I’d like to introduce you to a term, if you aren’t familiar with it already, called “author intrusion”. You have author intrusion when you’re reading a story and all of a sudden something is said in a way that pulls you out of the “zone” your imagination is in. It might be a really fancy or strange word that causes you to lose the flow of your reading. Flowery writing – the use of excessive adverbs and adjectives is also distracting. It might be a mistake in tense; an author may accidentally switch from past tense to present tense or word things in such a way that it sounds like they’re going from 3rd person to 1st person. Another blunder—which happens too often, strangely enough—is when an author suddenly changes point of view, giving us the thoughts of a character who’s head we’re not supposed to be in. We call it “head-hopping” (another term to know). And what I think is the most disruptive type of intrusion—when an author may suddenly dump a lot of information in the narration that sounds like he’s explaining something from a text book. (The term for that is called an Information Dump, by the way.)
Here’s an example of an information dump. Say you’re reading a story about a young person who is torn between accepting a scholarship to attend their dream college or taking two years off of school altogether to pursue another dream of making it to the Olympics. Suddenly, the author veers away from the meat of the story to insert a long paragraph or two about the important history of the college or what another individual had to do to overcome a similar situation. (He’s letting us know how well he researched his story and wants us to be proud of him. Blech!) Narration like this can suddenly make you disconnect with the story as you become immediately aware that the author is trying to teach you something.
…and How to Avoid It
All of the above are ways that the author intrudes into the story. There are several things you can do to avoid author intrusion in your fiction writing and remain invisible to the reader.
- First, don’t set out to necessarily “teach” a lesson, or make a moral point in your fiction. You will likely have a lot of research and knowledge built into the topic you’re writing about, but you can’t include it all. That which you do include must come out as being natural to the telling of the story, or you will be in danger of creating information dumps. Most of the time, a lesson or moral will end up being innately ingrained in a story by its plot or how characters behave without the author pointing it out.
- Don’t use extravagant vocabulary words where a simple, clear one will do. Otherwise you’ll be guilty of stepping into the spotlight, saying, “Look! I’m here. I wrote this. Don’t I have an expansive vocabulary?” You don’t want to be the reason readers become distracted from the story you’ve worked so hard on. Also, clean out as many adverbs and adjectives as you can.
- Pay close attention to grammar. Be sure your verbs always agree with your subjects so that you don’t make the mistake of changing tenses mid-step. That can sometimes sound like the author is suddenly there in the story, mingling with the characters.
- Always stay in only one character’s head (POV) per scene. Observe everything that happens through the filter of that one character.
Look through your manuscript for creeping author intrusion.
- Does any scene suddenly sound like a Wikipedia description?
- Are you watching those noun/verb agreements?
- Is your vocabulary sufficient but not flowery?
- Are there too many adverbs and adjectives instead of strong verbs and specific nouns?
- Have you head-hopped in any one scene?
Edit for these problems.