Hey! How're you doing out there? It sure is nice to be the Breaking The Fourth Wall page on All The Tropes. Sure, I don't get as much attention as some of the other pages, but I try my hardest.
Anyway, the Fourth Wall is the fact that in any work of fiction is that the characters are unaware of the fact that they're fictional characters in a work, the audience observing them, and whatever medium conventions occur in between the two.
The term "fourth wall" comes from the days when sitcoms were filmed on a soundstage in front of a studio audience. The sets of these sitcoms had three actual walls, but nothing separating the stage from the viewing audience; for example, if Archie Bunker were watching TV in an actual living room, the "fourth wall" of the room would be in front of him, but as it was a soundstage, the "fourth wall" is not included in the set and only exists in the minds of Archie himself and his family. Were he to break character and address the audience, he would acknowledge that there is no fourth wall to the room.
Breaking the Fourth Wall is when a character acknowledges their fictional status by either indirectly or directly addressing the audience. Alternatively, they may interact with their creator - the author of the book, the director of the movie, the artist of the comic book, etc. This is more akin to breaking one of the walls of the set, but the existence of a director implies the existence of an audience, so it's still indirectly Breaking The Fourth Wall. This trope is usually used for comedic purposes.
This is a very old trope: Shakespeare's characters often addressed the audience. They broke it regularly in Ancient Greek theater, too, pretty much as soon as they'd invented the Fourth Wall - or, arguably, before inventing the Fourth Wall.
It should be noted that other sources will refer to any fiction that draws attention to its fictionality as "Breaking The Fourth Wall". Our definition is a bit narrower: Breaking The Fourth Wall only occurs if the characters acknowledge the audience or the author, whether directly or indirectly, got it? It's not enough that I recognize my status as a wiki page, it's the fact that I'm commenting to you about it!
When a series breaks the fourth wall on such a regular basis that there may as well not be one in the first place, then you've gone straight into No Fourth Wall.
Can be expressed using Medium Awareness. When done literally, it's Camera Abuse. See also: Narrator (this trope is their job), Post Modernism (loves this trope), Aside Glance and Aside Comment (particular kinds of this), Animated Actors (an animation-specific subtrope), and Who Would Want to Watch Us? (characters lampooning the premise). He Knows About Timed Hits often involves breaking a videogame's fourth wall through necessity. For a detailed discussion of the line between this and No Fourth Wall, see Sliding Scale of Fourth Wall Hardness. If the creator of a work, the audience, or you, personally, interact with characters in a way that isn't Audience Participation, it may well be From Beyond the Fourth Wall.
Often used for Lampshade Hanging. But if a character lampshades without addressing or acknowledging the audience, it's just Lampshade Hanging. Similarly the fourth wall can be broken with no lampshades in sight.
If somebody is not in the break and doesn't understand who the ones breaking the wall are talking to, see Audience? What Audience?.
Leaning on the Fourth Wall is related.
Anyway, thanks for your time... on to a couple examples, in which I shall kindly stop smashing your computer screen with a hammer:
- Anime and Manga
- Comic Books
- Fan Works
- Live-Action TV
- Newspaper Comics
- Professional Wrestling
- Puppet Shows
- Real Life
- Video Games
- Web Comics
- Web Original
- Western Animation