Wednesday, November 3, 2010

How to tell your story without getting in the way: Authorial Intrusion

I didn't get a chance to upload a shot of my work space for the kick off of NaNoWriMo.  This is in my dining room.  I don't really eat int there, and the view is great, so it's become my office!
 As a writer, you have the benefit of knowing (for the most part anyway) where your story is going.  That can be a good thing, but at times it can hinder the way you express things.  Certain details are difficult to convey and you do want your audience to be able to stay on the same page, as it were.  So, it's easy to get so caught up in writing that you may not even realize that you're telling the story.  Now, what's the problem with that?  Well, no one wants read a book where they're simply "hearing" the author in their mind, feeding the words to them.  People want to "see" the story in their heads.  At worst, you want your readers to feel like they're watching a movie.  At best, you want them to feel like they're IN the story with the characters, living it alongside them.

This can be tricky.  I've been writing since I could put letters together, but now that I'm seriously pursuing this, I've begun to research the craft.  At first, it was really daunting.  I kind of thought I knew pretty much everything that went into this.  I mean, I have the gift of gab and a good imagination...what more could there be?  Boy, was I wrong.  Fortunately, there's lots of really good information to be found on the subject of writing.  One of the very first topics I encountered was authorial intrusion.  I'd never heard the term before, and that alone was terrifying.  I'd put pen to paper before, even gotten a third of a novel written.  When I read over it, I thought it was pretty good...then I read up on authorial intrusion and what it was.  I felt like I'd need to start ALL over!  (Which, looking back, wasn't a bad thing.  That partial manuscript was horrendous!)  My writing was riddled with intrusion.

So, for those of you who were like me, here's the lowdown.   

Authorial Intrusion is when an author injects their personal thoughts and opinions in an attempt to steer the reader.  It can also be the author interrupting the flow of the story to impart some information on the reader that the character and reader might not aware of.

Sounds harmless, right?  Not so much!  You see, an author shouldn't have to rely on blatantly telling the reader how to think or feel.  That's the beauty of this medium.  People should be able to draw their own conclusions.  Now, in certain instances, an author might wish for everyone to draw the same conclusions, but there are other ways to go about it, ways that are spread out in the telling of the whole story.  Authorial Intrusion can often times make the reader feel kind of like an idiot.  Prime example:  Somewhere in the first pages of Eclipse (Twilight III), Stephanie Meyer actually types "Edward (Vampire) and Jacob (Werewolf)."  I remember literally tossing my book to the other side of the bed in disgust.   It took me days to pick it back up again, and my only motivation was so that I could critique the book.

A great way to stay away from Authorial Intrusion is to stay in what I like to call "S.h.I.T. Mode".  "S.h.I.T." = "Showing Instead of Telling".  If you're reader is living with the character, let them live the story (for the most part) at the same level as the character.  The reader shouldn't really know any more or less than the MC does.  As an author, it's your job to get the story out of your head and into a format that other people can enjoy.  It's NOT you're job to force feed the story to them.  Think about it this way - if they've picked up your book, they want to read your story.  The biggest battle is over with!  Now, to keep them entertained, get out of the way!

Please know that I'm still working on this myself.  I still feel that the best way to hone your craft is critique and examine the work of others.  When you can point out the weaknesses in their work, it teaches you to look at your own with the eye of someone who isn't so close to what you're doing.  When you're writing, take some time away from your piece.  In that time, maybe JUST critique for other people.  By the time you come back to your work, it will not only be fresher, but you'll have a different mindset!


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