The fifth dimension of writing

So, last night was something different.  For the first time in a very long time, my wife and I broke out of our usual routine to go out with friends.  We started out the evening at Wabi Sabi, a Vietnamese-Thai-Sushi restaurant.  The place isn’t much to look at—the building has been iterated through a number of owners—but the sushi is outstanding.  An ice-cold Sapporo or Kirin Ichiban compliments the fare nicely and helps set the mood for an evening’s festivities.

And what could be better than board games with a liberal application of alcohol?  The game of choice to start out the evening was Scrabble Upwards.  If you haven’t played this particular version of Scrabble, it is played on a 10-tile x 10-tile board.  Play is like that of traditional Scrabble, but with the added component of multidimensional play.  Players are allowed to stack letters to make new words of existing words.

The stacking component is the thing, though.  It makes both play and and scoring more complex, especially while drinking a number of Dark and Stormys.   The Dark and Stormy is a rum-based drink that is as refreshing as it is intoxicating.  The drink’s name, of course, can’t help but bring to mind the melodramatic introductory phrase, “It was a dark and stormy night…” (learn the significance here).  In my case, however, it got me to thinking about how Scrabble Upwards applies to writing.

Plot developments are often linear, possibly with secondary plots developed, laterally, but within the same plain.  A truly rich plot involves not only developing primary and secondary plot lines, but developing plots that are fed from multiple dimensions.

Those dimensions include spatial references (such as north, south, east, west, or front, back, left, right) and temporal references  (such as future, past or before, after).

Spatial and temporal references account for what physicists typically consider four dimensional space (length, height, depth, and time).  But for writers, there is a fifth dimension (in other contexts referred to as the “fourth wall”).  That is the dimension that includes the reader, not only as an observer, but as a participant.

So, that seems like quite a leap, after all, a novel isn’t like a stage play or a movie, where the character can fire one-liners at the audience.  But, evidently, novels breaking the fourth wall are fairly common,  the blog Literary Kicks provides some background on the subject.   For instance, the blog references Kurt Vonnegut’s appearance as a character in his novel Breakfast of Champions.  For him it worked.  Clive Cussler inserted himself into several of his novels, which for me made them unreadable, bordering on literary narcissism.

So I’d be careful about doing that, plus you don’t want to interrupt the flow of the story.  If the technique is used well, though, it can add to the story, bringing the reader into the plot.  As I recall, Edgar Allen Poe used this technique in several of his stories.

Personally, I have been tempted to break the fourth wall to add explanatory details to a story, but have always hesitated because I thought it might threaten the flow of the text, sort of like stopping mid-thrust to explain to your lover the pros and cons of your technique.  Potentially a mood breaker.

So, how did we get from playing Scrabble Upwards and drinking Dark and Stormys to discussing multidimensional writing?  The link between the two is that the possibility of changing what has been previously established or accepted as the norm is within your grasp.

As a writer, you control what you write.  If you want to keep the story linear, go for it.  If you feel experimental and head off into the fifth dimension by breaking the fourth wall, jump in with both feet.  No one, other than you, can stop you from doing it.

© Copyright 2017 by Kevin Fraleigh.