Author intrusion is something we fiction writers should strive to avoid. Just like other writing taboos, intruding on our stories can ruin a perfectly good book, by yanking our readers right out of the engaging world we worked so hard to create.
What is author intrusion exactly?
The answer depends on who you ask.
When speaking of it as a literary device, it occurs when the author (or omniscient narrator) steps away from the text and speaks directly to the reader, in an aside. However, with the current popularity of first- and close third person point of view, we don't see this much anymore.
Opinions vary, but from what I can tell, author intrusion has come to mean most anything the writer does that interrupts the story for the reader. When I think of author intrusion, these are the things that come to mind:
- The point-of-view character knows, hears, or sees something he or she can't possibly know, hear, or see. When I critique, I mark this as a 'POV error.' Some are so mild that readers who aren't also writers probably skim right over them. Others are so blatant, they'd wallop anyone over the head. *grin*
- Adding too much information from our research. Data definitely serves as the framework for our stories (often, the amount of research that goes into a single novel is astounding!), but we should dole facts out sparingly and work them in seamlessly.The bulk of it should be in the skeleton, not the skin.
- Taking such a strong stand on a political or social issue that it crosses the line from characterization into indoctrination. The amount of political, religious, and / or social weight a book can bear varies from story to story and genre to genre, but we have to tread carefully. Using our book as a soapbox and our character as a megaphone is a quick way to turn off readers.
- Having a character do something implausible that arises from the author's omniscient knowledge of the story. Knowing the entire story is an author's greatest advantage. It's also our greatest handicap. (Knowing too much is the root of most of these errors. :) I was guilty of this in my first WIP. I had the heroine start thinking in terms of 'relationship' the first time she laid eyes on the hero. One of my CPs called me on it, and she was right. He'd barely said hello. Even though the heroine was fleeing a bad relationship and wasn't interested in getting into another, her thought—the way I phrased it, at least—was premature.
- Another symptom of this is characters who figure things out too soon. We don't want to make our characters seem dense, unable to put 2 and 2 together, but we have to be careful and not go too far in the other direction either.
- Similar to that is getting ahead of ourselves in a scene. We know what's coming, but (save appropriate foreshadowing) we have to write as if we don't. In my current WIP, there's a scene where the MCs are engaging in some lovey dovey petting and get interrupted. When I did the first editing pass, I realized I'd rushed the petting part because I knew what was coming. I went back and slowed it down. I made sure to draw the reader in good and deep so they'd be just as startled as my characters. ;)
We all have to watch out for author intrusion when we write. If we're vigilant, we can catch most of these errors during our editing passes. Still, some are going to slip through no matter what we do. That's where beta readers and CPs come in. Sometimes you just need a fresh, objective set of eyes. :)
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