Monday, August 18, 2014

Author Intrusion

Yoo-hoo! Over here! Right, yes, that’s me, Lisa Lickel, waving! I’m interrupting your reading experience so I can tell you something…

How many of you readers have experienced this very powerful jerk right out of the story? It’s like pulling off a fresh scab, like ripping duct tape from your lips. Or it can be a comfort, like macaroni and cheese, if you’re a fan of early nineteenth-century literature.

According to’s a fair definition: Authorial Intrusion is an interesting literary device wherein the author penning the story, poem or prose steps away from the text and speaks out to the reader. Authorial Intrusion establishes a one to one relationship between the writer and the reader where the latter is no longer a secondary player or an indirect audience to the progress of the story but is the main subject of the author’s attention.

How many of us authors are guilty of practicing this example of intrusive writing?
Active intrusion is something like the character turning away from what he’s doing and acting out of character, or trying to get your attention to tell you, the reader something: “Jordan trotted after the purse-snatcher, but as the young boy in the hoodie gained distance, Jordan knew he’d never catch up. In order to save face, he veered to tangle with a woman walking her schnoodle. And that, my friends, is how you fake heroism.”

Intrusion can be as simple as changing tense in the middle of your work – “The old houses along the boulevard used to be creepy with their boarded-up windows and overgrown crabgrass lawns. When the rehab project started to clean them or tear them down, the neighbors were pleased. Now they are beautiful and sell for over a hundred grand, and the city happily filled its coffers.” Even if you, the author, are using a bit of truth in your story, remember, if you’re writing fiction, tense is your friend. Your book is a not an expose or a piece of journalism exploring a current topic, it’s a story told in order, using literary devices which must be consistent throughout.

Passive intrusion may often be a simple point of view mistake, like a character telling us her hair is lush and soft, or foretelling the future by saying something like, if I’d known what going to happen, I wouldn’t have…

Author intrusion is not internal monolog, nor is it omniscient or narrator voice.

Is author intrusion always bad? Well, no. If you’re Charlotte Bronte, for example, you wouldn’t have anyone to talk to. If you’re Agatha Christie, you couldn’t have a murder no one would see, much less find; if you’re Jane Austen, Lizzie Bennet wouldn’t know what she was supposed to do to find a husband. Dickens couldn’t have carried off pretty much ANY of his books. Of course, works like Thornton Wilder’s Our Town wouldn’t have the same impact, now, would it? Can you imagine Jay Gatsby not saying good-by? Or Hamlet, like, not announcing he’s croaking?

Our Town is a play—but you see what I mean? It has a narrator on purpose. Sure the characters could have directed themselves, and even spoken, but sometimes an author has to take literary license. As long as it’s for a good purpose, is unique, and the exception.

You’ll notice that these examples are mostly…well, old. Fads come and go in this business. But in today’s American story-telling, it’s still a good rule of thumb: A key goal of an author is to be invisible.  

Here are a couple of other articles to check out.

Add to Technorati Favorites
Bookmark and Share