Posted by: Kathleen Mix | August 21, 2014

No Selfie Zone

At a recent book festival, I saw several people stop, stretch out a hand, focus their phone, and take a selfie. Rather than capture the larger scene, they became the prominent feature of their photo and the rest of the world their backdrop.
This strategy may be fine for posting snapshots on social media. But when a fiction writer sits down to write, he or she should be less egocentric.
When a writer makes herself or her views prominent in a story the practice is called author intrusion. We’ve all read books where it happens. We’re following a character through an interesting event. The narrative suddenly switches away from the protagonist, and the writer stops the story to lecture or pontificate. The opinions expressed may somewhat mesh with the character’s views, or the writer may simply see an opportunity to get his viewpoint front and center, but either way, the reader is yanked out of the story so the writer can insert a literary selfie.
Most authors write with a message imbedded in their book. The stories we read and remember for years almost always have an underlying theme. They have meaning that is shown through the characters and their experiences in the plot. The theme can be so subtle a reader might not recognize it exists. But by the end of the story he’s received the message, because a skillful writer has kept the focus on his characters and designed his story to be more than words on a page. We’re shown whatever the author wanted to say – that crime doesn’t pay, we reap what we sow, capital punishment is wrong – through a character’s struggle with the issue, not by the author stepping in to tell us: this is what you should believe.
We are touched emotionally when a story has a rich theme, or multiple rich themes, subtly woven into a character’s journey. We are turned off when a rude writer misuses our time by shouting propaganda from a soapbox while the story is relegated to the background.
A writer who has an agenda and is writing solely to broadcast his opinions should stick with non-fiction or a blog. Fiction is the wrong venue for selfies.

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Responses

  1. Nice post. LOL! The lead reminds me of an image whose source I can’t recall but that has always stuck in my mind: “Other people were cardboard figures on the landscape of his life.”

    Like


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