I’m not going to name names here, but recently I’ve seen a slew of people calling metafiction and breaking the fourth wall synonyms.
Let’s get one thing straight right now. They are not synonyms. They are not the same thing.
It’s like this: Breaking the fourth wall, most frequently used in visual mediums like theater, cinema and comic books, occurs when a character turns to the audience (the fourth wall) and makes some kind of remark only to the audience that the other characters do not hear or are unaware of.
Metafiction, as you well know if you’ve ever read this blog before, occurs when the author of a work, generally one with words, makes the reader aware of the fact that she is in fact reading a fictional story. Examples of metafictional technique include the author including him or herself as a character who is writing the book (Slaughterhouse-Five, The Things They Carried), a book within a book (Don Quijote) or when the characters know they are characters and then let you, the reader, know they are characters.
But but but, you ask, doesn’t a character breaking the fourth wall know she is a character if she is able to break the fourth wall?!
Yes! Yes she does! Therefore, it follows that breaking the fourth wall is a metafictional technique, yes! So it cannot be synonymous with metafiction!
To sum up: Breaking the fourth wall is always metafiction. Metafiction is not always breaking the fourth wall.
Easy, yes/yes? I’m glad we cleared that up! Stay tuned for Thursday’s post on “Masturbatory Metafiction in Jack of Fables”. It’s going to be a
mess good one.