Monday, April 26, 2010

Author Intrusion

Author intrusion is when the author inserts something into the text that the point of view (POV) character wouldn’t know. For example, we might have a POV character who is a young child, but the author might mentions something about the election that year. It is something the author, who knows everything, would know about, but the child probably wouldn’t. Generally, this is considered bad form, unless you are using an omniscient POV, which is also considered to be bad form these days.

But the fact is that these things slip into our writing. We sometimes see author intrusion in books published by well known authors and as well as the manuscripts produced by wannabes. While the publishing industry usually highlights author intrusion, I can’t help but wonder if the frequency of it might tell us something. What I think it might tell us is that author intrusion doesn’t bother most people.

As writers, we’re conditioned to think that author intrusion is bad. It gives us one more thing we can point to and say that so-and-so isn’t as good at writing as we are. But the typical reader will read right over it and not think anything about it. It may be that part of the reason for this difference is because so many authors have the idea that the protagonist must be the narrator. I haven’t seen anything that proves that limiting ourselves in that way creates a better story. Some very good stories have been written that way, but that doesn’t mean we can’t write a good story in which the narrator is an unseen character or a lesser character. The Sherlock Holmes stories are written with a narrator other than the protagonist.

There’s also the question of when the story is being written. We write in past tense for a reason. Just as we would if we were relaying a true story, the narrator is writing this story after the events have happened. It is conceivable to think that the narrator knows much more now than he did at the time he experienced the events. It shouldn’t seem odd at all for me to say, “I was pulling into an intersection and a Toyota struck the side of my truck. The woman tried to stop, but her brakes wouldn’t work.” In real life conversation, that is a very natural statement, but in fiction it would be called author intrusion. But in real life conversation, you know I’m not currently sitting in my truck watching the events unfold. You also know that I’ve probably done a lot of other things since then, such as spoken to the woman in the car, spoken to the police and called my insurance company. You know that I knew why the woman didn’t stop before I began the story. So why then is it considered bad form in fiction?

For me, I’ve relegated author intrusion to that list of things that I figure I need to be aware of because someone is sure to rake me over the coals for it, even though I don’t necessarily agree that it should be an issue. So, I suppose if you’re trying to create conference style writing, don’t do author intrusion, but if you don’t care if you please the conference goers, if it works do it.