Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Quit Butting into MY Story

Author Intrusion. Just a nice way of saying that the writer is butting into the character's story.

Characters need to have their separate worlds, their separate thoughts. They don't have to value the same things you do. They don't have to fear the same things you do. But that's not the whole gist of author intrusion.

It's also when the heroine's car breaks down and she knows the radiator broke. But she's a loner librarian who usually rides her bike to work. How does she know it's the radiator?

Exactly.

In some ways, I think author intrusion is like an omniscient POV. The creator's POV.

Have you heard of this? How would you describe it? Better yet, have you ever been an intruder?

Special thanks to Debra M. who suggested a post on this. I hope you stop by Debra! :-)

44 comments:

Suzanne Brandyn said...

Well she has four brothers who always worked on cars... and she damn well knows the problem but really can't be bothered messing with all that greese... in comes the hero whom she lets him fix it, with scathing teeth.. of course she could have done it.. but she'd only been to the beauticans yesterday and doesn't want to spoil a good set of nails. loll

sorry I usually rant and rave.. but there's a story there a good one. :)

Angie Ledbetter said...

Yeah, I hate magical fixes in a book. Makes me distrust every single thing after that point.

Jody Hedlund said...

Good thoughts, Jessica. I'll have to watch for that as I edit. We're told to be specific with our details, but I guess those details will have to be things our characters would know!

Jessica said...

Suzanne, you're cracking me up! LOL Yes, if she had the brothers or backstory to know car info, then that's great. Not intrusion at all, just part of her characterization. Love the beautician remark. LOL
Thanks for commenting and making me smile at a time when all I really want is my coffee.

Jessica said...

Angie, def. true. Stuff like this yanks a reader right out of the world they've entered. They remember it's not real.

Jessica said...

Good point Jody. It's something I struggle with too, using specificity that's unique to my character's pov.

Kristen Painter said...

Author intrusion is omniscient POV. And it's allowable, depending on the genre. Romance? Not so much. But I've seen it in fantasy, sci-fi, kids books.

I don't do it. It's like cheating.

Jessica said...

Hi Kristen,
Thanks for that info. I don't read much of sci-fi or fantasy so I didn't realize it was still okay.

LOL about the cheating. I hadn't thought of it that way.

Debra E Marvin said...

Hey Jessica, thanks.

I brought this up because it had been pointed out to me by a contest judge and I didn't see it as omniscient POV--in other words, I was confused.

I look forward to some more opinions here on how to recognize it.

In your example of the woman who 'knows' it's the radiator. For some it would make sense, and others it would be author intrusion, right? Seems difficult from the author's place as she/he knows the background and this may totally make sense to her. How do we learn to watch for these things?

sigh.

Has anyone come across a good article or found a sure-fire way to see it when it occurs in their own work?

Windsong said...

I know about it and try to avoid it. :)

Authorial intrusion can work, and work well, depending on the story. The Bartimaeus trilogy, the Discworld series, Jane Austen all intrude in their novels, but that's part of the fun. I think the biggest problem is when it's not done well, and it's hard to do well. Or when it's only done once or twice. That makes it feel like it happened more on accident than on purpose.

Jessica said...

Hi Debra,
Both Windsong and Kristen made great points. Omn. POV can be used but it needs to be done well to work right. Harry Potter is also a good example of Omn. used well.(and it's fantasy, like Kristen pointed out). Even if you have it, it's not nec. a bad thing.
As for the radiator, if it's in the character's background then it's not intrusion at all. There are a lot of ways to clue the reader in, even with one sentence. I think where the scene occurs matters too. If it's the opening scene, then a one line like "Great, this radiator must be the cousin to the one she'd had in high school that blew up on her." can work because it clues the reader in that the character has had this happen before and that's how she knows what the problem is.
But if the radiator happens later on in the book, then the heroine's background should've made her knowledge acceptable by then. If not, then you've either a) intruded or b) didn't include appropriate background in earlier scenes.

This is my take but I'm still learning too. :-)

You could look up author intrusion and see what pops up. Also, Kristen is part of a website called Romance Divas and they might have some articles on this. Good luck Debra! :-)

Jessica said...

Hi Windsong,
Exactly. I've opened my WIP with a Omn. pov and I'm not sure I'm going to keep it yet. Like you said, it has to be done well to work. Thanks for commenting!

Janna Qualman said...

You explained it very well, Jessica, and I needed this post today. Thank you!

Jaime said...

Hmmm... now that's a concept I hadn't thought of, but true. Darn. Just another thing to watch out for. This is so technical! :) LOL

Jessica said...

I'm glad it helped Janna. I hope you're day is going well. :-)

Jessica said...

Hi Jaime,
I know. Who knew art was so crafty? LOL

quixotic said...

I may be wrong, but in my opinion, "author intrusion" is like that annoying person in the movie theater. You know the one I am talking about.

They shout, "Don't go in there," when the dumb girl is being chased by the serial killer is about to walk into a trap.

Author intrusion is any over-telling in my opinion. It's jarring and annoying. The idea of reading, is to experience the world as the characters do.

Of course, I'm no saint when it comes to this topic. I do my fair share of intruding on my story.

Cindy said...

Lol, I love this post. I'm telling my characters what to do and what to think all the time. I know it irritates them. And it irritates me because then I end up doing edit after edit to fix what I should have done right in the first place. Oh well, live and learn.

Lady Glamis said...

I'm an intruder all the time. This is an EXCELLENT post! I think that we often need to step further into our character's heads and try to see things the way they see them, not the way we see them. That might help.

I'm going to be watching out more for this, thank you!

Terri Tiffany said...

I never heard of this but I understand your concept by what you explained. This is a good one to remember. I just finished editing a friend's book for her and noticed she did that a lot--tidied things up too fast in ways I wondered about.
Thanks for a good topic!

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

This is an interesting topic, and something that I don't know that I've heard of before. I see what you mean though, if we are not sufficiently in our character's heads then some of their thoughts and actions may not read true.

Or, conversely, perhaps we are so far into our characters heads that we forget our readers do not know them as well as we do, and won't understand that the librarian actually grew up in her father's garage where he fixed cars that he loved more than his daughter and that is why she chooses to ride a bike most of the time.

Anyway, this is good stuff to think about.

Eileen Astels Watson said...

I totally agree with your omniscient explanation. I don't see it to often in the books I read. But when I do spot such intrusions, it tends to make me go backward to search for a plausible explanation of how they knew that, since I'm always wanting to give the author the benefit of the doubt. It relates to suspending disbelief too, I believe.

Jeannie Campbell said...

i'm an intruder, too! i remember when my crit partner first wrote those words, i was like, "WHAT!?" now i understand that i can't have my cake and eat it, too.

Jessica said...

Hi Katie,
LOL on your example. It can be annoying for sure. Interesting about the over-telling. That probably could be author intrusion, since it's us trying to explain something instead of letting the reader infer things on their own.

Jessica said...

Exactly Lady Glamis.
Camy Tang does this well. Her characters are Asian and they're always comparing things to funny foods I've never eaten. LOL But she has the POV down with showing things from the character's perspective rather than her own.

Jessica said...

Hehee! Cindy, it's tough, right? You're right, we live and learn. It seems like it gets easier with every manuscript too.

Jessica said...

Hi Terri,
Yep. Easy solutions just don't provide a satisfying read. It's sad, but readers want characters to suffer and work for the resolution. LOL

Jessica said...

Hi Kate,
LOL! You should've wrote the post. Very succinct comment. :-)

Jessica said...

Hey Eileen,
I think you're right about the suspension of belief. If we trust the author, then we're more likely to go with something and trust that it's true. Great point.

Kathryn Magendie said...

I hope I never intrude! I hope I always stay in character voice!

Debra E Marvin said...

Okay, I did some homework and in some places author intrusion is explained as putting your opinion in. As all our writing is flavored by our opinions, even so much as to say how we think something looked, smelled, tasted--this is a very thin line for me. Especially if you are trying to write in a very deep pov where your character is thinking something. We are told not to say "he felt, or he thought" as then we are telling the reader rather than showing. So if we just use a sentence that is the character's opinion, we have to make sure it's not jarring and obviously some point we are making.

Sigh again.

Some day I'll look back on this and say, oh NOW I KNOW how to spot this but right now I'm overthinking it.

thanks to all for all the thoughts. I need to let them all stew together and watch for them when I read.

Jessica said...

LOL Jeannie! Doesn't that stink?
:-)

Jessica said...

Hey Debra,
No worries, girl. :-) Didn't you just final in a contest? I'm willing to bet your writing is fairly solid.
Also, people can get nitpicky over these rules. To me, a 'felt' or 'thought' once in awhile is not a big deal. Like you said, we should worry when something jolts the reader or makes them think "this doesn't make sense".

Jessica said...

And what a great voice your character has, Kathryn. :-) Your excerpts were great.

Lynnette Labelle said...

Another way to spot AI is this: When a character knows why another character does something. For example: "He opened the door, expecting to find a monster on the other side." If this was his POV, that would be fine, but if another character is describing this person opening the door, then it's AI.

Another example: "She turned away in disgust." If this isn't her POV, how does the POV character know how she feels? Maybe she turned because she was shy. Or maybe she heard something. A way around this (because the author really knows why she turned away) is to write "She SEEMED disgusted as she turned away." Or something like that. I'm not the best at coming up with examples on the fly. LOL

BTW, I nominated you for an award. Check it out on my blog.

Lynnette Labelle
http://lynnettelabelle.blogspot.com

Jessica said...

Awesome examples Lynnette. They're right on.

Yay! I actually already stopped by and saw it. :-) LOL Thank you so much!

jessie said...

Very good questions. My MC isn't in love with my hero yet. She wants me to stop drooling over him in my prose, but I can't help it.

Jessica said...

LOL!

Dara said...

I know I often don't realize I'm intruding until my chapter's gone over at critique group and they pick up on it. It often goes over my head, although I am trying to be more aware of it.

Jessica said...

No worries Dara. It'll come. :-)

Irritable Mother said...

Oh.My.Word!
I have just read your three latest posts and all I can say is, writing novels sounds like entirely TOO MUCH WORK for me! You have to think and analyze and think again and question your motives and the motives of your character and, and, and, my head is spinning!
I'll stick to speaking and writing inspirational books, thank you very much.
Can't wait to see you Monday! *grin*

Jessica said...

LOL Karen,
Trust me, I wouldn't have to speak and come up with a non-fiction book. I have a feeling it's just as difficult. :-)

Pen Pen said...

I have to check myself on this all the time. I write out detailed character profiles for the first step in any piece I'm doing. It's a difficult thing to step back from, and I ALWAYS have to have other people read my stuff and question the character's "knowledge"!

Jessica said...

Whew, you're a plotter, huh? :-) Sounds like you have a pretty smart system going.