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How to be a properly intrusive author

Writers can always learn something new from other writers. In Dr. Matthew Forsythe’s Editing Essentials class, Theodore Cheney—author of the guide Getting the Words Right—has provided useful information to avoid the pitfalls of stylistic risks. But, as much as writers must remember to heed others’ advice, they must also remember that some literary risks do not always equal bad writing. If done correctly, risks in writing can bring a book from ordinary to extraordinary.

For example, one of my favorite literary risks is the use of authorial intrusion, a purposeful technique in which a narrator makes his presence known to the reader by providing some sort of additional information—perhaps about characters, settings, or abstract concepts—that would normally be unobservable by the story’s characters. This intrusion breaks the barrier between a story and its pages, allowing the writer to interact with the fictionalized world that they have created, as well as with the reader. Cheney advises against this, however, explaining that a narrator should function as an observer from a third-person perspective or as a participant from a first-person perspective.

I can somewhat agree with him. In the wrong hands, authorial intrusion can create unnecessary excess, informality, and inconsistency. Its forcefulness jars readers out of their experience of enjoying a book. Cheney notes that some authors depart from prose, often interjecting their opinions to the forefront of a story. This can harm the reader’s attention to the story; readers do not read to listen to someone else’s views, but rather, to escape a world where everyone makes their opinions heard over everyone else. Very few readers want to listen to the unwavering beliefs and judgments of someone against whom they cannot argue.

An author can also use her intrusion too much by interacting with the reader as a way to express what makes their novel unique. A reader, however,  may not be so prepared for that fourth wall to be broken. They may not want an author to be so forceful in showing just what makes this book special. If a writer pulls them out of their escape by trying to enact a conversation—especially one created for the purpose of novelty—then the reader may struggle to return to their same state of interest in the book. Should a writer continue to do this, the reader may give up on the book entirely, moving onto a narrator with much more consistent investment in their own stories.

However, when authorial intrusion succeeds, it brings new levels of depth and entertainment to stories. Personally, I have found that it works best in fantasy or children’s stories: authors Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, for instance, excel at it. The tones of their stories already have an inflection of wit in them. By adding themselves in as objective, omniscient narrators they create a sense of wonder in their books, suggesting that their fantastical worlds have more enchantment in them as seen by these all-knowing eyes.

By writing themselves into their stories for their readers, they create connections with their audience, providing more personalized experiences through the discussion of concepts with which readers can identify. When they interrupt the narrative, they do not do so to preach on a subject or to force a feeling onto their reader. They place their value in the story rather than in what makes their story special.

They place their readers first, and that simple act makes narrators extraordinary.

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