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Authorial Intrusion

Authorial intrusion occurs when the writer breaks the wall of their work and addresses the reader. This can happen in any genre.

Authorial intrusion allows the writer to create a new kind of relationship between themselves and the reader. It can also take the narrative to a new place. In some cases, especially if the technique is overused, it can become distracting and even irritating.

Authorial intrusion pronunciation: ah-thor-ee-uhl in-troo-shun
Authorial intrusion definition and examples


Definition of Authorial Intrusion

Authorial intrusion is a literary device that occurs when the writer inserts their opinion, commentary, or judgments into a story. If the author breaks the story’s narrative and addresses the reader directly then they’re using authorial intrusion. This literary device isn’t going to work in every example of fiction and nonfiction. There are some stories, such as those that require a deep suspension of disbelief where using authorial intrusion might unnecessarily interrupt the storyline.

Examples of Authorial Intrusion

The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo

Notre-Dame De Paris, also known as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, is one of Victor Hugo’s most popular literary creations. It was originally written in French and published in 1831. It’s set in Paris in 1482 and follows Esmeralda and Quasimodo. The following lines are found in Chapter 1 of the novel:

With the reader’s consent, we will endeavor to retrace in thought, the impression which he would have experienced in company with us on crossing the threshold of that grand hall, in the midst of that tumultuous crowd in surcoats, short, sleeveless jackets, and doublets.

Here, the author addresses the reader, asking their permission to “retrace in thought” a specific moment in the story. This is asking the reader to indulge their imagination and try to empathize with the moment and scenery.

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

In The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer assembles a story made out of numerous stories. He addresses the reader several times, providing interesting examples of authorial intrusion. He explains in the General Prologue that he’s going to introduce the characters. Furthermore, he also says a few times that he’s sorry for any offense the character’s stories may have caused, suggesting that they are out of his control. Here are the original lines from The Canterbury Tales:

But natheles, whyl I have tyme and space,

Er that I ferther in this tale pace,

Me thinketh it acordaunt to resoun,

To telle yow al the condicioun

Of ech of hem, so as it semed me,

And whiche they weren, and of what degree;

And eek in what array that they were inne:

And at a knight than wol I first biginne.

Chaucer then goes on to do exactly that. He talks about the worthy knight and eventually moves on to talk about a monk and numerous other characters.

Read more of Geoffrey Chaucer’s writing.

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

In the preface of Don Quixote, the author breaks the metaphorical “fourth wall” and addresses the reader. He tells the reader that he’s not to be trusted and that he loves the book like a parent loves a child. He wants the reader to love the novel, because he does, but he also knows it’s flawed (because he is). Here are a few lines from the version translated by John Ormsby:

IDLE READER: thou mayest believe me without any oath that I would this book, as it is the child of my brain, were the fairest, gayest, and cleverest that could be imagined. But I could not counteract Nature’s law that everything shall beget its like;

Addressing the reader in the first part of a story is not uncommon. It can be incredibly effective, such as in the following example.

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

There are a few moments in Slaughterhouse-Five in which the author addresses the reader. As a novel that combines his own experiences and a striking satire about war, not to mention aliens, Vonnegut’s use of authorial intrusion makes a lot of sense. He uses himself as a character in the novel.

The first chapter includes Vonnegut recalling his experiences in WWII, his trip to see Bernhard O’Hare, the influence his wife had on the book, and more. It’s to the latter that he dedicates the book and the reason why it has the subtitle: The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death. The following lines are used in the first pages of the book:

I have told my sons that they are not under any circumstances to take part in massacres, and that the news of massacres of enemies is not to fill them with satisfaction or glee. I have also told them not to work for companies which make massacre machinery, and to express contempt for people who think we need machinery like that.

Vonnegut maintains his satirical tone, creating a compelling combination of humor and horror. By acknowledging his own experiences, he brings the novel into the real world.

How to Use Authorial Intrusion?

When trying to use authorial intrusion in a piece of writing it’s important to consider the effect you want it to have. It has been used in every type of genre, from comedy to tragedy. Often, authors interject commentary on a particular situation, judge the characters, or foreshadow coming events. When using the technique, one might use it in a short sentence or a longer paragraph. Some writers even use an entire chapter to present readers with an example of authorial intrusion. It’s also possible to use authorial intrusion multiple times within a text, inserting a few lines in every few chapters so the reader is able to continually consider the writer as a character.

Writers always have to be careful that they don’t overuse authorial intrusion. If they want the reader to successfully suspend their disbelief when reading, it’s necessary to use the device sparingly. Continually breaking the fourth wall, such as in a play or television show, might take the reader out of the narrative and make it harder for them to care about the characters and events.

Why Do Writers Use Authorial Intrusion?

Writers use authorial intrusion when they want to insert their opinions into their literary creations, clear something up for the reader, craft a creative and interesting passage, and more. It can be an artistic/aesthetic device that improves the reader’s experience with the piece of writing, or it might be used for more practical purposes.

FAQs

What is narrative intrusion?

Occurs when the writer pulls the reader out of the story and redirects their attention to the writer’s personal commentary. It is the same thing as an authorial intrusion.

What does authorial mean in literature?

The word “authorial” refers to the author’s voice. They have control of the storyline, characters, and can assert their voice whenever they want to.

What does authorial voice mean?

It refers to the author’s voice and how it’s used in literary works.

What is it called when an author speaks through a character?

It is called “author surrogate.”

How does authorial intrusion help with the theme?

The author can use authorial intrusion to ensure the reader knows what the main themes are. They can emphasize passage and specific images.


  • Drama: a mode of storytelling that uses dialogue and performance. It’s one of several important literary genres that authors engage with.
  • Metafiction:  refers to stories in which the characters, author, or narrator acknowledge the fact that they’re parts of a fiction.
  • Pastiche: a literary creation that imitates a famous work by another author.
  • Voice: the specific style an author writes in. This includes the way they use point of view, tone, rhetorical devices, syntax, and more.


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