An author’s voice comes through once a writer learns who they are and how they speak (or write) to their audience. It’s a beautiful thing to find your voice and lift it up for the world to hear. Author intrusion is totally different and jarring to readers. It can pull them out of an otherwise well written and enjoyable story.
There are certainly times when authors intentionally addresses their audience. Done well, this can enhance a story, add layers to the world the reader is immersed in, and provide deeper insight into t atopic. Author intrusion is NOT that situation, it’s usually an accident on the author’s part, and adds little or nothing to the story.
Here are some examples: Offering direct opinions, screwing up the Point of View, or screwing up the setting (description or interactions). Each is a mistake (often a simple oversight). I’ve been guilty of some of these, but try to catch them whenever I can. There are a lot more, but this gives you a place to start looking for them.
Offering Direct Opinions
A character is engaged in some detail of the story, they are busy describing whatever that is, and out of no where, think something uncharacteristic. This can be an observation about how unfair life is, how difficult the situation is, or how tragic the outcome may be. If the character wouldn’t think these thoughts without the writer over their shoulder, they shouldn’t think it at all. This ruins the illusion of free agency at least, or throws an unfamiliar attitude at the audience at worst.
As authors, we try to get inside the characters we create to bring them to life. If a character is significantly like the author in the real world, it can be easy to toss our personal impressions to that character without anyone noticing. When the character is distinctly different from the author, the intrusion is even more apparent, and jarring to the reader.
Screwing up the Point of View
This is related to opinions, but different enough to get individual treatment. Unique POV is paramount in effective modern day storytelling. A character has to offer readers a perspective only that voice can bring them. A lens through which the details of a story are filtered and focused. Messing that up with extra tidbits is a sure way to ruin that perspective.
Authors spend hours crafting world, scenes, and moving characters through plot events. Invariably some of that work is left out of the story, but remains lodged in our minds. When that bit of background flotsam makes it onto the page anyway, I’ve screwed up the point of view. This is jarring too, especially if it’s out of step with the POV character’s persona or experience.
Screwing up the Setting
This is close to the POV but specific to the setting in a scene or the whole story. Authors love to show off the world they’ve built (me included). So much so, that if we aren’t careful the characters may show knowledge they couldn’t possibly have about it. If a character spills a secret that the author wants the audience to know, they’ve violated this principle of author intrusion.
I caught myself doing this after a fight scene not long ago. The characters are talking after it’s over, and one remarked about how well the other fought. The problem there was that this character never saw the other attack. So their commentary was out of place, no one else in my beta read or challenge group caught this. But I found it and fixed it, because I knew how jarring it would be for anyone else who figured that out.
Readers will give an author wide leeway in how their characters interact, but there has to be internal consistency to maintain that leeway. Writers can ruin a suspension of disbelief with any of these mistakes. Catching them before they have the chance to do that is part of our job as writers.