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Intruder Alert! A Lesson in Author Intrusion

Posted by on 13 September, 2012

Looking up from the base of Mount Everest. That’s what it felt like.

The first time I realized what I had to do to avoid author intrusion or author’s POV, I might as well have been in Nepal laden with ropes, cables and a 100lb backpack.

My biggest hurdle so far.

So what is it?

If you accept the general rule, one character’s POV per scene, the author’s thoughts/opinions should never enter into the equation. Author intrusion is when the writer forgets they’re supposed to be in the character’s head and injects some of their own impressions on the reader, things the character in question could not possibly know. It can be jarring and pull the reader out of your scene, something you definitely don’t want! If your heroine is visibly affected by the throbbing God-of-Love before her, she can only be aware of what she’s experiencing. Unless she’s standing in front of a mirror, she can’t actually see that she’s blushing. But she can feel the heat rising to her cheeks.

Author’s POV is also closely tied to the show don’t tell rule. One thing I always try to remember is that the character’s opinion doesn’t have to be right, but it has to be their opinion. Isn’t it great when they’re wrong and we learn right along with them over time? If the writer tells you everything that’s happening, where’s the mystery?

Here’s an example.

Jane walked into the room. Stephen was embracing Sylvia, his back to her. She became enraged and wondered what she could throw at him to ease her frustration from seeing them so intimate.

Versus

Jane walked into the room. Stephen was embracing Sylvia, his back to her. What a bastard! The only thing close she could throw at him was his grandmother’s urn sitting on a table near the entrance. To hear the sound of it bouncing off the back of his head was too much temptation. And anyway, the poor old woman didn’t deserve such a disrespectful display. It wasn’t her fault her grandson was a prick!

In the first passage, I’m telling you she’s enraged. In the second I’m showing you. The first two sentences are the same in each because they describe action. It’s when the character interprets what’s happening around them that we learn things about them. When the author tells you what they feel, we are less connected.

Here’s another example.

Julia tiptoed along the stone walkway, hoping her footsteps would not be heard. She knew she couldn’t risk being caught.

Versus

Julia tiptoed along the stone walkway. If she wasn’t careful, the guard on duty would hear her, despite her efforts to remain undetected. It would be disastrous if she were caught now.

Below are some phrases that just might give away author intrusion:

Hoped
Wondered
Felt
Saw
Heard
Thought

Now that I know how to avoid it, my new material contains much less of it. I can slip into a character’s head much easier now and really feel them. I’m not saying you have to don a cowboy hat and haul out your lasso, well…depending on what you’re into…but the closer you are to the character, the closer your reader will be too.

Happy writing!!

One Response to Intruder Alert! A Lesson in Author Intrusion

  1. Ellie Gray Author

    Great post, Kate – fab tips and certainly food for thought. I’ll be going back to double check my current WIP for author intrusion!

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