Monday, March 9, 2009

Butting in Line

intrusive author--an anomaly in narrative where the author intrudes on text, upstaging one or more characters; dramatic equivalents of footnotes being wrenched into the text; muddying the waters of narrative voice by allowing the author to appear in scenes with characters.

Unless there is some contextual or stylistic reason for the author or authorial spokesperson to appear in a story as, say, the Stage manager does in Thornton Wilder's Our Town, or in a deliberate and managed backstory, as in Junot Diaz's opening chapter to The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, the message is clear: author stay out. Delegate messages and devices to characters. Spend time considering what things you want to bring on stage, then spend more time considering ways to dramatize those messages. NB: dramatize means provide for readers to infer.

Writers such as Aldous Huxley, Ayn Rand, D.H. Lawrence, C. S. Lewis, George Sand, and William Makepeace Thackeray, although wildly diverse in their political and social attitudes, have remarkable and distinctive voices, enhanced to a degree but adumbrated to a greater degree by their incessant asides and obsessive commentary on what their characters happen to be doing at a given moment.

Writers such as Elmore Leonard, Louise Erdrich, Philip Roth, Cynthia Ozick, Tobias Woff, Christopher Moore,and Joyce Carol Oates do not steal scenes or upstage; they become prisms through which their trained and vivid imaginations cast a spectrum of color in which the beam of Reality is refracted. The reader is allowed to discern, to see without being yanked by lapel or shirtwaist, argued into compliance.

Hint: You have a favored author who is booked into a local venue to speak on his or her approach to storytelling. You have purchased a ticket for the event, arrive early to secure a strategic seat, and now await your anticipated pleasure, only to discover that there are immediate, disagreeable complications. Your author is to be introduced by a local literary wannabe who is by no means your favorite person. The program begins with this wannabe immediately confirming many of your reasons for disliking him; he spends a good ten minutes explaining how anomalous it is for him to appear on the same stage with your favored author, then lurches through another ten minutes of describing how his own work fails to rise to the level of tonight's guest, then perhaps another ten minutes of descriptive apercu of the favored author's work. The introduction is now well on its way into an hour's duration, during the course of which you see the favored author, perhaps sipping nervously from a bottle of San Pelegrino, beginning to look as uncomfortable as you feel. Will you ever get to hear your favorite author?

This is the feeling the reader will have brought along with the nourishment of grudge if in your stories the author appears to intrude. There are, however, novels and short stories told as if from the author's point of view, example Heart of Darkness, in which the character Marlowe could be argued to be Joseph Conrad's spokesperson. These are done with great deliberation and are not meant to be considered as authorial intrusion. The opening chapters of James Michener's Hawaii and Centenial are unabashedly (and successfully) told from the authorial point of view. The opening chapter of Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is seen through the authorial point of view, or perhaps not, perhaps it is through the character Yunior, or perhaps Yunior is Diaz' spokesperson. In neither case, the Conrad nor the Diaz, does the reader feel the frustration of being lectured to at the expense of the story, waiting to be read.

goes without saying--a frequent comment left in the margin of a manuscript by a skilled content editor; a matter or issue already made obvious by story points; a response so obvious that it does not have to be explained.

"If you come any closer, I will shoot," she said menacingly.

The place to cure GWS responses is on the manuscrupt, before it is sent out into the world.

over the top--an expression meant to imply an action or concept that has been overloaded with theme, symbolism, and perhaps even verbally excessive; activity done to the extent that the reader will resent its detail; a dramatic beat performed as if on steroids.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I picked up the new novel "The Women" by T.C. Boyle. The opening prologue is by the "narrator" of the story, which seems to give the author free rein to write omnisciently, especially since the "narrator" offers no promise of the complete truth. Somehow this seems like cheating to me, like it would be too easy to write this way (?).