Beyond the Fourth Wall

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThis from the BBC News Entertainment Section:

Author JK Rowling has said she felt euphoric but “devastated” as she penned the last words of the final Harry Potter book, The Deathly Hallows.

Speaking on Jonathan Ross’ chat show, she said: “When I finished one chapter near the end I absolutely howled.” …

She was in a hotel room alone as she finished writing the book.

“I was sobbing my heart out, I downed half a bottle of champagne from the mini bar in one and went home with mascara all over my face, that was really tough,” she said.

The fourth wall is considered, in theatrical terms, to be “the imaginary wall between the stage and the audience.” It is the box, tipped, so that all can see what is happening in that world. We, as writers, have to enter that box, though. But how far do you go? How invested do you become in your characters and your created world?

I’ve had similar moments to the one JK Rowling describes above, when I feel devastated by something I’ve made happen inside that box, when I just can’t seem to place my own feelings on the other side of that fourth wall. Characters are treated brutally. Characters die. They say things to one another that make you–even as you’re typing out the words–feel a tightening of skin and a flood of warmth, of truth, that make you wonder, “Where did that come from?”

It’s hard going beyond the fourth wall, it takes a toll, but I think being emotionally entangled in our characters’ lives might result in a more authentic telling.

How ’bout you?

Write on, all!


About Therese Walsh

Therese Walsh co-founded Writer Unboxed in 2006. Her second novel, The Moon Sisters, was named a Best Book of 2014 by Library Journal and BookRiot. Her debut, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, sold to Random House in a two-book deal in 2008, was named one of January Magazine’s Best Books, and was a Target Breakout Book. She's never been published with a lit magazine, but LOST's Carlton Cuse liked her Twitter haiku best and that made her pretty happy.


  1. says

    I wrote a scene like that recently. An interesting thing I noted was… the character was torn between two emotions. They wanted to enjoy and feel one emotion but was forced to deal with a situation that interrupted how they wanted to feel, and forced them to feel a much more heart-wrenching thing.

    I may try to intentionally do that more. Wants to feel vs. interruption feeling.

  2. says

    A lot in the first section of my book when I was writing about my mother’s abusive childhood.

    I’d heard about it for years, but I was too busy nursing my own wounds to think about her pain.

    It wasn’t until I took myself into her world and tried to see ‘her side of the story’ and describe how that must have felt that I began to understood her.

    Yes, I’ve sat writing with tears dripping off my cheeks many times.

  3. says

    Sometimes I write something, like when my main character in a WIP pressed his foot on a (quietly sinister, and information-holding) old lady’s throat and told her that he used to break thick sticks like that against a tree when he was younger, so he and his mother could have firewood, and I think, “Wow.” Just, “Wow.” Sometimes my characters do what they do, and I just report it. That’s when the writing is going really, really well.