Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Business of Writing: Avoiding Author Intrusion

By: Linda Rohrbough

I think Jerry Jenkins has it right when he says Christian authors are the worst about author intrusion. In the Christian world, they call it being “preachy.” But I’ve seen plenty of liberal “preachy.”

Author intrusion comes in a couple of forms. One is the author just flat telling the reader, either through dialog on the part of a character or in narrative, how the reader should think. Note I used the word “should.” In 12-Step groups, they call it “should-ing on yourself." 

The other is just boring the reader with stuff they’ve already figured out.

Either form of author intrusion will kill the reader’s interest in your work deader than a door nail. And this can produce the worst possible outcome for you as an author – which is readers who don’t finish your book. Readers who don’t finish books don’t buy another book by that author and they don’t talk about or refer those books to other readers.

Author intrusion is the opposite from authors who say they want to write but they don’t have anything to say. Some authors want to write because they want to fix people. They want everyone to see it their way. And to make sure that happens, they are going to not only show the reader what happened, they’re going to tell the reader how to think about it.

Clearly, it’s important to have something to say. And you need to figure out what that is. But this is a show, not tell, lesson.

The way you change someone’s mind isn’t by brow beating them with an idea. It’s by creating an emotional response. Emotion is the ticket and you don’t get emotion through intellect. You get it through experience.

The rule of thumb is this: if you notice the author behind the story, then it’s probably author intrusion.

The risk around giving you an example is most concepts that people get “preachy” around are controversial. But I’m going to take the risk. The best example I can think of is Jerry Jenkins told the story about how he tipped a black janitor in front of his colleagues at an event he was attending. Later, that janitor took him aside privately and asked Jerry if he would have tipped him if he’d been white. Jerry said that incident changed his viewpoint.

Now, author intrusion would be for me as the author or have a character, such as Jerry or the janitor, go into a discourse about Jerry’s motives, how his viewpoint changed, society in general, or the subtleties of prejudice. But if you learn to trust your reader, you can be confident the reader will get the point from the story and the emotional impact it carries. The reader doesn’t need the author to tell them how to think. And if they do, then you as the author haven’t done your job, and you need to go back and rework the story.

Author intrusion is one of those places where it’s hard to see the forest for the trees in your own work. As always, it’s good to develop a small network of people you trust to look over your manuscript. But if you don’t have your network handy, the red flag looking for author intrusion in my own work is I ask myself, do I feel a sense of anxiety that the reader isn’t going to “get it?” Because if I do, that’s usually the first sign that I’m getting ready to stick my toes, or maybe my whole foot, into author intrusion.

The bottom line is this: learn to tell the story, then learn to trust your reader. 

About the Author:  Linda Rohrbough has been writing since 1989, and has more than 5,000 articles and seven books to her credit, along with writing for television, and seven national awards for her fiction and non-fiction. Find her on Facebook as "Linda Rohrbough - Author" or visit her website:

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your clear explanation of a point that we all struggle with. Whoops, I said all. That's not true. Too many think that dictating their world-view will change others' minds. Preaching to the choir has limited impact.
    Understanding what one is attempting to write, and explaining it clearly to oneself, is vital. It's the first part of communicating.
    The second part, the part that too many seem to miss is that we write to people. How we say what we say should be said in a way that lets our readers respond.
    The best writing, in my opinion, is in the words one could have heard from a friend, but different, because the story is different - the angle is skewed. It's an exploration of what might have been.
    The potentially deadly game of overtly genre-fractured fiction limits both authors and readers. It cloisters them and us.


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