In a previous Be A Novelist blog post entitled Story or Message, I alluded to the plotting problem of author intrusion. Author intrusion is an easy trap for the beginning novelist to slip into.
In that blog I stated that “the novelist’s job is much like a puppeteer; if you can be seen the illusion is destroyed. The author must remain invisible.”
Imagine if you will, first learning to work with puppets. Let’s think about the moving-mouth, hand puppets that are commonly used today – aka Muppets – as opposed to the string puppets of days gone by.
If you’ve never worked with these amazing critters, you have no comprehension how difficult it is. It requires synching mouth movement with words, while at the same time creating body language and proper moves. Perhaps you’ve seen a novice puppeteer. If so, you know how easily the illusion of reality can be shattered.
The same is true with writing a novel. You as the author become every character while at the same time you remain invisible. Tall order, right?
So let’s get specific. Let’s look at three ways in which author intrusion is inadvertently introduced into the story.
The untrained novelist is tempted to relay information via character dialogue. Dialogue is a great medium and can reveal much about the characters, in addition to moving the plot forward. Problems arise, however, when the author has a character share information that the person they are talking to already knows. Something like this:
Jim says to his wife: “I’m so glad your mother, who lives in Keokuk, is coming for a visit. It’s great that her boss, where she works so hard at the pickle cannery, was nice enough to give her a week off.”
Granted this is somewhat exaggerated, but trust me, I’ve seen such stilted dialogue in manuscripts before. Does this sound like any spouse-to-spouse conversation you’ve ever heard before? Or has the author just appeared on the page?
Take care not to put into the character’s mouth anything that is for the reader’s information only. Once you do the dialogue will be as silly as the example above.
The art of foreshadowing is an important one in plotting. However, all illusion of reality goes out the door if the “little-did-she-know” syndrome shows up. It might go something like this:
Another version might be:
If only Charlie had known what was really in Lorraine’s heart he never would have…
This is the author peeking out from behind the curtains of the puppet stage – no longer invisible – and the magic is gone. If you must foreshadow make certain you use the voices of your characters and not your own.
Exposition is the advancement of straight factual information. While background material is often necessary in a novel and has to be put in somewhere, it takes skill to make it appear natural.
The unsure novice, eager to share the information, may create chunks of lengthy exposition that slows down the pace of the story. It’s the weakness of the beginner to want to explain more than is necessary.
It’s crucial to make sure your story is well underway before introducing exposition. Otherwise, it comes off as the author once again stepping out from behind the curtain to explain what is happening.
(In a future post, we’ll take closer look at the art of weaving in exposition.)
Summing up, the key to avoiding author intrusion is to stay behind the curtain; remain invisible; maintain the illusion; and maintain the magic. Believe me, your readers will love you for it.
I trust the teaching and instruction given in this blog post was helpful in your goal to be a novelist. For more in-depth writer’s workshops, check out the wide variety offered at the Be A Novelist Website.
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