Tuesday, July 14, 2009

When an author rears his or her ugly head...

I was recently reading a novel where a very well-known author’s political leanings suddenly intruded into the story. It was all handled very smoothly and might have even gotten by me were I not in “writing mode”, working on something myself, a time when my antennae are more attuned to what I’m reading than is normally the case.

It got me thinking: is it ever all right for an author to intrude on his/her story line?

I’ve certainly tried hard not to do that, but this particular case seemed egregious, ultimately. It had nothing to do with the plot. However, the passage was quite entertaining and relieved the pressure that had been building up in the story. (That’s something else for a later discussion: when the author ratchets up the tension too early on and then doesn’t relieve it somehow.)

I can understand why the passage was allowed to remain and I’m sure that it was questioned by the editor (or should have been). Yes, it was a bit indulgent, but like I said, it did serve some purpose in the story. By the way, in this case, it clearly showed the political leanings of the author.

We all do intrude into our stories, though. It’s unavoidable. Little bits of us inhabit nearly every character, inform the actions and reactions to things and situations. How many times have you been told, “I can so clearly hear your voice in your stories”? Or how many times have you told an author that? I admit I have.

But how much should you intrude?


Donis Casey said...

I think about this a lot. My characters have an entirely different belief system than I do, besides that fact that it's really difficult not to give a historical character modern ethics and mores. I'm continually having to get out of the way.

Charles benoit said...

Intrude? You ARE the story. Everything that you put down on paper comes out of your mind. Getting you in the story is not only unavoidable, it's inevitable.

Donis Casey said...

Interesting, and true, of course. However, when someone reads an author's work, does she then know him? How much of yourself do you reveal, whether you mean to or not, when you write fiction? And how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

Susan D said...

I've had critique partners accuse me of putting my views into the story, but how can I not if my POV character shares my values and the issue comes up in the scene. Should the character simply ignore it? Is it permissible for my characters to express values I don't share, but not ones that I do?

I'll stop here, because I realise I could go on at length about this. Maybe I'll put it in a book instead.

Vicki Delany said...

I don't usually have a problem with it, unless the author stops to lecture on the subject and is then obviously inserting her/himself into the book. Sara Paretsky is a good example of a writer who you know EXACTLY where they stand politically. Never stopped me reading her books.

Charles benoit said...

I read a book called The Losers.

The author's far-right, neo-fascist views dripped from every page. I remember one nausea-inducing scene in particular - it takes place in a court room and the accused goes on this social-Darwin rant that the judge sees as brilliant. Honestly - I read that scene, got out of bed and tossed the book out into the mid-December snow. In the spring, I found the book and ran it over with the lawn mower.

Someday I'll tell you what I really felt about the book.

Rick Blechta said...

Yes, Charles, but there are (sadly) people who agree with this author's views who might believe the book is brilliant. I'm not saying that you weren't well within your rights to chuck the book, though.

Vicki's comment about an author "lecturing" is spot on in this conversation, and that's what your author was doing. To my mind, that's wrong in a crime fiction book, but in other types of fiction, it may be within bounds.

It must be pretty obvious that I'm rather conflicted about this particular topic.

Good discussion so far. Anybody have other thoughts? Susan D, you give those critique partners hell! They deserve a big raspberry. Did they feel you were "lecturing", or going on too long, or did they not particularly like the views expressed?

Thanks, everyone, for commenting.