When the writer addresses the reader directly, it's a literary device called authorial intrusion. But what does that mean and how can an author use it effectively in their fiction? Today let's take a look at when and how to intrude with your authorial voice.
I love The Princess Bride. I saw the movie before I knew there was a book. But once I realized there was a novel, I immediately checked it out from my high school library and devoured it. I'm due for another reading soon, I think.
The first time I read the book, I also read the introduction and footnotes from William Goldman. It took me forever to realize that S. Morganstern was not, in fact, a fiction writer of old from an ancient land who wrote a political satire relevant to his time. Nope. William Goldman made him up. All of Goldman's interjections and “editor's notes” in the book were completely fictional, and meant to be part of the reading experience.
When an author takes an aside to address the reader, it's called an authorial intrusion.
What Does Authorial Intrusion Mean?
This technique establishes a relationship between the author and the reader where the author is now an active character in the story's narrative.
It can be used in theater or poetry as well, anywhere the writer's voice interrupts the forms to comment on what's happening. (Hence the word intrude which means to put oneself in a place uninvited or unwanted).
The word intrusion has a negative connotation because it suggests the author's voice doesn't belong in the scene. If you use it, make sure you have a clear reason why the voice is needed and how it will enhance the story.
Examples of Author Intrusion
William Goldman uses this technique in the novelization of The Princess Bride, and it adds to the humor of the story and the satirical nature of the fairy tale. Throughout the novel, you'll find asides marked off with parentheses, like this one in the exchange at Miracle Max's cottage:
Valerie was so proud. “Beautiful,” she said. She turned to Inigo then. “You sound so disappointed—what did you think a resurrection pill looked like?” “Not like a lump of clay the size of a golf ball,” Inigo answered.
(Me again, last time this chapter: no, that is not anachronistic either; there were golf balls in Scotland seven hundred years ago, and, not only that, remember Inigo had studied with MacPherson the Scot. As a matter of fact, everything Morgenstern wrote is historically accurate; read any decent book on Florinese history.)
“I usually give them a coating of chocolate at the last minute; it makes them look a lot better,” Valerie said.
Notice the section in parentheses jumps to a voice outside the story to comment on a detail in the story.
Other examples of the authorial intrusion in action appear in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, the Lemony Snicket books, and Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. The technique isn't as common in contemporary fiction because it can be seen as lazy if not executed properly.
Authorial intrusion works best in satire or where the narrative voice is firmly tongue-in-cheek. But if handled well, authorial intrusion can work and entertain readers.
When can I use authorial intrusion?
There's not a one-size-fits-all answer here, but I'd suggest thinking about why you need it and what it adds to the story, poem, or play.
You don't want to use it to explain what is happening in a scene—that's like having to explain a joke—it ruins the effect.
Ultimately, the decision to use authorial intrusion will depend on what serves the story best. Writers should consider the tone, style, and genre of their work, as well as their target audience, before deciding whether or not to use this technique.
What do you think of authorial intrusions? Would you ever try it in your writing? Let us know in the comments.
Take a practice you wrote recently or a piece you're currently working on and add authorial intrusions, introducing yourself and directly addressing the reader.
Practice intruding authorialy for fifteen minutes. When you're finished, post your practice in the Pro Practice workshop here. And if you post, be sure to leave feedback on a few posts by other writers.
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Liz Bureman has a more-than-healthy interest in proper grammatical structure, accurate spelling, and the underappreciated semicolon. When she's not diagramming sentences and reading blogs about how terribly written the Twilight series is, she edits for the Write Practice, causes trouble in Denver, and plays guitar very slowly and poorly. You can follow her on Twitter (@epbure), where she tweets more about music of the mid-90s than writing.