Author Interference

As writers, there are many things we must be aware of in order to write that wonderful story. One of those things, which is often overlooked, is author interference. But what it A.I. anyway? Essentially, it happens when the author narrates the story as if he or she is actually in it. While this is OK if the point of view is first-person, it is not so if it is third-person. In a bigger picture, an example of author interference would be the following:

“You lied to me, Larry!” Lorraine bellowed. “There’s nothing you can say to make things right!”

“Lorraine, if you’ll just let me-“

“Enough! I’m done with you!”

Lorraine turned her back and stormed out of the room. Poor Larry. If only he hadn’t kept secrets from her, they would still be together.

See the A.I.? A reader would ask, “Who said that?” Authors like the one in the example believe that they are strengthening the effect of the narration, when they are doing the opposite. It takes the reader out of the story, leaving him or her confused. The result: your book ends up back on the shelf only to collect dust.

One might think this doesn’t often happen, but it does. I’m currently reading a book, whose name shall remain anonymous, that has an interesting story line and engaging dialogue. Sadly, it is in third-person and the author narrates it similar to the above example. As I read, I constantly grind my teeth and say aloud, “Who said that? Get out of your damn story!” The irony of this is that I’m still reading it and almost finished. I like to finish things I start. Still, the narration tripped up an interesting story with believable characters, leaving me with a bad impression of the author.

When we write in the third person, we have to be extra careful how we narrate the story. While we know what are characters are experiencing, we cannot interfere with their actions. We are like Scrooge and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and the Future. We can see and hear our characters, but they can’t see nor hear us. We can tell them what they should/shouldn’t do, but it won’t matter because THEY CAN”T HEAR US!

How can we avoid author interference? I suggest the following, which I have learned over the years:

  • let the characters tell the story. In the above example, Larry could say aloud, “Why didn’t I tell her?” We know perfectly well who said that.
  • know where the line is drawn in terms of narration. You are telling the reader what’s going on, but you can’t interfere with the characters’ actions.
  • if you want to inform the reader about the consequence of a character’s action, consider the above example with Larry: Larry pounded the wall with his fist and clenched his jaw, wishing he hadn’t lied to her. Character actions such as this emphasize their regrets, while keeping the author at bay.
  • if you absolutely want to be a part of the story, consider writing it in first-person. After all, some stories can only be told in first-person.

So hopefully this gives you an idea of author interference and how to avoid it. Luckily, I’ve learned this the easy way. We work so hard to create great stories with diverse characters, so it would be a shame to see all that go to waste because of author interference. We create the characters and stories, so let them tell the story; let them get into trouble and make mistakes. They will dig their way out the hole they’ve created.

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