Author Intrusion: What It Is and Why It Matters

Author intrusion can be defined in a variety of slightly different ways.

  • Some people consider breaking the fourth wall author intrusion such as when Deadpool speaks directly to the audience.  You find this in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events books.
  • Author intrusion is also when a character knows things that they shouldn’t or couldn’t know about the world.  If a character in a medieval mystery said something about having to reboot something and he didn’t mean having to put a new boot/shoe on it, that would be author intrusion.
  • Details are important but when a character describes these details in ways that are out-of-character but would be spot on for the author?  That’s author intrusion.  For example, a thirty year-old mechanic who refers to a woman’s citrus body lotion is probably describing things the way the female author would.  If he described the smell as orange degreaser but a whole lot better or smelling the way a creamsicle tastes, that I would accept.

These are all examples of author intrusion.  The first can work in the right manuscript such as something funny and sarcastic.  In a sweet period romance?  Probably not.

The second can also work without sounding anachronistic if it is done just right.  Again, it will work best in a humorous, slightly offbeat piece.  Think about it.  Memes that quote Abraham Lincoln speaking about the internet are funny especially if the sage advice is true and the person realizes (please oh please) that Abraham Lincoln existed long before the internet.

But having a character describe things in ways that sound very like the author but not very like the character don’t work.  They make the character sound fake especially to anyone who is much like this character.  Believe me.  My husband and I listened to an audiobook while we were on the road this weekend.  The book was loaded with this type of author intrusion in relation to a 30 year-old Texas ranger.  My husband pointed out each and every instance.  Granted, it became a running joke between us but that’s now how you want readers to enjoy your book.

Unless you have a reason to include author intrusion, work hard to avoid it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s