Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Author Intrusion - What It Is and How To Avoid It


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 thoughtthe way I phrased it, at leastwas 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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33 comments:

  1. "Others are so blatant, they'd wallop anyone over the head."

    *cough*

    I am most certainly guilty of that.

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    1. LOL
      We all are, at one time or another. ;)

      Delete
  2. One things that absolutely drives me crazy when I read is the indoctrination issue. I have stopped reading authors because of it. Even if I agree with the political or social stance they are pushing, I simply don't want to be preached to when I am reading a story. I can't stand it.

    These are all great things to remember while we are writing!

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  3. I totally agree. And on the flip side, what sucks about the indoctrination thing is that sometimes people will get mad if a religious, political, or social issue is mentioned at all. God forbid our three-dimensional characters go places that insinuate an affiliation with any kind of belief. *grins*

    It's a wonder our feet aren't bleeding from eggshells...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Agreed. I have no problems with characters being who they are, even if they're different from me.

      And you wonder about these people who complain about such things. Do they treat people the same in real life?

      Delete
  4. This drives me crazy! If the story is being told in limited third person then how in the world can the main character say something like, "Behind me, Carol rolled her eyes."? How can the MC know that? And I know what you mean by rushing through a scene to get to what's coming next. I do that all the time and it's something I'm constantly working on. Good post.

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    1. Me, too. Although, sometimes, the author intended omniscient and simply wrote parts of the book like close third.

      Thanks for visiting. :)

      Delete
  5. That's a good list of things to watch out for. I catch myself letting characters know something they shouldn't. And totally agree with Carrie.

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  6. Hee. I'm definitely (and recently) guilty of the first two. My editor just made fun of me for inserting a mini-lecture on monarch butterflies into my novel. Oooops... ;)

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  7. Wonderful post, thank you. I think I might be guilty of #5 in my current WIP...

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  8. I always thought of author intrusion as more of stepping away from the narrative to directly address the reader, but those other definitions make sense, too. I hope I never do any of those. But I bet I do.

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  9. I just finished "A Prayer for Owen Meany" by John Irving. An excellent book. I could see why he is so recognized for his writing. But there were a few times in this very good book where I think he, the author's voice, popped out in the description, or in a view on writing (his narrative character grew up to be an English teacher). But for me, at least in this context, it wasn't distracting. The book was so good, I could forgive the intrusion.

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    Replies
    1. True. Like a 'little professor' type character could get away with a bit of data dump.

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  10. I agree with all these points, and looking at them as author intrusion makes a whole lot of sense. What helps me most (besides a sharp critique. :) ) is to really put myself into a character's head. The better I'm able to do that, the more seamless the story world ends up feeling.
    And for me, being inside the character this deeply also happens to be the funnest way to write. :)

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  11. This is some good stuff here! And it's interesting that I've seen a lot of posts about this lately. Makes me think I need an edit that just looks at this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Don't worry. It wasn't your book that inspired this post. ;)

      Delete
  12. Very good post, Melissa. It's something that's not addressed too often, and you spotlighted some great boo-boos.

    On a side note: I don't think your heroine was thinking relationship the first time she saw the hero. I think she was horny. ;)

    M.L. Swift, Writer

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Bwahahahaha! xD
      I needed that today, Mike. Thank you.

      Delete
  13. Thank goodness for good beta readers! Fabulous post, Melissa. Spot on!

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  14. Fantastic post. And all so true.

    Nas

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  15. Hey,

    Considering I am working on WIP#2, you know I am bookmarking this post :)

    Cheers - and another fine mess you've stopped me making :)

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  16. The more I write, the less I find myself doing this. When I do, it's usually weeded out over successive drafts.

    Happy Weekend!

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  17. I'm guilty of this! Sometimes it is hard to catch. Sometimes it's hard to separate ourselves from the character.

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  18. oh yes!! Putting in too much research is a common one I've been seeing lately. I can forgive the occasional POV shifts (mostly), but the bits that say 'this is research the author did and really wanted to share with the reader' just don't work.

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  19. So true. I see author intrusion as anything that draw attention to the author rather than the story.

    Even single lines in a passage that are so brilliantly written that they draw attention to themselves.

    Another pet peeve is when stuff happens because the author needs them to happen for the story to work.

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  20. I'm about to start revisions on my first draft of my recently completed WIP. I know that I've made the mishap of committing author intrusion and will (hopefully) be able to catch it. Thank you!

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