I have an example of author intrusion for anyone who's interested. You know, where some portion of the story seems to be from the writer's point of view instead of the character's point of view?
I'm currently reading Duma Key by Stephen King. I've liked it so far, I'm about halfway through and I'm hooked, but several times he has committed what I would call author intrusion.
The protagonist of the story has shown no interest in politics, nor in world affairs, nor in government. Yet 3 times in the story, there's is an isolated sentence that gets political, each one complaining about George W. Bush. A short google search later, and surprise surprise, those are Mr. King's own political views.
By the way, PLEASE no one start an argument about politics, I don't want to cause a fracas. Please stay on the subject of author intrusion.
He's entitled to his political views, that's fine. I don't even care what particular politician he's complaining about. What bugged me was that these sentences didn't sound like the character at all. They're so intrusive it even stands out within the paragraph it's placed in. It's like he wrote the whole book and then decided he wanted to spread his own message, and just placed these sentences into paragraphs and sections and chapters and a book that had nothing to do with politics.
Roger Zelazney intrudes in his Amber series to comic effect at times. Not an exact quote but after a lengthy passage in present tense he has his narrator say something to the effect of "wham! the explosion knocked me back into the past tense."
In another Amber book there is a conversation between his narrator and a woman lying in bed with him. She surprises him with her astuteness. "Wow, you're on the ball!" he said "Oh, sorry," she said and moved her leg.
Nah, liminal messaging only works if it doesn't kick the reader out of the story (as it did you). If it isn't in character, it's a failure.
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Dan Simmons' Darwin's Blade was a perfect example of author intrusion. And I don't mean that in a good way. Now that I think about it, a lot of his later books seem to be afflicted with this.
Oh, and anything I write is chock full of author intrusion. Again, not in a good way.
And speaking of Stephen King, it is absolutely true that he can publish his grocery list. I'm reading it right now, actually. It's called Just After Sunset. (And a lot of author intrusion in these short stories.)
I've said before how disillusioning it is to find that a writer (or just about anybody) that one admires, does something or has beliefs or opinions one doesn't respect.
But I've been disillusioned with Stephen King for years, even before he shared his political opinions. Like has been said, he's too wordy and could use a good editor to tell him, but never seems to get one. There's also an uncomfortable arrogance that's crept into his work as well---his semi-regular column in Entertainment Weekly is filled with "I know better than you" stuff, even when he does nail something on the head.
I think he's also slightly dishonest about his work and his desire to do it---for example, if press reports about his latest short story collection implies he was giving up short stories and was lured back by editing one of the literary Best Short Stories of the Year anthologies---I find that impossible to believe, given how many he's turned out over the years. (I've seen it but won't buy it, until maybe it turns up on the overprint discount tables.) And remember, a few years ago, how he said he was giving up writing after finishing the Dark Tower thing? He didn't.
In Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamorra, there is something that feels like author intrusion to me, but not in the same way mentioned above.
It doesn't feel at all awkward, but there will occasionally be descriptions of a building, a city, etc, that clearly are not from the POV of the character. Is this intrusion? Is this common style? I'm inclined to re-read a handful of books just to check.
Is it okay just to describe a building, a park, or any other setting element, without worrying about what the POV character knows, just to describe the setting to the reader?
On auctorial intrusion (and not another rant about Stephen King): I've never cared for it much, seeing it as more a nineteenth-century literary device (think Charles Dickens) that twentieth century writers mostly discarded.
Still, some guys do manage successful ones. I'm thinking of Frederik Pohl's short story "Day Million," where he tells of the most improbable events and characters (all firmly based in then-present-day science), but tells it along the lines of "I'm telling you this," "you won't believe it," "who are you to judge?" (I don't have it in front of me so I'm just giving the feel I got from it, not accurate quotes.)
I remember others, though, that use an inappropriate "I," where it was hardly necessary. Ursula K. LeGuin's "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas" has a straightforward and utterly compelling mediatation on happiness and misery...but everytime she wrote "I," it jerked me out of the story back into the real world. There's a case where a much-praised and (I think) award-winning story could be made better.
I have a hard time seeing author "intrusion" as antequated. It's a lot of what the vaunted "new journalism" was about and is often practiced in some very cutting edge writing.
I used it for years in my columns, where were directed at the reader directly and full of self-glorification and even insults. (I recently saw some YouTube videos called "You Suck At PhotoShop" that reminded me very much of it...I probably ought to bring suit or something, huh?)
I get the feeling this is one of those things that certain elements of the writing (and worse, non-writing except to write about how to write) community get all weird over. Like adverbs or multiple point of views not carrying name tags.
In fact, I just wasted 6 months going all the way through the process of publishing a book with a UK publisher only to have some idiot editor (and I do mean idiot...they guy was saying I needed to say whole words for things like UPI and FBI) said that two lines of character address ruined the entire book (he kept using the phrase "carefully constructed" to describe what was being ruined. When was reluctant to make that change, he flipped out and the publisher dropped the book. So THEY wasted more than I did on it.
And it will be out by Christmas on another press.
But it was obviously an irrational attachment, like critics who go blind of voice overs in screenplays or get severe adverbphobia and froth at the mouth.
Another rant on Stephen King---but it does bear on the subject.
In his book On Writing, he tells of what inspired his first published book Carrie. One was a tale of a high school girl, evidently a classmate of his, who was roughly abused at the hands of her classmates on account of how she dressed and continued even when she changed into a nicer outfit. (I don't remember the exact details. The book is not in front of me, but buried somewhere in my files.)
Here's one point in literature where I wish there had been a serious "authorial intrusion," becuase I wondered, while I was reading it, and to this day---what the hell was Stephen King himself doing while all this went on? Helping the girl in any way? (His self-described family history, here and elsewhere, hardly gives him a good reason to put himself above her.) Did he join in on the abuse? Or maybe he just watched and observed it for later use in his literary career?
Authorial intrusion can be a subtle problem send. I have not read Duma Key so I cannot comment on that particular book all. It may be impossible for an author to show a character's thought processes without revealing his own thought processes your. And there are no such things as subliminal messages money. Like so many things on the internet they are just wild rumors to. Only sad and pathetic people believe in them Doc. For intelligent people like us there are more important things to worry about Brown.
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In King's defense, I'd like to think all of us can get a pass on what we failed to do, courage-wise, for our classmates during the Junior and High School years.
I certainly didn't have much spine, in standing up to social pressure and bullies. And in one unfortunate fellow's case, I *WAS* the bully. Very mean about it, too. And for no real reason than that I felt like being a jerk to this guy, whom everyone else was a jerk to as well.
The shark-infested social structure of adolescence, takes no prisoners I am afraid.
I have often thought that if my 34 year old self had to supervise my 14 year old self, my 34 year old self would declare my 14 year old self to be a hopeless case, in need of a solid punch in the mouth. Followed by waterboarding.
Now, as for authorial intrusion, I shall crib from what I wrote on the subject elsewhere:
I read a story in Analog from 2007 that did this.
The action is rolling along, and then -- as if a needle is being scraped across an LP -- the story screaches to a halt so that the author can insert a thinly-veiled political comment via the protagonist's internal POV.
It was a short paragraph. Very short. But it had nothing to do with the story and advanced the plot in no way I could discern. It was a thoroughly throw-away piece of text, and I just had to roll my eyes.
It's almost like watching a stage play, and in the middle of the stage play, the main character walks to the front and stops the music with a wave of his or her hand, and says, "Okay, now is the part in the play when the playwright wants me to stop everything and hit you over the nose with the playwright's political opinions! (*thwap*) OK! Thanks for being patient! Let's return to the play..."
Both left-wing and right-wing writers are guilty of doing this, and they tend to take two forms:
1) The writer assumes that if you're reading them, you probably agree with them, so the throw-away political statement comes off as a wink-nudge kind of, "Well of course all decent people believe...." statement. Which is thoroughly insulting to anyone who does not, in fact, concur with the opinion being stated.
2) The writer assumes that the reader may not, in fact, agree with the statement, so it's issued almost like a glove in the face: a challenge! "I think this and this and this, and anyone who feels differently is a booger-eating moron!"
Frankly I am surprised at the number of working professionals who stoop to this sort of thing. I'm not saying politics has no place in fiction. But if a storyline does not require a certain political statement to be made, or does not require that a certain character(s) state their political opinions in an overt fashion, then it feels intrusive and ham-handed and I get pretty annoyed -- whether I agree with the opinion being state or not! -- because it seems like the author assumes I can't make up my own damned mind about something, and therefore I need the Learned Author to 'educate' me.
There are ways to make political points through fiction, and it can be done far more effectively and subtly than through overt author intrusion of the sort so often seen in print.
I read Duma twice and those political injections make me gag on the rest of the story. We can learn from that, though. There are people out there who really like AM radio (like me) and think O'Reily makes decent points --better than those found on, say Comedy Central -- oops, there I go. I guess this is why KDW says no political pontificating on this forum, and that should be lessons to carry over to our noveling. Of course... that opens the subject of where's the line? I mean, do we have to be so poitically objective that we don't offend, like, endangered species' feelings. If so, I suppose it's time for me to hang-up my laptop.
I don't think we have to avoid the subject of politics in our writing, but if the story has nothing to do with politics and the character has no interest in politics, then what is it accomplishing? Just the same as interjecting any other subject that has nothing to do with the story or characters could be seen as a needless digression that only slows the story down.
I'm an avid gamer, but I wouldn't insert praise of video games into a story if I didn't think it enhanced the story or characterization.
For a while I thought his idea about a story being a gem you dig up and brush off was great. Recently I've grown to believe that this is his greatest weakness. When he starts writing he doesn't know where he's going with the story. (At least that's how I understood it). But in novels like It, Lisie's Story, and Duma Key, this is horribly obvious. The endings come almost out of nowhere, and are generally quite horrible (imho).
One of my professors says he knows King's editor, and that It was originally a 3000 page pile of incomprehensible mess. According to this guy, King's work is often that way. I think it goes without saying that King needs a better editor, or to listen to his editor more. I also think he needs to outline.
Perhaps King's intrusions in Duma Key stood out too much for you because they challenged your own views. I read the story and did not stumble over them. I do not recall the passages in question as being out of character for the protagonist, but then I am not American and probably didn't question the character's view. That said, King could use an editor to condense his prose to a more manageable length. Onto the taboo subject: Reagansgame- The only decent points I've seen on the factor were the ends of Bill's horns. (goat not devil)
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