Fourth Wall (glossary term)

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See also: metafic, fan service
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The fourth wall refers to either the division between characters in a story and the audience or the division between fandoms and the creators of their canon. The concept originated in theater, with three-walled sets and an imaginary fourth wall between the audience and the actors that prevents interaction. In fanfiction, fics that involve characters who are aware of the fourth wall (or the audience, the author, the fact that they're characters, and so on) are called metafic.

Breaking the fourth wall initially referred to characters becoming aware of the audience or the fact that they are in a work of fiction, but in fannish circles now often refers to TPTB acknowledging the existence of fandom within the canon of a source. Some fans enjoy the attention from TPTB; other fans are upset by it.

The phrase is also used in some RPF fandoms such as bandom and Radio 1 RPF to refer to people noticing RPF about themselves.

Breaking the (Fannish) Fourth Wall in Media

Examples Wanted: Editors are encouraged to add more examples or a wider variety of examples.

Show creators have been breaking the fourth wall since the beginning of media fandom. For example, by issue #3 of the Star Trek fanzine Spockanalia (1968), Gene Roddenberry and his production staff had taken note of the fanzine and submitted a letter to the editors stating: "Spockanalia is 'required reading' for everyone in our offices....We have used all the extra copies to make sure that every writer ,and anyone that makes decisions on show policy, have read your fanzine...The reason for this is that if we all understand what the fans see in the show; and try to understand why they are fans at all, we can continue to hold those fans."

Almost 40 years later, in 2006, Doctor Who aired an episode focused on a fan obsessed with tracking the activities of the mysterious man and his blue box (The Doctor and the TARDIS), and Stargate SG-1 aired an episode that alluded to the fandom's main slash pairing, the show's many near-cancellations, and interest in a younger, edgier version of the show.[1]

Shortly after that, TPTB behind Supernatural referenced slash fanfiction about the main characters of the show in one of the episodes, introduced a slash fangirl as a character, and aired an episode in which the main characters are temporarily transported to an alternate reality where they are believed to be actors who star in a television show named Supernatural.

Some Print Zine Examples of the Fourth Wall

Additional Reading


  1. See Metafic page.