phrased.
    I often say “Shame on me” for not reading as much as I’d like for exactly these reasons. I’ve never stopped reading a book once I’ve started it. A book might take me longer to finish if I’m not enjoying the story as much as the one before it, but I always finish a book. There’s usually a nugget to be found in there – perhaps more than one – wrapped in ‘disconnect paper’ that takes me out of the story and into reality as an ‘AHAH’ moment.
    I don’t mean that I agree with all these disconnects, but rather that I appreciate them, almost like . . . family members 🙂

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