A while back
I read a book that had the annoying habit of veering off on tangents, topics that were out of place. It seemed to me the author was putting in their own favorite foods or an opinion the author felt strongly about. But it didn’t fit the character espousing these views and it interrupted the flow. It took away from the story and is, unfortunately, what I remember most about the book.
I didn’t know until recently that this bug-a-boo has a name: Author intrusion. A more fitting name could not be had. That’s exactly what I felt reading dialog about a certain grocery store. Dialog that even told me its location. Reading an author’s opinion or preferences in the middle of a novel makes me scratch my head in wonder. Didn’t the author see how misplaced this is? Didn’t the editor?
I’m not sure what impulse compels us humans to dispense our unsolicited opinions but it happens all the time. Haven’t you been in conversations where someone is always telling you what they think even though you haven’t asked? Annoying, isn’t it? It’s even more of an irritant in a novel. It puts someone else in the room, namely the author. I pick up a book to read the story, not to be lectured on which political stance I should take. This unwanted advice is, indeed, intrusive.
But not all author intrusion is bad. In The French Lieutenant’s Woman, John Fowles inserts himself to marvel at his male protagonist. He puts himself in the same train and ruminates on what this character is doing and what may come next. It’s wonderful stuff! In this case author intrusion is a literary device used consciously by the writer. As a literary device the writer steps out from behind the curtain to speak directly to the reader. The intrusion helps the story along, it doesn’t detract.
So, like everything else in life, the difference is in intent. If you want me to ride the train with you and your character invite me along in the pages of the book. But if you want to tell me about your favorite grocery store call me, don’t put that information in your character’s mouth.