Unexpected Glimpses

Tiny sprigs of luscious new growth are appearing everywhere. It’s spring, so I shouldn’t be surprised by these sightings, especially since I’ve been waiting for them all winter. It’s the unexpectedness, though – the delight of discovery when I am glancing at one thing and suddenly notice something else – that catches me unaware and elicits such pleasure.

These glimpses are bonuses… bits of joy among the ordinary.

But what if (the writer’s favourite question), what if the telescope is reversed and you become the object glimpsed? What if in your writing you reveal just a hint of your authorial self to those who are immersed in the lives of your fictional characters?

Such glimpses are not bonuses, but interruptions.

Carol Benedict left a comment yesterday saying she wants readers “to pay attention to what I’m writing, not how I’m writing it.”  She was referring to a quotation by Somerset Maugham about style, but it also applies in principle to those times when we as authors write something that our characters wouldn’t say, see or know. Suddenly we have injected ourselves into the story. We have given the reader an unexpected glimpse of something that shouldn’t be there.

Do you think authorial intrusion matters to most readers? How do you avoid it when you’re writing?

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14 thoughts on “Unexpected Glimpses

  1. joylene says:

    As always, you’ve got me thinking, Carol. I can’t answer this immediately. I think I need time to wonder. Thanks for always taking me to special places where I’m sometimes out of my comfort zone. I suspect that’s good for me.

  2. joylene says:

    Now about the second question: I don’t want readers to give me a second thought when they’re reading my stories. I know that’s near to impossible to do. I broach too many uncomfortable issues. But I think there should be a difference between the reader stopping to contemplate why I wrote a certain scene verses me sticking my 2 cents in and taking them out of the story. Or worse jarring them out of it.

    Great post.

  3. Paul Greci says:

    I think the intrusion matters. I try to avoid it by tuning into who the character is and trying to see the world through their eyes. Having my work critiqued by others helps to root out those author intrusions, too.

  4. Jody Hedlund says:

    Oooh! Thought-provoking question, Carol. I don’t want readers to be taken away from the story to glimpse me. But in the end, I hope that I can share a piece of who I am with them. I hope my objective readers/editors can catch when I become to “authorial” in my stories. Because I’m sure I’ll miss those moments.

    And on a different note, I really appreciated your comment on Friday (and today too!). But Friday you mentioned how you had to make the decision to cut back on your baking because it wasn’t your first love. And how your family was just fine with store boughten goodies. Thank you for sharing that. I’ve had to cut back too. Even though I enjoy baking, it isn’t my first love either. And for the most part, my children are getting along just fine with store boughten desserts and boxed brownies (that now my daughter makes!). I’ve been feeling slightly guilty about not doing more baking, so I appreciate your insight and wisdom (and about scheduling date time and family time too!). Thank you Carol for being so open and encouraging. I appreciate it! 🙂

    • Sharing a piece of who we are… that’s a good way to express what we try to do. It’s doing it without the reader noticing us that’s so challenging.

      I’m glad my comments on your blog resonate for you. Your posts always give me so much to think about. One thing I notice is how well you have your priorities organized. You set a wonderful example for other Christian writers and parents. What we often forget is the cliche about not being able to be all things to all people. As much as we’d like to be perfect in every task we undertake, it’s impossible. Prioritizing helps us keep our sanity!

  5. Tricia says:

    I must be bad at author intrusion because I wouldn’t notice it when reading unless someone pointed it out to me.

    • I know what you mean, Tricia. It just sneaks in!

      There’s a fairly good article on Suite 101 that says, “Authorial intrusion occurs when the writer interjects his own personal moral views or opinions into the novel.” It mentions how it is often used as foretelling, such as, “Had she but known what terrors awaited her, she would never have traveled to Briarwood.”

      And also it’s “when the author unintentionionally steps into the story to make a comment that is out of range of the main character’s thoughts or vision. Sometimes authorial intrusion goes by virtually undetected. For example, in a story written from Mary’s point of view, take the sentence, Mary looked so nice in her new blue dress, and wearing it boosted her confidence. Who’s saying this? Whose opinion is it? Not Mary’s. She is not thinking it, either. It is the author who is making an outside observation.” ‘Fiction-Plots-Pacing’ article, Suite 101]

  6. schillingklaus says:

    I like authorial intrusion,, and I will not do anything at all to avoid it. None of your critique will ever be able to change my taste. I decline to read most postvictorian stuff due to its lack of intrusion, and you won’t get me to deliberately write in a way that I could not stand reading.

    • Carol says:

      That’s a little like saying you like spelling mistakes. 😉 You may be interpreting ‘author intrusion’ as an ‘omniscient point of view’, which isn’t the same thing at all. The latter, in third person or multiple, can be very effective (multiple was used in Anna Karenina, for instance).

  7. schillingklaus says:

    If I say authorial intrusion, I mean it this way, such as the wonderful examples in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s romances.

    • Carol says:

      Ah, yes, but I believe most of Hawthorne’s novels are written in first person, with the narrator telling the story from his own POV. So we would hear from the narrator constantly, but as the storyteller. That’s not the same as author intrusion.

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