1. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Inadvertent Narrative Intrusion (I said INADVERTENT!)

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by Wreybies, Feb 27, 2015.

    And just in case it needs repeating yet one more time: Inadvertent Narrative Intrusion. There is purposeful, well executed narrative intrusion as well. This thread is not about that. Purposeful narrative intrusion is wielding a blade with the expertise of a renowned swordsman. Inadvertent narrative intrusion is cutting your own hip when thoughtlessly sheathing that blade.

    In the first person, what you describe is not what I would think of as narrative intrusion. It might be something I consider unnecessary, info-dumpy, or boring to the flow of the story, but it's not a flavor of narrative intrusion with which I am familiar.

    Inadvertent narrative intrusion does have a number of forms. It's not just one thing.

    It can be:
    • Everyone is a freakin' genious - Star Trek did this a lot. A lot - a lot! LOL :-D It's a way to create unrealistic venues for agency. When house wives/hubbies down on Terra are all also plasma coil specialists or "Hey, I did my PhD in positronic brain programming, though since the kids came who has the time. Maybe I can fix Data with this house plant and a hair pin that I will rig into a neutrino stream caster", then... stupid.
    • This character is my polemic voice - The author has a strong take on a topic and makes use of the voice of one of the characters as a mouthpiece.
    • This character will info-dump at you for no apparent reason - The author does not trust that the reader will get what is being shown and has a character explain to the reader through dialogue. Characters may also spew bits, chunks, or reams of backstory in a completely unnatural way when in this mode.
    "Oh, yes. Like in the war of 537 where the Blargites and Flugites battled each other over the rights to the Flingenfloggen Valley, which, as you well know, is the precursor to the religious strife now affecting our people." Sheremahe sighed.

    "The Flingenfloggen Valley. I had forgotten about that. North of the Suscudio River and east of the Reebok Mountains. Yes. The ancestral homeland of our people before we migrated west into the Unknown Lands where we met the Merkata people who only befriended us for our gold and then turned against us once they had it. Damned Merkata. If only we had known better and stayed where we were, none of this would be happening." Largate smacked her thigh in frustration.​

    • This thought/opinion/observation belongs to no one - Most problematic in 3rd person limited. The 3rd person narrator will opine on matters, people, happenstance, in the story. The opinion thus expressed cannot rationally be attributed to any person in the scene. Older lit has this in gobs and buckets, but today it is thought of as a no-no.

    There may well be other forms and permutations and blends of the above, but just from what you describe in your post, that to me is not narrative intrusion. Other opinions may vary. :)
     
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  2. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    @Wreybies. I think it is narrative intrusion. Writers need to know when and when not descriptions are appropriate. If I'm staring at a beautiful girl on the train. That's a perfect time to really describe her. If I'm describing every god damn person I see, as soon I see them, that's not narrative experience, that's the author treating the story like an external observer. It's basically your last form, about opinions belong to no one. Except its not opinions belonging to no one. It's observations belonging to no one.
     
  3. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Ok, I can see this. I can. :) I don't write in 1st person, so this may be something I need to study up on and get a better grasp of, but I can see the logic of what you are saying. Described as you have, it actually feels like a combo of This thought belongs to no one and This Character will now info-dump at you.

    ETA: So, upon further contemplation, and a bit of google-fu, yes, I still agree with you. ;) As described by @123456789 , it's an unnatural degree of observation for the POV character to be giving and would seem to be a way for the author to enslave the POV character into describing the scene/setting for us to a degree where the integrity of the reality of the character is comprimised. This is little different to the unnatural degree of backstory/info-dumping I described in the (now revised) OP in This character will info-dump at you for no apparent reason. I don't think it represents This thought/opinion/observation belongs to no one. That's something rather different.
     
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  4. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, the mirror trick is as old as the hills (when the hills had mirrors) and is so often done 'intrusively.'

    I suppose if a character had never seen him/herself in a mirror before, a description could work well. Or if the character looks in the mirror and sees something unusual (his normal pinky-white-pimply skin has just turned green.) Or stares at an injury. Or pulls faces so her flabby jowl disappears (momentarily) and she considers plastic surgery. Or is struck by the fact that she looks tired around the eyes. Or his hair is a mess, or her hair has never looked better. These observations can work into descriptions that are not intrusive.

    The trick is to have the character's thoughts and feelings about what they are seeing be paramount in the scene. Too often it's just : Jessica sat in front of the mirror and combed her golden hair into ringlets and put eyeshadow above her greeny-gold eyes. Then brushed her perfect teeth... That is narrative intrusion, I reckon. We have no idea from a couple of lines like that what the character is thinking or feeling—only what she looks like. (A Barbie doll...one of the blonde ones ...hey, they're all blonde these days, aren't they? When was the last time you saw a brunette Barbie in a shop...?)
     
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  5. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    One of my posts seems to be the subject of a thread here. Exciting!

    To clarify my quoted post and to paraphrase the novel I took it from; the plot points progressed as follows: -
    • The 1st person narrator tells us that mirrors are rarely used and a symbol of vanity; however, due to whatever plot device, today she is going to use one. (Authorial intrusion- I am about to use the "mirror trick" as Jannert put it, but reader, I am ahead of you and have given appropriate reasons as to why this is not authorial intrusion).
    • The 1st person narrator lists her features. She has large brown eyes, pale lightly freckled skin and so on. (Authorial intrusion- I shouldn't do this but I have already argued away your objections so put up with it).
    I am not actually sure that this was inadvertent (I said INADVERTENT!) as the explanation was too neat and too knowing.

    It was the specific manner in which this was handled that struck me as authorial intrusion. I have read many novels where people have caught sight of themselves in a mirror or puddle, or some reflective surface, and for good reason they have been shocked by the face they see starring back. Or they have been using a mirror for a specific plot-related purpose as Jannert listed above, without resorting to coldly listing their features.

    But Numbers summed it up better than me: -

    I am using the term "Authorial Intrusion" purely to differentiate it from the first person narrator; but it can be freely interchanged with "narrative intrusion".
     
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  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    It's a good topic for a thread. It comes up with some frequency in the W.W. ;) It's productive. :)

    I still say it's not This thought/opinion/observation belongs to no one but rather a form of This Character will now info-dump at you. The former is a 3rd person narrator giving opinion - outside of the omniscient mode - that literally belongs to no person on scene. In your clarified example, the observations the POV character is about to give, no matter how ham-fisted and tortured, are still attributable to the 1st person narrator.
     
  7. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Here's my slightly unorthodox take on this issue. I'm fairly forgiving when it comes to "mistakes" like this. Fiction isn't meant to be an exact representation of real life. In fact, that's one of the strengths of fiction: we get to experience the thoughts and feelings of others (i.e., the character) in a very unique, and perhaps unrealistic, way. From a literary standpoint, something that may not be "logical" may actually enhance our understanding and/or interpretation of the piece. An intrusion by the author, inadvertently or not, shouldn't automatically be considered a bad thing.
     
  8. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    I see where you are coming from; and the more I think about it the more I think there is just an over-lap between the two. When a character describes or explains something they would not naturally describe or explain, then it is both an info-dump and authorial intrusion. When the manner of a description does not cover the particular aspect that would be of interest or concern to the POV, but extends to a cold list of all its properties (or more particularly its properties that might be central to the future plot but are largely irrelevant now), then it is both an info dump and authorial intrusion.
     
  9. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I definitely agree that it's narrative intrusion. Both things are narrative intrusion in this context. I'm just specifying within the umbrella of narrative intrusion the more specific mode I feel from it. :) :)
     
  10. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    This, I think, in a slightly different way, is one of the main problems I had with the Star Wars prequels. Everyone is a character in the world already - and yeah, sure that is literally the case, but when they kept referencing the 'prophesy' of the one who would 'bring balance to the force'. What does this mean exactly? Who wrote it? Why? When?

    The characters don't talk about this stuff naturally because it's to them common knowledge, and all but an absolute genius will not be able to give the audience who has came into all this in medias res the information they really need without it feeling like a total info dump.

    Lucas to his credit did this quite well with the story of Darth Sidus, but that's the only time he was able to get around it - and that story-telling actually fit in quite nicely with what was happening between the characters in the scene. The rest he either failed or just didn't other.

    I think the only time, to be honest, you can do this properly is with third person omniscient narrator. Otherwise it's my personal opinion you should weave exposition into the narrative. But then again, I must admit I'm guilty of this 'flaw' in the past.
     
  11. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Agreed. But again, I feel this answers more to This character will now info-dump at you. I know that sounds like I'm being unnecessarily pedantic since, in truth, these are all flavors of U.N.I. (can we call it that, please? :oops: ). It's just that in the W.W. there are times when I feel that the multifaceted nature of UNI makes it hard to explain and to grasp for newer writers.
     
  12. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    I don't mind calling it UNI. :) Free Indirect Speech could be the answer I suppose, but that's a very technical way of doing it. And it's also going to heavily affect any style that it is used in. Easily (for example) making it more personable, and ok, sure, maybe that's what you are going for; but if you aren't then you are back to square one apparently.

    For all who don't know. Free Indirect Speech is basically a sentence in a paragraph where you cannot tell who said it, the character, the narrator, or the writer (the last two especially are not always the same thing). So for example:

    The underlined sentence there is an example of Free Indirect Speech.
     
  13. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    I agree with this. It's the sort of thing that occurs way too often in bad science fiction. I call it second-person explanatory: "As you know, Bob, the X-22 rocket is a nuclear-powered ...". Bob knows, so there's no reason to tell him. I see it as a device lazy authors use to avoid having to write descriptions of the story elements the reader needs to know.
     
  14. peachalulu
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    Everything is a bit of author intrusion -:)
    I think when it becomes more obvious is when it bears little meaning to what's going on. It doesn't address the story, the characters. It just seems to be the writer coming onto the stage and shouting at the audience about politics or beliefs before giving a nod to the characters - Okay, carry on.
    I've seen this happen in Jose Saramago's Blindness. He'd go off on a rant about something and the thoughts didn't belong to any of the characters. I didn't care much for it, yanked me right out of the story and had me laughing in disbelief. In fact it's probably what kept me from reading any of his other works, that and the fact that the book was damn depressing.

    I'm sort of okay with the polematic voice thing - but it really depends. I suppose it's because some people are living mouthpieces and sometimes their books do have a agenda. Sometimes all people want to do is make people aware of autism or whatever and their story is more a message piece. I'm okay with that - if I know what I'm getting into. Doesn't make it brilliant fiction but it is what it is.

    As for - all the characters are genius' - I think this comes from writer's relying too much on wish fulfillment ( how I want things to be ) and things like comic books, video games, and thin movies to base their creativity on. In thin movies ( i.e. bombs and such ) most of the time the characters all behave the same way - everyone is quirky, or angsy, or dumb, or angry, or everyone is crude and swears. It bares no resemblance to the real world because the world is such a mix. Even when people are joined by a shared interest, job, belief, or station ( prison, church, school teachers, army men ) there's still a mix. I think when writer's don't recognize that, that's when their world looks false, and their characters resemble puppets. And the overall story is awash in author intrusion.
     
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  15. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    It's true. He never lets go of you within the story. You are always very, very aware that he is telling you this story though it's not 1st person at all. You constantly feel his hand at your chin, turning you back towards him. I knew the story would be like that going into it, so I rode it out. You see that mode quite a bit in Latin writing, so I made room for it as a "different tradition". Without that pre-accord, I probably would not have enjoyed it as much, given my personal preoccupation with UNI. :p
     
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  16. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    So all my characters when I introduce them is bad? What if I make it flow well? Because I find it strange to describe a character later, I'm going to either feel like I should have already got that, or like it's too late I've already built my own image of them. If I like building a vision, how do I go about describing characters would you say? :unsure::unsure:
     
  17. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    If you're trying to build an image that is going to stick in the mind of the reader, I think you have to describe them sooner rather than later. The reader is going to form a mental image very quickly, and once formed it is hard to dislodge. That said, I tend to like little to know character description.
     
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  18. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Btw, there's a link in another thread to here if anyone wonders why I ended up here.
     
  19. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's an important topic. I'm actually glad I stumbled back on this thread, as, during my umpteenth edit of my WIP, I find myself sometimes almost committing narrative intrusion, because, you know, I want to try to cram in every important tidbit I can. MY story is written as such that narrative intrusion is pretty much a no no. @Oscar Leigh that doesn't mean your story is.

    First off, plenty of standard pieces, like Dan Brown commit narrative intrusion and never think twice. You have to decide for yourself whether that is great writing.

    I'm of the belief that the most important thing of any novel is the voice (for this conversation that includes tone, style, and POV (maybe I should have just said narrative??)). Depending on your voice, what constitutes narrative intrusion will change. If your POV is anal retentive, describing every character you see is not narrative intrusion. If your character is a cheerleader who stares at her phone all day long, describing much of anything might be narrative intrusion. I can't tell you what your narrative is. But, since you're a young writer, it might help you to know that wanting to describe everything seems to be a natural desire for many beginner aspiring writers.
     
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  20. HelloImRex
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    In Star Trek, the characters are all part of a crew that survived a rigorous selection process out of millions, maybe even billions of applicants. When people are as plentiful as bacteria, which they are in that universe, I expect the people are geniuses in a program that is equivalent to Harvard on cocaine. Just statistically, since there are so many more people, they should on average all be Einsteins. Each main character should be smarter than the smartest person that has ever lived in history because so many people are alive at that specific point in time. If you have a population of trillions and are sampling the top couple of hundred, that's what you would get, a couple of hundred people that can fix plasma conduits because they taught themselves how to do it over lunch while also learning ten other hobbies. So I'm not sure that one is narrative intrusion.

    Sorry if that is a highjack of the thread, that's just always been one of the things I specifically most liked about the show because it is the only believable solution I've ever seen to that problem which occurs unwarranted in so many other stories.
     
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  21. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    This. Get a general feel for appearance in quickly (the way other characters treat him/her should give you a hint if she/he is attractive or hideous) and note any distinguishing features without using the mirror trick. But if it doesn't NEED to be described, leave it up to the reader's imagination. That's what I prefer as both a reader and writer.

    Disclaimer that lots of people love long description...
     
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  22. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    I try for a medium length. And I weave in stuff that relates to personality and plot. To avoid feeling like a laundry list. Give it some energy and meaning.
     
  23. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    The problem is, as Steerpike said, you need to get it in quickly or the reader will have formed their own image. Weaving is better than info-dumping but it has to be deft weaving, in the opening couple of chapters only. Again, IMO :)
     
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  24. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Argh, the answers are so hard to get and ambiguous! This is hard! It makes me squeeze my pee-pee that's how hard it is! :D:D
     
  25. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    @Oscar Leigh a lot of writers provide heavy detail on a character's appearance, and lots of them sprinkle it throughout early parts of the text. I don't really like that approach, but I've seen it enough that it doesn't appear to harm chance of publication if the work is otherwise good.
     
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