Welcome to First Monday Mentoring when I open this blog to your thoughts and questions on the wonderful, scary, maddening and exhilarating craft of writing. To start us off, this week I was asked how to handle author intrusion, sometimes called author convenience.
As the heading suggests, I see it as a crime that’s serious enough to get a book rejected.
Basically, the question comes down to whose book this is, yours or your character’s?
Since you’re doing the hard work, it’s tempting to say the book is yours, but you’re only the means by which the story reaches readers. They want to know what happens to the characters and how they feel and act as a result. Readers want to share the journey and forget they’re reading words on a page or screen.
Author intrusion is a bit like photobombing a photo – you stick yourself into a scene where it doesn’t belong. On social media, photobombs can be hilarious but in a book, they’re more often an unwelcome distraction.
Here are a few ways an author can photobomb a book:
Give characters opinions that belong to you, instead of to them.
Their politics, religious beliefs or opinions may differ from the author’s, and should agree with the way you want us to see them. Creating characters to get your own beliefs across is a huge mistake and will almost certainly read as if you’re lecturing the reader.
Dump every bit of research into the story:
However fascinating your research, it only belongs in the story when it suits the characters’ experiences and knowledge. Say your story is about a farmer who’s had a meteorite come down on his land. Unless he’s a former scientist turned farmer, he shouldn’t know everything about meteorites, except as they relate to him and his experience.
Put modern thinking into your historical novel:
This can be a failure of craft as much as author intrusion. You haven’t researched the time period of your story sufficiently to notice when you have characters use modern expressions or act in ways that don’t fit the period. It’s okay if you’re writing about a time travelling character who would bring his/her own views and speech to the period, and would notice the differences, but the other characters must behave appropriately for their time.
You can also photobomb a contemporary, sci-fi or fantasy story by having the characters comment on settings and technology they would use every day. How often do you marvel at your tablet or smart phone, or even notice yourself using them? Characters should treat their world similarly.
Give characters skills or history that conveniently fits the story needs:
This is very common. Your mousy secretary is confronted by the villain and somehow knows how to fight him off. If you need her to defend herself convincingly, then go back and write in how her office had offered their staff self defense classes and a workmate had talked her into going. That way, when she’s attacked, we already know how she’s learned to handle herself.
Sharing her thoughts, fears and struggle to remember what she was taught will take us right inside the situation, as if it were happening to us. You can also share more of her character with us by showing how she acted in the self defense class.
Putting yourself in the character’s place, writing much of the story in dialogue and through their eyes helps avoid author intrusion. Descriptions are limited to what that person would normally notice, depending on who they are.
A fabric designer walking into a room may notice the fabulous curtains, whereas a sportsperson is likely to see the expensive fishing rod propped up in a corner.
Story analyst, Michael Hauge, says you need to ask whether your characters would behave the way people with their background would normally act in this situation.
Say a business person stumbles on a dead body. Would they proceed to investigate the crime? As one of my editors said, too often the character fails to contact the police, the first thing most people would do. If the character is an undercover cop, however, their reaction will be different depending on the story.
Remember, the book belongs to the characters. Tell their story, rather than imposing yours on them. As movie mogul, Samual Goldwin, was reputed to have told his writers, “If you’ve got a message, send it Western Union.”
Now over to you. How do you avoid photobombing your story? Share your thoughts in the comment box below. It’s moderated to avoid spam, but you can have your post appear right away by clicking on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.
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