by Donnell Ann Bell

In real life, one of the things I detest is someone with a foul mouth.  I grew up in a family who didn’t use profanity, and the times someone did sent shockwaves through the house.  Seismologists in Boulder thought it was an earthquake—no, it was just someone in my house using an expletive.

So if I have this mindset, why on earth did I paint my protagonist in THE PAST CAME HUNTING in her teens as somebody my cop hero described as, “using language that would make a cellblock proud?” And why does my ex-con in the book say a word I absolutely despise?

Because I write fiction and those characters aren’t me.  Nor do my characters hold my belief system. They have their own values–or lack thereof–as well as completely different backgrounds than me.   That’s so important to remember when writing a book.  If the character doesn’t behave true to his or character, the reader may not be able to pinpoint what’s wrong, but chances are what he dislikes is the author butting into the story.

What is author intrusion?  It’s putting something in the book that yanks the reader out; that stops the reader enough to wonder why is this in here or why did the author hold back?

For instance, say you’re a right wing Republican or a left wing Democrat, and you have not set up the character’s political belief system.  From out of the blue, because the author is focused on something that happened in the news that day, you have your protagonist say something about his constitutional right to bear arms or how natural gas drilling is destroying the environment.  If these topics end up in your book, and you haven’t established that your character is for or against these issues–that is author intrusion.  What’s more, shame on any editor who doesn’t catch these and tell the author either set this up or take it out.

A few years ago, I read an inspirational romance in which the story opened with a good looking guy walking on scene.  I never was clear why, perhaps the author wanted to ensure the reader knew she was reading an inspirational.  But the moment the heroine saw this man, she started praying.  Our heroine hadn’t even talked to the guy, but to ensure she didn’t lust after him, she said, “Dear Lord, help me.  Save me from myself,” etc. etc.

Huh?  Does that sound realistic?  If the guy had approached her, and she was smitten, a slight prayer might have been in order.  But they hadn’t even met.  I felt the set up was completely wrong.  What’s more, I felt that author was intruding on my story.  Yes, when I pay money for a book, it becomes MY story.

An ability to eliminate author intrusion is what separates a good storyteller from the mediocre.  If you have a critique partner you respect, and he tells you he thinks your protagonist/antagonist is acting out of character, give that CP chocolate.  Then take a look at what’s bothering him.  You never want your research to show, or be guilty of author intrusion.