Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Author Intrustion

A really enjoyable book!
Gerald Hedgerow, son of two famous writers, one a novelist and the other a poet, has finally achieved success on his own . . . or rather, with the help of Miss Grainger, his pen-named alter ego. Unfortunately, though, this sweet, even-tempered agony/advice columnist offers fame at a steep price.

Question from the e-mail:  When I read my story in my group, they said it was "just full of author intrusions."  I nodded and thanked them, but haven't a clue what that means. Help, Arline.

Answer: Author Intrusion is a viewpoint mistake, where the author tells the reader something that the viewpoint character can't see or know.

The viewpoint rules say:
1. ONLY one character's viewpoint per scene. The reader should only be inside the body of the viewpoint character, see with her eyes, think with her brain, feel with her heart.  If anyone else's thoughts are important for the reader to know, the best way is to s how them by the actions of the second character.

2. The Second Character can't THINK that the viewpoint character is giving him a load of BS,   but he can  say, "SURE!" Or be sarcastic, or grit his teeth and give Main Character a "Who do you think you're kidding?" look. Or stare at the ceiling and shrug.

3. So before you write any scene, decide whose scene it is establish the viewpoint character by using his or her name in the transition, to keep the reader oriented.

After that, you have to be careful not to show anything your viewpoint character can't see.

Author Intrustion Mistakes I have made:

Hope stood at the rail of the steamboat, watching the shoreline drift past. Her cheeks were ruddy from the wind, her bonnet crooked, and the shoes that pinched her feet were still covered with flecks of oyster shell, from the muddy dock. 

Hope can't see her own cheeks, OR her bonnet, unless she's looking at a mirror and that's been done too often, and too often badly. That is Arline Author, sticking in her two cents, TELLING the reader Hope has wind-burnt cheeks and her bonnet has been knocked askew. She can see her own shoes, though, so that's all okay.

READERS never notice this stuff. But critics and other writers surely will. And editors will make fun or reach for the return envelope...

On the other hand, you can describe gestures and inner feelings and emotion in a pov character.

Hope stood on the deck of the Lily Austin, ignoring the passing shoreline and terrified of what would happen, when she finally reached Killraven Island.  She had no job, no money, no place to live and had accepted her only friend's invitation to pay a short visit... How long could she stretch that?

When we show a detail only other characters can see, it's called "Author Intrusion" because the writer is telling the reader something that the viewpoint  character can't possibly see, feel, or know. If you put the reader inside the body of the viewpoint character the reader should only see, think, and feel, what that one character does. 

One way around this problem (I still catch myself doing it, so I surely know how to fix it) is to use one of the character's other senses, to get the point across. A blushing protagonist can't see her cheeks blush without a mirror, but she might "feel her cheeks grow hot" or her "try to swallow back the tide of embarrassment and wish she could drop right through the floor." This was the hardest viewpoint lesson of all for me and it took me seven long years not only to learn the rules, but to learn what they actually meant.


  1. I refer to that as "POV Violation" LOL :)

  2. So true. I have so many letters of refusal from editors that say, "You write well, but you just don't understand viewpoint!"