Author Intrusion & Other Writing Crimes

Cartoon Stock Larry Lambert, llan547

Author Intrusion, to put it bluntly, is showing off one’s own personal knowledge instead of the character’s about what’s going on in the scene. I used to breed and train show dogs [Rottweilers; and I owned and showed a Coton de Tuléar (a small, white, long-haired, sweet-natured, and funny dog)] so I have to really watch myself if I’m writing about a dog in a scene. I’m not this bad, at least I hope not — no! I’m not! — but it’s a good example.

NOTE: The character, James, knows nothing about dogs. Doesn’t own one, never did, doesn’t even like them, and most certainly knows nothing about breeds or Breed Standards.

Note also that we are in James’s head; in his POV (Point Of View) so everything the reader sees is supposed to be through his eyes and his knowledge base.

James hadn’t biked in this part of town for more than three years. As he approached the blonde in the tank top with the male Coton de Tuléar on the end of a Flexi (not a good choice as far as leashes go as dogs’ necks can be injured if they run quickly to the end of it; people’s hands can be injured, too, as they can get terrible burns if they grab the line, especially if their dog is fast), James decided he would make a note of the time and cycle by here again the next day in the hopes of seeing her again. He slowed down. The dog was a male because it was lifting its leg to urinate on the fence. It takes about twenty minutes a day to groom a Coton because of its long white hair that reaches right to the ground. The woman probably used grooming chalk on its muzzle as there was no tell-tale staining from food there. With its immaculate full coat, the dog was no doubt a show dog. As James stepped off his bike, the woman gave a command to the dog and it circled around to sit at her left hand side. The dog had been obedience trained well.

“She listens well, doesn’t she? Is it a boy or a girl? I’ve never seen one of those. What’s it mixed with?”

Have I lost you yet? Who cares if the dog’s muzzle is stained or not. What has that got to do with anything in the story? James wants to get laid, that’s all. He’s not the least bit interested in this woman’s dog except to find out if it will bite him if he gets too close to her.

Of course this is an extreme exaggeration, but we often do this without realizing it.

I’m getting lots of practice with this Author Intrusion business while I write my Kesk8a series. These books are written from the viewpoint of a Mi’gmaw woman (the series will stretch from 1681–1755 (from the advent of the Newcomers to Keskoua’s neighbourhood to the Expulsion of the Acadians); she will age from 15 to 90 over this time period). The challenge for me is that she can describe anything because she’s the narrator; but she can only describe what’s in her own knowledge and experience. It’s actually great fun being inside somebody’s head and trying to see how she would see it. This is how she describes a violin in Death in l’Acadie: a Kesk8a story:

… Monsieur Petitpas knew a soldier from the fort who played what they called a fiddle: a beautiful shiny red-painted box with a womanly waist and strings from what would be her chin to where her legs would meet. He scraped a stick across this box to make sounds like a woman inside it was singing the highest notes possible. It made bumps on my skin to hear it. Later I saw that the stick had many fine threads from one end of it to another. Marguerite’s cousin—her name was Antoinette—told me the threads were made of catgut but that the catgut was sheep guts. (I would never understand these people.)

Here’s a bit of history and more information on Author Intrusion:


Next Post — Yes, We Can be Too Nice

Sherrill Wark is the author of Really Stupid Writing Mistakes: How to Avoid Them:

… and Death in l’Acadie: a Kesk8a story (fiction):


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