Breaking the 4th Wall

It occurs to me that I tend to break the 4th wall quite a bit in the Abby books. Not that it’s a bad thing, per se – but particularly in this third book, there seems to be more open winks and nods to a certain group of readers in various places. (Mostly gamer sorts, of course).  And not that it has anything to do with the story directly – some of it is subtle and some is pretty blatant, but none of it is required to understand the story as it stands.

I could remove it completely and not really change anything.

It’s probably a no-no, much like the using of contemporary song titles or technology or brand names. It’s something a lot of writers face – particularly if they mention modern current events (9/11, for example). It can be tricky to pull off and sometimes you run the risk of pulling the reader out of the story.

Over the course of these three books I’ve certainly dropped a lot of references to music titles, shoe brands, cell phones, games and pop culture from Lord of the Rings, to Dr. Who, to Mass Effect, to Flight of the Conchords and plenty more.  I’m fairly shameless about it.

I know some readers don’t mind specific brand mentions, but some do.  There’s a certain argument that says being too specific dates a story – and we’ve all run across that book that mentions people listening to their Walkman, for example. Or even older movies – I always get a giggle when someone whips out a cell phone and there’s this mega antenna they have to slide up – but there’s a certain nostalgia that goes with that. Remember when you had to do X to do Y?

But I feel that books, like most consumptive media, are products of the time they’re created in. I’m not particularly interested in writing a semi-contemporary book someone can read in twenty years that’s completely transparent. For one thing, we can’t know what the future will bring. Maybe in twenty years we’re all cyborgs. Sorta makes everything in books a bit irrelevant at that point anyway.

For another? If anyone is even thinking about reading any of my books in twenty years I’ll be thrilled. And surprised. Given that media is fairly disposable these days anyway – I’m not looking for the novel that stands the test of time.

Let’s put it this way – all these lovely “historic” novels – Pride and Prejudice, or David Copperfield or even Shakespeare – how much do we know about the people of that time, simply because the books were written the way they were? We know about clothing and furnishings, historic events, language, manners, etc. simply because the stories were written for that time’s audience.  Obviously that’s not how we know everything, but you have to admit it’s a piece of the puzzle, and probably a more interesting one than merely a dry accounting of “How Things Were.”

And no, I’m not remotely trying to compare myself to Dickens or Austen, but it’s a learning experience – having to look up what something is or what it was used for (or explaining to my kids that we didn’t have the internet when I was growing up and that’s why character x has to use the library to do research) means I get a closer look at what life was like for previous generations. It can *mean* more, particularly if said object or reference is made through the eyes of a character I’ve come to care about.

Maybe in twenty years someone will be researching my penchant for bacon references. And that would be pretty damn cool.


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