What should be one of the key goals of an author when writing?
To be invisible.
Writers are the ultimate behind the scenes people. Besides our name on the front cover, the reader should not realize that we are the ones actually telling them what's happening. Instead, as they start reading, readers should be swept into a story told (shown) by our characters.
The last thing you want to do is break them from the magic of the story and their "suspended disbelief" to wave a big sign in their face that says "Hey, author here! What's up?" Doing so is called author or authorial intrusion. Here's a definition:
Authorial intrusion is where you express a personal opinion about a character, situation or scene. Or where you describe anything your characters could not be aware of. (source)
This technique was used often in Victorian era novels when the author wanted to state their opinion on how crappy they thought some political situation was or whatever. It was also used in gothic horror novels to let you know something sinister was going on outside of the main character's knowledge. However, these days, this device has gone out of fashion to the point of being considered an error except in very rare circumstances. (I haven't read them, but I've heard the Lemony Snicket books use this device successfully.)
Now, most likely you aren't going off on long asides to share political commentary, but these AI (author intrusion) moments can pop up in much more subtle ways. Here's what to watch out for...
This is where the author inserts things like "Jane had no idea that one decision would change everything." OR
"Little did Jane know that as she curled up in bed the killer was watching her every move from his hiding spot in the closet."
*See how this pulls us right out of the story? We're suddenly not with Jane anymore. Instead, we're up in the heavens looking down at the scene with the all-knowing author--distant and detached. Plus, how much more suspenseful is it if we don't know about the killer, but instead Jane hears an unfamiliar creak of the floorboards or she gets the feeling that she's not alone?*
Telling us things the character couldn't know (for 1st person and 3rd deep/limited POV)
Jane sat on the curb in the rain and closed her eyes, letting the deluge soak her clothes. Shoppers hurried by her, huddling under umbrellas and giving her strange looks.
*If her eyes are closed, how can she know how shoppers are looking at her?*
Jane held the yoga move until her face turned red with strain. OR A pained expression crossed Jane's face.
*If we're in Jane's POV, she can't see the color or expression on her own face. You can say her cheeks heated because she can feel that or she grimaced because we know how to make our face do that.*
"We need to talk about this," Jane said, crossing her arms over her chest and staring at Bill. No way was she going to let him dodge the discussion this time. She needed closure.
Bill stood and walked to the window to avoid looking at her.
*We're still in Jane's POV. She can't really know why Bill walked away--she can guess, but not truly know unless she's a mind reader. So just describe the action and let the reader assume why. Or, you can say something with a thought from the MC like "Bill stood and walked to the window. God, could he not even bear to look at her?" OR show that she's guessing "Bill stood and walked to the window, apparently too angry to even look at her."
Describing things that the character would never notice.
Bob loved how the Vera Wang dress hugged Jane's curves.
*Okay, unless Bob is into fashion or she just told him the designer's name, he's not going to know or care to mention the dress designer. Only describe things and parts of settings that your character would notice. This is also a voice issue, but is related to author intrusion because it reminds us that someone else besides Bob is telling this story.*
This second one is the one I see most often in my own drafts and when I'm critting others. It's sneaky and easy to miss. We forget sometimes that we know everything and can read our character's minds, but our MC doesn't.
So have you seen yourself pop up in your manuscript with a big "hello, i'm here" sign? Do you struggle with any of these? Have you read any books that use this device effectively?
**Today's Theme Song**
"Invisible" - Clay Aiken
(player in sidebar--go ahead, take a listen)