META: The Problem of Fourth Wall Breaking

Martin Phipps martinphipps2 at
Sat Aug 2 00:34:48 PDT 2008

On Aug 2, 10:18 am, Arthur Spitzer <arspit... at> wrote:
> Martin Phipps wrote:
> > Alas, breaking the fourth wall is not always a good idea.  For
> > example, it is my personal opinion that villains in LNH stories should
> > never be aware that they are in a story because it creates the
> > inherent contradiction of somebody _knowing_ that they are the villain
> > and yet doing nothing to change their ways.  Perhaps it would be
> > interesting to have a villain find out that he is not only in a story
> > but that he is considered the villain and see how he would react:
> > after all, nobody in real life actually sees themselves as evil.  The
> > problem arises then that when presenting an evil version of the LNH,
> > for example, the LNH's evil counterparts should not refer to
> > themselves as "the evil LNH" but should, in fact, see our LNH as weak
> > and disposable.  In is, after all, in the interests of "improving the
> > human race" that (what most of us consider to be) the greatest evils
> > commited in the real world were carried out.
> I disagree about the whole villains shouldn't ever break the Fourth Wall
> thing...
> It seems you're leaping to bizarre assumptions regarding what happens
> when a villain knows about the fourth wall...
> I think various villains like Steven Howard's Arthur E. L. Presence and
> that lizard creature (IMPLO?) in Retcon Hour who went around canceling
> series were pretty cool villains.

But Arthur E. L. Presence never broke the fourth wall in so far as he
never spoke directly with the writer (as far as he knew) or the
narrator or the readers.  Yes, he knew he was in a story but as far as
he was concerned he was the one writing it.

I suppose this brings up an interesting point that stories that break
the fourth wall are metafiction but not all metafiction necessarily
breaks the fourth wall.

IMPLO is a good example of a villain who broke the fourth wall: he
refered to any story he was in as part of a "series" which meant he
was aware that somebody out there was writing it.  I assumed that
Pointless Death Man also knew about the fourth wall to the extent that
he presumably knew that it was the writer who was sending him out to
kill people... but that was never actually established in story.
Thing is, IMPLO and Pointless Death Man were more like forces of
nature than fleshed out villains.  Arthur E. L. Presence is a bit more
interesting: he kills people because he knows he can and thinks nobody
can stop him; he doesn't seem to be aware that somebody else is
writing him.

> I've thought up a couple of villains myself though I've never used them.
> Fake LNH Writer -- he's a con artist who has the power to trick
> characters into thinking he's a real LNH Writer.  He carries around a
> fake LNH Writers Guild card and some fake Saxon Brenton and Tom Russell
> reviews praising the fake series he claims to write...
> The Fourth Wallower -- Some elemental creature who becomes more powerful
> every time someone breaks the fourth wall.  A perfect villain for Fourth
> Wall Lass...
> I think some series that broke the fourth wall all the time like
> Badger's Swordmaster and Abhay's Refugees of Net.ropolis were a lot of
> fun.  If you can do it well do it... and if you can't...

Again, if the villains wink at the reader and say "Ha ha ha!  I'm the
bad guy" then the story is lost on me.  You might as well bring in
talking snails at that point. :)


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