Author Intrusion

Author intrusion is almost always unintentional, but very common. That’s because authors tend to get carried away when in the throes of writing and sometimes forget they are not their characters – they’re simply the writer. It’s no surprise that, for the most part, writers don’t realise they’ve intruded the narrative.
But why is it a problem?
Author intrusion is what it says. It’s when the author intrudes the narrative with opinions, ideas, words or context that doesn’t belong in the story. Fiction is just that; home to fictional characters in a fictional world, so an author should never project him/herself into the story.
When it does happen, it can be distracting and confusing for the reader and can disrupt the rhythm of the story. Not only that, but the reader isn’t interested in the author’s personal opinions. They’re only interested in what the characters think and feel and if they don’t, it can jar and stop them enjoying the story.
Your fictional world isn’t the place to express your personal views of things, so be wary about opinions and beliefs creeping into your writing. It’s actually a fine line between describing something to the reader within the story and being on your soap box. This usually happens by way of narrative snippets, which is why it generally goes unnoticed, for example:
I looked at George’s expression and knew what he was thinking.
People in foreign lands have to want freedom and fight for it. We can’t do that for them. The treatment of prisoners would divide people because of the vile behaviour of Japan’s soldiers...
This may not look like intrusion, but the second paragraph is the author’s personal opinion, which has crept into the narrative and doesn’t belong – it’s detached from the actual story. When amended, it looks like this:
I looked at George’s expression and knew what he was thinking.
I knew that those in foreign lands had to want freedom and fight for it. People like George couldn’t do that for them. He’d seen the treatment of prisoners; something that would divide people for many years...
The context has now changed. The narrative relates to George and is no longer detached, nor does it sound as though the author is preaching about war.
Intrusion isn’t just narrative led. It can also occur through characters. In other words, the author puts their own opinions and views into the mouths of their characters. It may not seem it, but it’s still author intrusion, and even if you don’t spot it in your own characters, an editor will.  If something doesn’t fit into the context of the story or the narrative, the reader or editor will instantly recognise it.
The narrative must always be about the characters and the story. At no time should the author use the story or characters to preach or project their own personal views. As writers, we must always leave ourselves out of our stories. This is not to say that we can’t use our own personal experiences. This is quite different from intrusion because our experiences help create a sense of realism. If, for instance, you have ever been caught in an earthquake, you would be able to relate what it felt like, what emotions you felt and what impact it had and translate that experience to your characters in a story about a natural disaster. In the same way, if you’ve experienced a close personal bereavement, then you’re better able to convey the emotional trauma and aftermath through your characters so that the reader can empathise. Experiences and observations are not author intrusions.
How do you differentiate between what is normal narrative and intrusive narrative? How do you spot author intrusion?
Writers need to learn how to stand back from their work and see through the story dispassionately and objectively. This is why it’s always a good idea to take time away from your novel so that when you return, you’ll see things with fresh eyes and you’ll be able spot the kind of things that shouldn’t be there. A few weeks away from your work will help you see your story in a different light.
Read the story carefully. Look for opinions and views within the narrative. Sometimes the narrator is opinionated or describes very political or social views that seem out of context with the story – as per the war example above. Sometimes there may be statements, beliefs and opinions that crop up from nowhere that you know shouldn’t really be there.
Often our characters say things they wouldn’t normally say, things that might be out of character or very opinionated – they’re all personal views from the author that have crept in.
To help even further, get some beta readers to read your work, or let an editor look at it. They will spot any author intrusion.
But the best way to avoid it is simple: Don’t let your opinions and personal views into the story. This is your character’s story, not yours.

Next week: Creating Characteristics


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