Now as we all know, there are no rules for writing fiction. There are fashionable techniques for sure, but all the successful writers break them all the time. I could summarize the useful techniques in a couple of lines:
- Write in a manner that engages the reader
- Remember to vary the pace.
Trouble is that writing techniques try to tell you ‘how’ rather than ‘what’ and since ‘how’ almost by definition has to avoid creativity, wit, emotion, rhythm and ‘continuity of voice’ all those ‘hows’ will lead you astray. Because good writing needs at least two of those factors in every paragraph.
However, more and more I have come to believe that there is one writing rule that cannot be ignored for those who set themselves up as wannabe writers. That rule? Finish what you start.
Until you write ‘The End’ after a piece of work and can judge it in its entirety you can’t really see it for what it is.
- See if it makes sense
- Will satisfy a reader
- Has a purpose
- Has a viable narrative structure
This is also true for short stories. Sometimes a short work redeems itself in the final sentence that shocks and delights the readers while making sense of the narrative.
I talk to a lot of people who think of themselves as writers yet have not finished a single one of their works. Some of the unfinished work I’ve seen from them looks very competent, but if they haven’t finished it, how can I be sure? Worse – how can they be sure?
There is a point in writing any novel when a writer can run out of faith in the story. We all go through that ‘My God, will I ever make sense of all this?’ moment from time to time. My advice to writers is simple.
Finish the damn thing even if you do it as a summary chapter, or curtail half the plot you’d planned. At least then it can be judged as a work. By you. And then you can assess whether or not it worked as a novel.
Never leave anything unfinished.
Question: What do you call 60k plus words of authorial intrusion?
Answer: A book.
Of all the insane writing rules that writers of how-to books have thrust upon us, by far and away the daftest is the one that states the author should not intrude on the story. The author writes the story, chooses the scenes, invents the dialogue, chooses what to describe and how. The author’s fingerprints and heavy hand are all over the story.
So what the heck is Authorial Intrusion?
Well, there is a style of writing favoured by pulp fiction writers where the author does not express a view directly in the narration. That is, he will not speak to the reader. While we can all agree that some forms of authorial voice can break the reader out of the story the zealots insist we remove all narrative voice. This is the crime they describe as authorial intrusion.
However, even in the world of the zealots, the author will still speak to the reader through his descriptions, he can’t help it.
Example: “The tenements were so close together they let little light into the alley.”
This is an opinion, in that ‘little’ is a purely subjective description. It could be read as a criticism by designers of tenement blocks or an advertisement by albinos. The use of the word ‘tenement’ implies an American writer and the length and structure of the sentence indicates a reading age and a level of education the book is aimed at. You can write the same information a hundred ways and each choice says something about the author’s intent.
Some of the more extreme analysts would suggest this sentence also implies someone is observing the light, but I’m not going to go that far. It also implies that someone is reading it too, so what?
Scientists have shown that they can identify a specific author from a large enough chunk of text simply by the way he strings words together. This technique has been used by researchers to connect official bible gospels to banned bible gospels. We carry ourselves into everything we write. The author always intrudes.
The author also sets up an intrusion at a different level to ‘voice’ when choosing a POV.
First Person POV has an obvious characterisation to it, but then so do all the other POV’s. Some describe this as writing style, but there is more to it that that.
Assume you are writing in omniscient. Almost every descriptive sentence you write defines the character behind the POV. Sure you can make the POV dry and boring, but even that is a clear definition. As soon as you add any narrative flair you start to pin down the character behind the voice. This need not be the ‘author’ but is essentially the ‘character of the book’.
For example, my story, ‘The Spellbinder’ is set in a pseudo 1860. It’s an alternate reality that diverged at the start of the 19th century so I take liberties with timelines and attitudes. One of my MC’s is much more Georgian than Victorian as I have set the attitude of country folk over thirty years behind the ‘real’ times.
Writing in omniscient, the narration has a pseudo Victorian voice. That is, it uses forms and structures that 21st century readers associate with that period. In fact, I set the narration voice at around 1910 as it’s much easier on the reader. The ‘voice’ has an opinion; it is somewhat cynical of the British Empire while it admires its accomplishments. It will tell you that a girl is pretty or a man handsome. My own voice sits far behind this one in the way I choose to tell the story and the incidents that occur.
Authorial intrusion is always present. As writers we should use it to best effect and be aware of how we are using it. Narrative voice is one of our most powerful tools, but many writers seem unaware of how they are using it.
We define our readership with the length of sentence, the words we use and the attitudes we consciously or unconsciously express in almost every sentence.
We shouldn't be afraid of it. It isn’t a bad thing