The Invisible Author   Leave a comment

In a recent exchange with a High School classmate I was reminded that one of my teachers – from the sixties, mind you – had an illustrious career as a writer, having published a long series of detective stories. His obituary recalled one thing he’d said: if you are praised for your words, you are a failure. I have often said the same, but never in such a succinct manner. Praised for your words!

To say what Bill Tapply said, but to say it in another way, is this… As an author, it is our job to lead the reader towards the characters and the story. If the reader feels they are hearing from me, and not from Sissy, Delsey, or Alice, then it means my writing is not transparent. It is cloudy, my words have obfuscated rather than clarified, and that I am attempting to upstage those whose assigned job is to tell the story.

This sounds pretty simple, on the face of it all. Why don’t I just let my characters say it like it is? Well, I do try to do that. Honest I do, Ma! Whether or not I am successful is to the reader to decide.

Okay, you say. So what? What’s this all mean?

There is a subtlety at play here. A heavy-handed author is not always obvious, and one with a fine touch sometimes will cross the line into the concrete or flamboyant. This is not about subtext or metaphor. It is more about becoming the little angel/devil sitting on the reader’s shoulder, whispering truths into their ear in such way they don’t even recognize the source. It is about becoming the invisible interloper that the reader does not even know is there, but yet trusts to tell the truth – and depends upon it.

Tapply’s advice then, is simple. Write in such a way that the reader does not sense the author’s hand in the words, so that the reader believes that it is the character who is speaking to them and nobody else.

Gentle reader, care to explain how this does – or does not – apply to your own writing?

JD Rule

Lubec, July 19, 2013

Posted July 19, 2013 by JD Rule

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