Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Author Intrusion -- Yea or Nay?

Point of view. This is one of those never-ending topics that authors like to discuss. Should a novelist write the story from first-person ("I") point of view? Or would the story be better told in third-person ("he"/"she") POV? And if third person wins the day, should the author describe the hero's tale from inside or outside of that person's head?

Recently a friend began noticing that some authors--including highly successful ones--buck current writing advice and include information dumps in their stories. In other words, one moment the hero and his buddy are racing a dilapidated old Jeep down a rutted camel path in Afghanistan while taking pot shots at the bad guys on their tail. Suddenly the leading man recalls he has one last fragmentation grenade in his pack and bends down to retrieve it. And at that point the author inserts some information that the character is not thinking or experiencing. It could be facts about the history of grenades. It might be details about the Jeep, the dusty roadway, military training methods, or even an old experience in the character's past.

The common name given to information that a writer inserts into a story is "author intrusion." For many writing instructors, author intrusion is anathema--an evil that should never occur. In fact, many writing coaches will insist students write only in Deep POV, which is a method of relating the story from deep inside the hero's skull, where nothing is allowed that the character does not personally experience or consciously think about.

So is author intrusion truly bad writing style? At one time, I would have jumped to say yes. But the more widely I read, the more novels I find that include author intrusion. In fact, some genres--such as military thrillers--purposely include information dumps to provide details on armaments, military tactics, information on behind-the-scenes life at the CIA, etc., in order infuse a heightened sense of realism into the story. For many readers, the strategy evidently works, because they proceed to buy the next thriller released by those authors. (I suspect the average reader has never heard of author intrusion and simply thinks in terms of "I liked the story" or not.)

So I turn the matter over to you, the vast pool of thinking friends out there. Is author intrusion good, bad, or neither? Is Deep POV an inherently superior style of writing? I will eagerly await your thoughts!

14 comments:

  1. I don't like reading or writing info dumps like that. I write strictly from first person POV though, so that's probably why.

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    1. Dawn, I agree it's hard to do this and get away with it in first person!

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  2. For me, it would depend on the type of story and the intended effect. Do you want readers to know more than the characters, or find out information as the character does. I think it would be neat to write the SAME story from both POV's and then re-read both to see what affect it has. Maybe even give copies for others to read and see what they say.

    PS. Like the new blog focus

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    1. Author intrusion with extra details could be an accident by a writer who wasn't aware that he was doing it. But yes, often it is clearly done purposely.

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  3. Now that I know (most of) the rules, I feel free to use them as tools that either add to or detract from the story. In other words, they're no longer rules. (But I benefited from learning them first.) I too have noticed this freedom in lots of authors I read.

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    1. Perhaps those who slide in extra information this way simply have such a solid story going that author intrusion goes unnoticed? (At least, unnoticed by readers who are simply readers and not other writers?) :)

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  4. The rules are really important, but mostly to the people imposing them. :-)

    Now that I'm writing myself, I tend to be overly-analytical with my reading. When I relax and just enjoy the story, I find the occasional rule-breaking to be no problem at all.

    I'm still working at following the rules myself, but I have to say, most of my favorite reading ignores many of these rules. Author intrusion included. Actually, a touch of omniscient POV doesn't always hurt, either. I say that not as one who writes it, but as one who reads it. When I have more street-creds, I may start ignoring some of them.

    Jay

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    1. I hear you, John! There's nothing like taking driver's ed to make a 16-year-old critical of everyone's else's driving, and there's nothing like becoming a writer to make a person analytical of everyone else's writing. I do the same. And I, too, am still learning better ways to write.

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  5. As a reader, I' in AWE of anyone who can write a book so good that ya don't want to put it down! I for one am glad they share their talent with us non writers, thank you. :)

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    1. Thanks, Jel. And they usually make it flow so effortless as they pull us readers along. It's definitely not an easy task.

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  6. I think someone who has been writing for a long time, has more than one manuscript under their belt, and is secure in their writer's voice will be able to know when to use author intrusion seamlessly. If it doesn't leap off the page at me as such, I usually enjoy reading it! Thanks for the post, Rick.

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    1. I agree that some tricks are better left to those who have practiced them.

      Thanks, Bethany!

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  7. Years ago we used to call "author intrusion" something like "narrator voice." It isn't omniscient, and it doesn't have to be done as an information dump. Frankly, I dislike reading first person and have laid aside many books written in first person. Perhaps they were just poorly written first person.

    It's difficult to create a sense of place or time from deep first person POV. Notice I didn't say "description" because I know that can be a touchy subject. :-) Good writing can overcome the restriction of "rules" and poor writing makes us all wish the rules had been observed.

    Thanks for this good discussion.

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    1. Lois, I truly enjoyed your closing observation about good writing and poor writing. Your phrasing was sublime. It sparked a good laugh, so thank you especially for sharing your observations!

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